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Florida Land Steward

Florida Land Steward

« Environmental Regulations

Surface Waters Regulations

Surface water quantity and quality are heavily influenced by the surface on which rain falls and through which it percolates. The filtering capacity of forest land provides effective and high quality groundwater recharge. Florida's lakes, rivers, streams, and aquifers all benefit from forests.

Damage to water resources can occur. Studies have documented that certain forestry practices on sensitive sites can impact surface water quality.

  • Federal Law

    Federal Law

    The Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 (Clean Water Act) focused a new emphasis on solving nonpoint source* pollution problems.

    * A nonpoint source may be defined as water which enters a watercourse in a diffuse manner and is induced by storm events.

    As a direct result of Section 208 of the Clean Water Act, most eastern states developed and adopted a program of Best Management Practices (BMPs) for the purpose of controlling nonpoint source pollution problems resulting from silvicultural operations. 

    Section 319 of the 1987 Amendments to the Clean Water Act added to Section 208 by directing states to perform comprehensive assessments of state waters that are significantly degraded from nonpoint source pollution, and identify programs for controlling such sources (i.e., BMPs).  The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Nonpoint Source Report to Congress (1990) indicated that forestry accounted for 11% of the overall nonpoint source problem in Florida. 

    The latest Federal action to address nonpoint source pollution from silvicultural activities was the 1990 Coastal Zone Reauthorization Act (CZRA).  Section 6217 of the CZRA required the EPA to develop "Management Measures" for sources of nonpoint of pollution (including silvicultural activities) in coastal waters.  

    It is expected that Florida's revised silvicultural BMPs are sufficient to satisfy EPA's Management Measure requirements and that no additional constraints will be necessary to conform to the CZRA.

    See our Best Management Practices page for more information.

  • State Law

    Florida passed legislation in 1984 known as the Warren S. Henderson Wetland Protection Act.  Exemptions for most agricultural and silvicultural activities were maintained under Chapters 373 and 403 of the Florida Statutes. These exemptions read as follows:

    Chapter 373, F.S. - "Nothing herein, or in any rule, regulation, or order adopted pursuant hereto, shall be construed to affect the right of any person engaged in the occupation of agriculture, silviculture, floriculture, horticulture to alter the topography of any tract of land for purposes consistent with the practice of such occupation.  However, such alteration may not be for the sole or predominant purpose of impounding or obstructing surface waters." 

    Chapter 403, F.S. - "'Agricultural activities' includes all necessary forestry and farming operations which are normal and customary for the area, such as site preparation, clearing, fencing, contouring to prevent soil erosion, soil preparation, plowing, planting, harvesting, construction of access roads, and placement of bridges and culverts, provided such operations do not impede or divert the flow of surface waters." 

    The forestry community, with general support of the Water Management Districts (WMDs), which regulate agricultural and silvicultural fill and dredge activities, has interpreted these exemptions to mean that harvest, site preparation, and planting are exempt from regulation. 

    For an activity to be exempt, 3 conditions must apply:

    1. It must be a part of an established, ongoing silvicultural operation.
    2. It must be considered "normal silviculture", or customary to the practice of forestry.
    3. It must not significantly change wetland use or impair the flow and circulation of water on, around, or across a wetland.

    1. An Established Ongoing Operation:

    This condition requires that the site must have been managed for forest products in the past and that it will continue to be managed for that purpose.  Frequently used indicators for this condition include: 

    1. existence of a management plan
    2. records of past forestry operations
    3. contracts for future activities (e.g., tree planting, harvesting)
    4. physical evidence of past management such as old stumps, skid roads, or firelines.

    The Division of Forestry or a private consultant can be very helpful in identifying or locating these indicators.  Remember that any subsequent change in land use (i.e., row crops, urban commercial development, residential development) negates the silviculture exemption.

    2. Normal Silvicultural Activities

    "Normal" silviculture includes but is not limited to harvesting, thinning, planting, seeding, plowing, cultivation, and minor drainage for the production of forest products.  Most of the activities outlined in the "Timber Management" section of this site fall under the "normal" silviculture category.  However, a professional forester should be consulted when there is a question about whether a planned wetland forestry activity would be considered "normal" silviculture. 

    3. Practices that Can Change Wetland Use or Alter Site Hydrology

    Drainage must never result in conversion of the site to an upland or significantly alter its overall hydrologic functions.  Large drainage systems can cause these alterations, and should not be constructed before consulting a professional forester to validate the need for such a system.  The Corps of Engineers (COE) should also be consulted to ensure that the planned drainage is considered "minor".  These steps should avoid after-the-fact problems and potentially costly site restoration.

    Note: Activities which impede, impound, or divert flow in wetlands such as drainage ditches or fill roads will fall under a permit system with the WMDs.

    The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and/or the WMDs hold the right to enforce the State's water quality standards. Turbidity* is the major standard that affects silvicultural operations on wetland sites.

    * Turbidity is an optical measurement of the relative clarity of water.

    The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Florida Forest Service (FFS) serves as the implementing agency for the silvicultural element of the State Water Quality Plan by agreement with DEP.  the FFS strongly encourages the use of Forestry Best Management Practices (BMPs) through training sessions and technical assistance. The FFS also conducts regular aerlal and on-the-ground surveys to assess the success of the program. 

    The Water Management Districts reference BMPs as performance standards for compliance with their rules. See the FFS Best Management Practices page for more information.

  • Local Ordinances and Contacts

    Many local governments have developed their own water resource protection programs.  The majority of these programs have traditionally focused on development activities, but some programs can affect forestry practices.  

    The potential impact of local water resource protection programs to the forestry community can be significant since no state or federal exemptions apply to local regulations.  It is extremely important that land managers become aware of any such local ordinances in jurisdictions where silvicultural activities are conducted.

    Click on the links below for contacts you can reach for more information: