Revisions of Vt. logging rules designed to meet goal for lake cleanup

ADDISON COUNTY — Revised regulations on voluntary logging practices designed to improve Lake Champlain water quality went into effect on Oct. 22 Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation (FPR) officials claimed most changes are minor and will have “minimal” impact on the logging sector. (See “Change to forest rules generates discussion among local loggers and foresters.”)
Revisions to the state’s 29-year-old Acceptable Management Practices — or “AMPs” — were required as part of Vermont’s 2015 Clean Water Act. (See “Forests and phosphorus reduction in Lake Champlain.”) 
“The AMPs will continue to be an important tool for loggers and landowners to protect water quality and soil health,” said FPR Commissioner Michael Snyder in an Agency of Natural Resources press release.  
Forester Gary Sabourin led the FPR’s  effort to get the AMPs revised. Sabourin, the Forestry District Manager for Addison, Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle counties, has been FPR’s Watershed Forester for 10 years.
Sabourin said the logging industry had the jump on other sectors because of its nearly 30-year history using the AMPs.
“Loggers, lawndowners and consulting foresters have been following these rules to reduce sediment from forestry operations since the AMPs originally became effective back in 1987,” he said.  
But there are some new things to which the sector must adapt, he said.
“Mainly what we’ve done is some tweaking here and there to enhance water quality protection, but at the same time provide the flexibility for loggers and landowners to get the work done,” Sabourin said.
Overall the AMPs are designed to protect water quality by minimizing soil erosion, maintaining natural stream flows, and protecting streambank vegetation.
The revised AMPs include enhanced stream buffer guidance, and stronger standards to manage water runoff on truck roads and skid trails and for seeding and mulching temporary stream crossings. A new AMP addresses hazardous materials.
Stream crossings were an important focus for the revisions, Sabourin said.
“We have found through previous assessments and audits that when we do have water quality problems on logging operations they’re usually associated with stream crossings,” he said.
The revised AMPs were issued after series of public meetings in both 2014 and 2016. Sabourin said a common concern raised by the logging industry at the stakeholder meetings was about grandfathering existing infrastructure, such as roads or log landings.
Sabourin described the economic impact of the revised AMPs on the forest products industry as minimal.
“I just don’t see it as being all that onerous and certainly not anything that’s going to have large economic impact to loggers. We just didn’t hear that at the stakeholder hearings,” Sabourin said.
The AMPs are voluntary, with the exception of lands enrolled in the state’s current use program. Enforcement focuses on whether or not a discharge occurs, not on whether or not there’s a proven violation of state water quality standards.
“A landowner can’t be prosecuted if he doesn’t follow the AMPs, only if a discharge occurs,” Sabourin said, adding, “There’s the presumption of compliance that if a landowner is following the AMPs, then he’s complying with Vermont’s water quality standards and water quality regulations. But if a discharge does occur and all the AMPs are in place, he still could be open to liability if a water quality test comes back showing that sedimentation did occur.”
The AMPs are mandatory for lands enrolled in the current use program; a property can lose current-use tax status if AMPs are not in place during logging operations.
FPR works with the Department of Environmental Conservation to enforce water quality standards.
The number of AMP cases reported and investigated has decreased over the past decade, Sabourin reported, from 57 cases in 2006 to 24 in 2014. The number of these cases showing evidence of discharge has decreased as well, from a high of 40 cases in 2010 to 11 in 2014. Over the same period, the number of requests for AMP technical assistance has increased.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

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