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New Program Assures Cleaner Water, Clearer Reporting by National Forests

Best Management Practices Program team evaluate implementation results Newtown Square, PA, June 10, 2016 - With an estimated 60 million Americans relying on drinking water that originates from national forests and grasslands, the USDA Forest Service pays close attention to water quality. This week, Forest Service staff from Mt. Hood National Forest and throughout the Pacific Northwest Region have been learning to monitor the use and success of best management practices using the agency’s recently adopted Best Management Practices Monitoring Program. 

Whether developing camp sites for visitors or restoring stream habitats, work on national forests often involves disturbing the ground, which creates opportunities for sedimentation and other negative water quality impacts. Best management practices are techniques that help control and reduce water pollution and protect aquatic ecosystems. The 42 Best Management Practices monitoring protocols were developed by teams of Forest Service researchers and resource managers to address the major management activities that occur on National Forest System lands.

Pam Edwards, a research hydrologist with the Northern Research Station’s lab in Parsons, W.Va., served as the team leader for the National Best Management Practices Monitoring Program and has been the sole trainer for the monitoring protocols. In the last 2 years, Edwards has traveled to 15 national forests and trained more than 200 Forest Service employees in protocol use.  Several of the people are attending the current training on the Mt. Hood National Forest to become trainers.

“Forests are critical for clean water, and one of the main objectives of the Forest Service is to provide clean water to the nation’s people,” Edwards said. “Those of us who have been involved in the development of the National Best Management Practices Program are all very passionate about that objective, and it has been rewarding to train people throughout the Forest Service on using the monitoring protocols and see their investment in protecting water resources.”

Another critical part of the National Best Management Monitoring Program is the database used to store monitoring data, which was designed and developed by Information Technology Specialist Frederica Wood, a colleague of Edwards’ in Parsons. The database provides a platform from which national reporting about Best Management Practices implementation and effectiveness can be achieved, something that previously was not possible in the agency. Between 2012 and 2015, Wood provided training on database use through webinars to more than 250 people throughout the Forest Service.

The consistent approach to monitoring that is realized with the Best Management Practice Protocols, and the national reporting made possible by the database will enable the Forest Service to demonstrate how well the agency is meeting federal water quality requirements through time, and also will identify the resources that may require additional effort or resources to improve conditions in the field. 

“More than half of America’s freshwater flows from public and private forest land,” said Tony Ferguson, Acting Director of the Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory. “On a national level, development of the Best Management Practices monitoring program, a consistent database for tracking water quality impacts, and on-the-ground training for National Forest System staff are going to result in cleaner water not only on the forest, but for the millions of people whose water supply comes from National Forests.”

Investing in training staff to use Best Management Practices monitoring protocols is an essential part of the program, according to Caty Clifton, Regional Water Quality Program Manager in the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Region. “Training for our field personnel is fundamental to strengthening understanding of how Best Management Practices actually work on the ground, and to ensure monitoring results are consistent and reliable,” Clifton said. “Most importantly, monitoring identifies practices that are working and where corrective actions and adaptive management may be needed to maintain and improve water quality and aquatic ecosystems on the national forests.” Examples of corrective actions include improving erosion control on recreational access trails and stabilizing roads after winter storms.

The Best Management Practices Program team, which also included Liz Berger, Mike Eberle and Chris Carlson of the Washington Office, Joan Carlson of Region 2, and Kit MacDonald of Region 3 received a Forest Service Chief’s Award last December for establishing Best Management Practices, developing monitoring protocols, and developing a database that allows the Forest Service to track the effectiveness of Best Management Practices across forests and grasslands.   

The U.S. Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a mission of sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The mission of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station is to improve people’s lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

The U.S. Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live. For more information, visit www.fs.usda.gov/.

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Last modified: June 10, 2016