Publication describes status of forestry best management practices for water quality in the U.S.

Forestry best management practices (BMPs) were developed in the U.S. in response to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972, or Clean Water Act. A large body of research has found that properly implemented forestry BMPs minimize the impact of erosion and sediment that may occur during forest management activities.

Recently, investigators at Virginia Tech conducted a survey of all 50 U.S. states to determine the status and implementation of forestry BMPs. Results from the survey appear in a paper authored by Richard Cristan, W. Michael Aust, M. Chad Bolding, Scott M. Barrett, and John F. Munsell, all of Virginia Tech.

All 50 states reported having forestry BMP programs. The BMP guidelines addressed multiple categories of practices such as timber harvesting, forest road construction and maintenance, log landings, skid trails, streamside management zones, and stream crossings. Twenty-five states had written new BMP guidelines or revised their guidelines within five years of the survey. 

Thirty-nine states reported monitoring BMP implementation. Although methods of conducting implementation studies, compliance studies, or BMP audits differ somewhat among states, they tend to be similar within U.S. regions. The authors report that the national BMP implementation rate is high and does not differ with the regulatory approach used by the BMP programs. 

The abstract for the paper follows.

“United States forestry best management practices (BMPs) were developed by U.S. states to protect water quality while enhancing the sustainability of forest management activities. Forestry BMPs are revised over time or new BMPs are written to meet current water quality standards. Properly implemented forestry BMPs have been found to minimize the impact of erosion and sediment that may occur during forest management activities. States developed implementation strategies to help determine if BMPs are being implemented correctly; however, these strategies can vary between regions and states making implementation results difficult to interpret. Few studies have compared monitoring strategies and implementation of BMPs on a national level. This study surveyed and received responses from state forestry agencies in all 50 states. Each state reported a documented BMP manual. Twenty states reported non-regulatory BMP guidelines, 19 reported quasi-regulatory BMP guidelines, and 11 reported regulatory BMP guidelines. Thirty-nine states have BMP monitoring programs with the state forestry agency as the lead agency in 35 states. BMP effectiveness studies were reported in 33 states with 19 states reporting current or future effectiveness studies. Thirty-two states reported that they have conducted BMP implementation studies resulting in a mean national BMP implementation rate of 91%. However, when evaluating implementation of individual BMP categories, the survey indicated potential deficiencies for some states, yet these states’ overall BMP implementation rate appear to be satisfactory. There was no significant difference between non-regulatory, quasi-regulatory, and regulatory BMP guidelines when compared by mean state BMP implementation rates (90.2%, 90.2%, and 93.4%, respectively). Mean BMP implementation rates for the western (93.2%) and southeastern (92.4%) regions were significantly higher than the northeastern region (86.4%). This assessment of state BMP programs indicates that BMP programs appear to be implemented at relatively high levels across the U.S. These findings should be useful globally for agency managers to improve program effectiveness and better understand BMP implementation and program structure among 50 diverse states.”  


Cristan, R., W.M. Aust, M.C. Bolding, S. M. Barrett, and J.F. Munsell. 2017. National status of state developed and implemented forestry best management practices for protecting water quality in the United States. Forest Ecology and Management.