How forest certification standards keep our drinking water clean


Did you know that over half of the drinking water in the United States and nearly two thirds of the drinking water in Canada comes from forests?

This article appeared on the treehugger website, September, 2015

In a recent study, the non-profit National Association of State Foresters (NASF) confirmed that the best management practices used by harvesting professionals and required by forest certification standards are paying off in maintaining the water quality in our forests that translates into the clean water coming out of our faucets.

“Best management practices are an effective way of protecting water quality and preventing pollution,” Florida State Forester Jim Karels said. “Much of the nation’s drinking water originates from forests, and these measures ensure that those lands continue to provide such an important societal need.”

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is one example of a certification standard with requirements to implement best management practices for water quality. In the recent study, NASF recognized the role of SFI in advancing water quality in managed forests, and promoting improved harvesting practices: “... SFI [has] made important contributions to improved best management practices implementation through logger training, landowner outreach and water quality requirements.”

Best management practices for water quality

NASF is made up of the directors of U.S. state forestry agencies, and its study was the result of a multi-year effort analyzing best management practices data for water quality submitted by all 50 U.S. states. Researchers from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University were commissioned by NASF to perform the analysis. Financial support for the study came from the U.S. Forest Service and a grant from SFI.

The study commended both forest certification programs, and best management practice requirements. Although all major forest certifications in the U.S. were evaluated as making positive contributions to forest sustainability, SFI received particular recognition for its unique fiber sourcing requirements, which reach beyond the bounds of certified lands to improve forest management at a broader scale.

Sustainable solutions: fresh water now, fresh water for the future

Best management practices result in long-term improvements and protection of water quality, in addition to preventing water sedimentation and pollution in the near term. The practices include controlling soil erosion and ensuring rapid revegetation of the site following harvest. Other common practices include leaving intact forested buffers along streams, installing “water bars” to control runoff, and ensuring careful construction of logging trails and stream crossings. Landowner outreach and logger training are keys to success.

According to Iowa state forester and chair of the NASF Forest Resources Management Committee Paul Tauke, “At a time when our national water supply is more important and stressed than ever, ensuring our forest operations follow the best practices available will go a long way towards ensuring we have cleaner and more plentiful water for generations to come.”

The NASF study is freely available to educate both forest managers and the general public as to water quality practices in each state, and it includes an interactive map.

To find out more about SFI, and the ways in which sustainable forestry protects water quality and other critical forest attributes important to all of us, visit

Source: treehugger website, September 2015. Photo: Phil Riebel