Forest headwaters streamA myriad of small streams run through Vermont’s upland forests. These small streams represent the “headwaters areas” of a watershed. Headwater streams are the smallest but most abundant streams that drain our landscape. More than 75 percent of the total stream miles in the country are documented as headwater streams.

Improperly managed headwater streams transfer impairments such as sediment to downstream rivers and lakes, making them similar to point sources of pollutants. Sediment decreases water quality for fish and other stream animals and plants. Even if the water appears clear, some sediment remains. Also, what you put into the stream on your property flows to the next property owner. Consider whether you'd want your upstream neighbors to send sediment and other pollutants to your property.

People depend on healthy and well-managed forest lands. Vermont’s forests cover more than 4.5 million acres and represent 75% of the state’s total land base, making us the fourth most heavily forested state in the country. Our forests protect municipal water supplies, reduce flooding, replenish groundwater aquifers, provide recreation and critical fish and wildlife habitat, and yield numerous wood products and store carbon. Properly managed forests contribute less non-point source pollution per acre than any other land use. In urban areas, trees and forest areas planned into parking areas have been shown to reduce runoff of harmful chemicals by trapping on leaf surfaces and reducing temperature induced transformations. 

A depiction of the forest canopy (top of trees), understory (lower growth), floor (topsoil and upper roots), and soil (below ground)Forest watershed functions

  Forest Canopy 

1. Intercept rainfall, protect soils and provide shade. 

2. Transpiration, nutrient storage and trap air pollutants. 

  Forest Floor

3. Filter sediment and chemicals. 

4. Infiltration, water and nutrient storage. 

  Forest Soil 

5. Biological removal of nutrients and pollutants. 

Forests provide a variety of critical ecosystem services that protect watershed function and water quality. They are not only sponges for water, allowing recharge of groundwater and slow release of heavy precipitation to the stream, but are also mini treatment plants for a myriad of pollutants from water and the air. Forests retain nearly all the nitrogen deposited on them from the atmosphere and can filter and process 50-90% of nitrate in groundwaters that flow through them on their way to streams and rivers. In addition, scientific studies have shown that forested land filters out phosphorus, sediment, and pesticides in a similar manner. 

Portable Skidder Bridge Initiative logging equipment crossing small bridge on snow-covered ground

The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, through the Forest Watershed Program, is spearheading an initiative to encourage loggers and forest landowners to consider using portable skidder bridges to cross streams during logging. 

Portable skidder bridges, when properly installed and used as temporary stream crossing structures, do the best job of reducing streambank and streambed disturbance compared to the alternatives. They are also economical since they are reusable, and easy to install and transport from job to job. Portable skidder bridges allow loggers to harvest timber in compliance with Vermont’s “Acceptable Management Practices for Maintaining Water Quality on Logging Jobs.” 

Ongoing and future endeavors for this initiative include:

  • Providing education and outreach to loggers and forest landowners on the economic and environmental benefits of using portable skidder bridges. 
  • Provide opportunities for loggers to purchase, loan or rent portable bridges. 
  • Provide assistance and support for existing and start-up businesses that would fabricate and sell portable skidder bridges in Vermont.