Forestry best management practices and conservation of aquatic and riparian species

Following passage of the Clean Water Act, forestry best management practices (BMPs) were developed and implemented to protect water quality.  Forestry BMPs address potential impacts of management by significantly reducing or eliminating sediment, nutrient, and other pollution inputs.   

There is an extensive body of literature documenting the effectiveness of forestry BMPs for protecting water quality.  Thus, forestry BMPs are believed to have positive effects on riparian and aquatic species. However, information about the specific effects that forestry BMPs have on wildlife, biodiversity, and other ecological functions has not been fully examined or synthesized. 

Recently, authors with Virginia Tech and NCASI conducted a review of the scientific literature to document how forestry BMP implementation affects aquatic and riparian species.  The review included information from over 300 peer-reviewed journal articles, theses/dissertations, and government publications.   

Based on their review, the authors conclude that current state streamside management zone recommendations or requirements “maintain water quality and greatly reduce potential risks to aquatic and riparian species during forest management.”  The abstract for the paper, which was published in the journal Forests, follows.  

“Forestry best management practices (BMPs) were developed to minimize water pollution from forestry operations by primarily addressing sediment and sediment transport, which is the leading source of pollution from silviculture. Implementation of water quality BMPs may also benefit riparian and aquatic wildlife, although wildlife benefits were not driving forces for BMP development. Therefore, we reviewed literature regarding potential contributions of sediment-reducing BMPs to conservation of riparian and aquatic wildlife, while realizing that BMPs also minimize thermal, nutrient, and chemical pollution. We reached five important conclusions: (1) a significant body of research confirms that forestry BMPs contribute to the protection of water quality and riparian forest structure; (2) data-specific relationships between forestry BMPs and reviewed species are limited; (3) forestry BMPs for forest road construction and maintenance, skid trails, stream crossings, and streamside management zones (SMZs) are important particularly for protection of water quality and aquatic species; (4) stream crossings should be carefully selected and installed to minimize sediment inputs and stream channel alterations; and (5) SMZs promote retention of older-age riparian habitat with benefits extending from water bodies to surrounding uplands. Overall, BMPs developed for protection of water quality should benefit a variety of riparian and aquatic species that are sensitive to changes in water quality or forest structure.”  


Warrington, B.M., W.M. Aust, S.M. Barrett, W.M. Ford, C.A. Dolloff, E.B. Schilling, T.B. Wigley, and M.C. Bolding. 2017. Forestry best management practices relationships with aquatic and riparian fauna: A review. Forests 8(9):331.