Frequently Asked Questions about Logging in North Carolina
- Does North Carolina have special BMPs for forest biomass harvesting?
- Do I need a permit to salvage old underwater submerged logs?
- Why can't loggers leave a screen of buffer trees when they harvest timber?
- Forest owners who have their timber harvested typically wish to optimize the amount of money they receive from the sale of their timber, since the timber is considered a long-term investment, much like stocks or bonds. Typically the owner only has one opportunity in their lifetime to harvest the timber and realize their financial gains. Leaving a significant amount of trees as a visual buffer screen can reduce their investment returns and could hinder their ability to sustain their property as a forest. One possible solution for a neighbor that wishes to have a screen of trees retained along their property line would be to communicate those wishes to the forest owner. The neighbor should be willing to offer fair compensation to the forest owner in exchange for their agreeing not to harvest the trees alongside the property line. The forest owner can then factor the neighbor’s offer with all other issues concerning the harvest of their trees and come to a final decision.
- If the forest owner intends to have new tree seedlings planted across the harvested area, the best practice recognized in forest science is to assure that no remaining tall trees obscure or block the sunlight from those new seedlings, nor interfere with the rooting zone of the planted seedlings. Also, if a strip of trees is left standing, these remaining trees can produce their own “volunteer” natural seedlings which can crowd-out the cultivated tree seedlings which have been planted in the ground and spaced-apart from each other in a pattern that has shown to be optimal for rapid re-growth of a new forest. If significant numbers of natural seedlings are added to the site, then the growth of the new forest will be substantially slowed and stagnant, creating a dense and unsightly thicket of underbrush.
- Leaving a strip of tall trees creates a situation which may result in those remaining trees being blown-over by strong winds, or damaged by ice or snow. When trees grow in a forest, the collective support of the entire tree canopy allows the trees to be more resilient to storm damage. However, when only a narrow strip of buffer trees is left behind after harvesting the rest of the forest area, these remaining buffer trees are fully exposed to storm damage and can be expected to sustain damage or be knocked over more easily. This can lead to liability issues for the forest owner, especially when these trees are located adjacent to a neighbor’s property. The possibility of personal injury or property damage must be factored into the forest owner’s decision when considering what trees should be removed or which trees to retain.
- Why do loggers have to cut down trees... Can't we preserve them all?
- Is a permit needed for logging?
- What's the difference between logging and land-clearing....why does it matter?
- Does a logger have to be licensed?
- Is clearcutting allowable?
- Is clearcutting bad for wildlife?
- Is logging allowed in wetlands and swamps?
- Is logging allowed on national forests or state forests?
- Are there any rules for logging that protect our water quality?
- The foundation of rules that apply statewide are called the Forest Practices Guidelines Related to Water Quality, abbreviated as FPG's. While the title says "guidelines", these are in-fact rules and must be followed. There are nine performance standards within the FPG's that must be in compliance at all times.
- There are two state laws that prohibit obstructing streams, ditches or other drainages.
- There are several riparian buffer rules that limit logging and other forestry activities alongside certain streams within specific watershed regions of North Carolina.
- There are laws that protect coastal marshland and wetland areas.
- Is a stream buffer required when logging?
- Who inspects logging jobs?
- How does the state know when and where logging is being done?
- Who should I contact if I think that a logging job is not being done in accordance to the rules?
- Why can't loggers use helicopters to harvest trees, like you see on television?
- Aren't loggers just getting rich by cutting down other people's timber?
- What if I suspect somebody has stolen my timber, or cut/removed it without my permission?
- How can I learn more?
- Is there a requirement to complete a plan before undertaking a forest management or forest protection activity?
- Forestry leaflets
- Benefits of a Woodland Plan
- A Guide to implementing the Catawba Riparian Buffer Rule for Forest Harvesting Activities in North Carolina
- A Guide to implementing the Neuse River Basin and Tar-Pamlico River Basin Riparian Buffer Rule for Forest Management Activities in North Carolina
- A Guide to implementing the Randleman Lake Watershed Riparian Buffer Rule for Forest Management Activities
- A Guide to implementing the Goose Creek Watershed Riparian Buffer Rule for Forest Management Activities
- A Guide to implementing the Jordan Lake Water Supply Watershed Riparian Buffer Rules for Forest Harvesting Activities
- Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the Process to Create a Waterfowl Impoundment in a Wetland Forest?
- Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) - permits are required for certain types of disturbance in coastal marshland.
- Dredge & Fill Law - permits are required for digging or filling in estuarine waters and State-owned lakes.
There are no state-sponsored BMPs prescribed specifically for harvesting and utilizing forest/woody material for biomass energy production. This is due in part to North Carolina's forestry regulations (primarily the Forest Practices Guidelines Related to Water Quality, or "FPGs"), which already apply to all forestry-related harvesting. These rules require that measures be taken to protect streams, prevent pollution, and control soil erosion and sedimentation. In addition, the NC Forestry BMP Manual was revised in 2006 and includes many choices for implementing best practices when conducting a wide range of forestry operations, including harvesting of timber (regardless of how that timber will be used after it is harvested -- for wood products, paper, or energy production). North Carolina is unique among states in the southern U.S., since we have forest water quality rules which govern how forest harvesting must be conducted in order to protect water quality. The North Carolina Forest Service and N.C. State University are collecting information about biomass harvesting in the state, so that if future effort is needed to develop specific recommendations or guidelines, we will then have more data upon which to base those decisions.
In recent years, TV shows about logging have showcased the salvage and removal of centuries-old logs from underwater. This type of log salvage work typically requires substantial planning and permitting from state and federal agencies. In North Carolina, a permit may be needed from one or more of these State agencies: the Division of Water Resources; the Division of Coastal Management; and/or the Division of Cultural Resources – Office of State Archaeology. Additional federal permitting is likely to be required from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In addition, there may be a question about the ownership of old, sunken logs in North Carolina. If a log has been submerged underneath "waters of the State" for an extended period of time, that log may now be legally considered as property of the State of North Carolina. Before conducting log salvage work, you should consult with the State Property Office. You should also consult with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to make sure that your boat or water vessel is properly registered and safe for use in North Carolina. A special state task force report was prepared in December 2000 that documents log salvage work in eastern North Carolina, and the report outlines some recommended best management practices (BMPs). The BMPs in the report are intended to protect sensitive aquatic habitat along the bottoms of rivers, lakes, or sounds.
Loggers are hired to harvest all trees that the forest owner or timber buyer has designated for harvest. In certain situations, a visual buffer screen can be retained, but there are many reasons why a visual buffer may not be appropriate, depending upon what the forest owner’s intentions are:
Loggers harvest timber so we can all have paper, wood and many other products that come from trees. Recycling of paper and wood has certain benefits but not all wood or paper can be recycled and not all products can be manufactured from recycled material. We still need the renewable resource of raw wood and fiber that only trees can produce. The primary benefit of recycling is to reduce the amount of waste that is deposited into landfills and is not necessarily intended to replace the growth and harvest of trees for the utilization of forest products.
Preserving some areas of forest may be appropriate if the purposes are for reasons other than to grow trees. However, it's important to recognize that trees do not live forever. If they are managed through scientific forestry principles and harvested in accordance to best management practices (BMPs), trees can provide an abundance of renewable natural resource materials after being harvested, while also providing many environmental benefits.
An online interactive educational Web site about forestry is available from the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, called ForestLearn. This program describes the forest, the watershed, the mills and the people who tend to the forests.
Another source of information is available from forestinfo.org This site is a great source for environmental information which is understandable, unbiased, accurate and available in a wide variety of formats.
Permits are not needed to harvest timber, as long as the tract of land is being managed for sustainable, ongoing forest management, also called "silviculture." If the tract is going to be cleared of trees so the property can be converted to another land-use, then the landowner may need to obtain permits and/or a sediment and erosion control plan before cutting trees or clearing the land. The N.C. Forest Service does not issue any permits related to land-clearing; usually this responsibility falls upon the N.C. Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources Land Quality Section, or the local government jurisdiction. In some counties, the N.C. Department of Transportation may require that a logger obtain a permit for establishing an entrance from their logging site onto a state-maintained road.
Sustainable forest management depends upon the skillful harvest and utilization of timber by loggers. Logging is needed to harvest the trees so they can be converted into the many products we use. Once the mature trees are harvested, a new stand of tree seedlings will be regenerated on the tract to renew the forest.
When land is going to be developed, or converted to another use that is not forestry, then the work is considered land-clearing. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between logging for forestry, versus cutting of trees for land-clearing. In many cases, loggers are hired to harvest trees on forestry tracts, and also to remove trees on land-clearing tracts, since the equipment that is used in both cases is very specialized and not commonly available.
When the N.C. Forest Service observes a logging job, we work with the landowner and logger to understand the purpose for the tree removal on their property, and if needed, our foresters and rangers make contact with the appropriate agency if the site is not considered a forestry-related harvest.
Loggers can be certified in North Carolina, but there is no licensing requirement. Approximately 1,400 loggers participate in a statewide logger certification and training program called the North Carolina ProLogger Program. This program has been training loggers since 1995, and consists of an introductory 3-day training workshop that includes a full day on environmental awareness. Also, for a logger to maintain the ProLogger certification, an annual continuing education training workshop is required. The ProLogger Program is owned and operated by the North Carolina Forestry Association. There is also a professional association for loggers in the state, the North Carolina Association of Professional Loggers which is a chapter of the American Loggers Council.
Clearcutting is allowable and often is the preferred method of harvesting timber. While the immediate appearance of some clearcuts may not be attractive to all, there are biological and silvicultural benefits of a properly implemented clearcut harvest. Considering the long-term management of forests, as measured in decades, the relatively short period of time that a clearcut harvest appears unsightly should not be considered as a permanent loss of forests.
Many of the native wildlife in North Carolina are adapted to a wide range of habitats and site conditions. After a clearcut harvest, the growth of new succulent vegetation provides an abundance of forage, food and cover for much of the wildlife in our state. Deer, bear, rabbit, hawks, and wild turkey are some of the more frequently observed wildlife in areas that have been recently clearcut. More information about clearcutting is available in a color brochure entitled Clearcutting: Facts and Myths.
Logging for the purposes of ongoing forestry management (referred to as "silviculture") is allowed in wetlands or swampy areas. The federal and state governments regulate site disturbing activities in wetland areas, and often a permit is needed. However, silviculture activities are usually exempted from having to obtain these permits, so long as certain required precautions are implemented so that the forestry work will not adversely impact the wetland area or water quality. Silvicultural activities in wetlands are described in detail within Chapter 6 of the North Carolina Forestry BMP Manual.
Timber management and harvesting are incorporated as part of the multiple uses and overall forest stewardship activities on these noteworthy public forest lands. The national forests are managed by the federal government through the U.S. Forest Service. There are four National Forests in North Carolina. There are three state forests (and seven Educational State Forests) managed by the state government through the N.C. Forest Service.
There are multiple state and federal rules and laws that govern how logging and other forestry activities must be conducted in order to protect the quality of our water resources.
A summary of water quality rules is available within Chapter 2 of the North Carolina Forestry BMP Manual.
A Streamside Management Zone (SMZ) is required alongside intermittent streams, perennial streams, and perennial bodies of water. This SMZ requirement is described within rule .0201 of the FPG's and applies across the entire state of North Carolina at all times. Timber may be harvested from within the SMZ under certain restrictions.
In addition to the requirement of a SMZ, several watershed regions of the state also have additional riparian buffer zones that must be established concurrently with a SMZ.
The N.C. Forest Service has the responsibility to inspect logging jobs across North Carolina; this includes public lands and privately-owned lands. The NCFS's foresters and rangers across all 100 counties have the duty to inspect logging jobs within their designated work areas and document if the logging job is complying with the water quality rules. A team of water quality specialists in the agency provides additional education, technical assistance, advice and training on water quality related topics. For more information about the inspection process visit this link.
While loggers are not required to notify the Forest Service before starting their work, many loggers voluntarily request assistance or advice from our rangers or foresters. Also, because our rangers usually only have to work in one assigned county, they maintain a good working knowledge of what's going on in their county. Many of our forest rangers grew up in their assigned work area, and often know where forestry and logging work is being done, without ever needing somebody to tell them.
In addition, logging work is sometimes located by aircraft. A forester or ranger will ride in an agency-owned aircraft and seek out logging within a designated area. Once a logging job is observed, a follow-up site inspection is typically conducted. Water quality issues viewed from the air periodically occur in tandem with aerial reconnaissance missions flown for forest health or wildfires. The other notification the agency receives is third party such as other agencies, adjacent landowners or the public.
If you have a concern about a specific logging job, contact the N.C. Forest Service office that is located within the county where the logging is occurring. Phone numbers are listed under the North Carolina State Government blue pages in the telephone book (it may be listed as Forest Service, or as N.C. Forest Service).
In addition, the North Carolina Sustainable Forestry Initiative Statewide Implementation Committee offers a toll-free Inconsistent Practices Hotline, in which you can leave a message if you have a forest sustainability or water quality concern about a specific logging job. The hotline phone number is 877-271-6531.
Helicopter logging is very infrequently used in the eastern United States and is extremely costly. While recent "reality" cable-television shows have showcased helicopter logging and made it seem commonplace, reality is that helicopter logging makes for exciting television and is simply not a cost-effective, safe, or practical alternative to harvest timber except in very rare circumstances. Occasional use of helicopters for logging in North Carolina has occurred but usually in rugged mountainous areas in which road access was limited or not available. Logging with helicopters is akin to carving a loaf of bread with a laser beam -- while it can be done, the cost, practicality and inherent danger simply don't make any real sense.
Timber is bought or sold through contractual agreements between the buyer and the seller. In many situations, the logger is not the person who bought the timber. Instead, the logger is hired by a timber company, forest products mill, or timber broker who purchased the timber. In this case, the logger is simply providing a contractual harvesting service, and is usually paid a pre-determined rate according to the size and quality of the timber, the site conditions, and the tract's location relative to the processing mill or collection yard.
Most logging companies are small family-owned businesses and face high costs of operations. The machines commonly used by loggers can cost upwards of a half-million dollars each, and the logger must pay for high levels of insurance to maintain contractual liability requirements. These costs make logging a challenging business. When taking into account the difficult working conditions that loggers operate in, the career of logging is facing hurdles in recruiting new, young entrepreneurs to sustain this economically important profession.
In North Carolina, timber is legally considered a real-estate asset. If you believe that somebody has unlawfully cut and/or removed timber in which you have a legal ownership claim, you should hire an independent Consulting Forester who can assess the site and determine the potential value of the trees. To pursue legal action, you will need to contact the Sheriff's Department in the county where the timber is located. The N.C. Forest Service does not investigate allegations of timber theft or any other kind of theft unless associated with suspected theft of state-owned property.
The NCFS's Web site has information about the basics of forestry, water quality, and timber harvesting. This includes a pictorial forestry operations glossary, beginning steps, and several publications. Also, the Extension Forestry Department of N.C. State University has numerous publications on a wide range of topics. If you would like to submit a question, email the question to NCFS.Water@ncagr.gov . You will receive an email response and your question may be added to this Web page in the future if it's believed that others could benefit from it. You can also contact the forest ranger in your county.
If your land is in an area with a Riparian Buffer Rule, you must have a forest management plan or be enrolled in the county Present Use Value tax program to harvest timber within the designated Riparian Buffer Rule zone. Riparian Buffer Rules exist for Goose creek watershed, Jordan Lake, Randleman Lake, and Catawba, Neuse, and Tar-Pamlico river basins. Please refer to the additional resources below.
For all woodland owners, having a written plan can document efforts, minimize miscommunications, and help consider all factors. Developing a woodland management plan before you harvest will help you identify the practices that should be implemented to safely maintain and enhance the qualities of your land. A woodland plan can also make sales more attractive to buyers and often reduces the harvesting, site preparation, and reforestation costs. Additionally, having a management plan and following it may also reduce your property taxes if you meet the requirements specified by North Carolina tax code. Contact your county ranger for assistance with woodland plans. Also, check out our FREE Forest Preharvest Planning Tool (FPPT).
- Additional resources:
Creating a waterfowl impoundment or a greentree reservoir in a forested wetland (or a cutover swamp) is not generally considered to be an exempted “silvicultural” activity under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Impoundments require careful planning, design and permitting authorization from multiple agencies, even if no soil excavation or placement of fill will occur.
The N.C. Forest Service provides advice to landowners whose land will continue to be managed for silviculture (forestry), therefore our agency is not in a position to provide technical assistance for impoundments or hunting preserves. If a landowner wants to convert a forest/cutover area to a non-forestry land use, then the owners needs to consult with other agencies. Permitting may be required before constructing roads, cutting timber, clearing land, digging ditches, installing firelines, or blocking waterways.
It is a good idea for the landowner to start by hiring a professional wetland, wildlife or hydrology specialist to prepare a wildlife and water management plan for their tract. Then, share that plan with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and consult with that agency on how to proceed. The Corps may be able to authorize the work through a Nationwide Permit. Other agencies that should be consulted are listed below. Permit fees may be required by some state agencies.N.C. Div. of Coastal Management:
N.C. Div. of Water Resources (DWR): If the Corps of Engineers authorizes the work under a Nationwide Permit, then the State must also issue a corresponding “401 Water Quality Certification”. That Certification may include additional conditions or requirements then those found in the Nationwide Permit.
N.C. Div. of Energy, Mineral, and Land Resources (DEMLR): If soil will be excavated, deposited, or exposed, then an approved Erosion & Sedimentation Control Plan (and/or a Stormwater General Permit) may be required. This agency also oversees the safety rules for building dams.
Other Agency Reference Resources:
N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ), assistance to help get started on permitting.
N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, waterfowl management and hunting.
USDA-NRCS in North Carolina, financial assistance programs.
USDA-NRCS, wetland management for waterfowl handbook (PDF, 3MB).
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, moist soil management guidebook for the southeast (PDF, 2MB).
*Disclaimer* - The information and agency contacts provided above are for general reference only and does not constitute legal advice. It is the landowner’s responsibility to obtain all necessary permitting and/or authorization before disturbing lands or waters.