Best Management Practices for a River Cleanup, as practiced by Headwaters Trails.
A river cleanup guide for kayak and canoe accessability.These
guidelines for best practices are those used by Headwaters Trails when
clearing debris and maintaining the Shiawassee River Heritage Water
They incorporate the Best Management Practices prescribed by the
Michigan Department of Natural Resources, MDNR. They are intended
to help people who have not been to an MDNR training session understand
what should be done when maintaining any river primarily used with
canoes, rowboats and kayaks. Many of the same principles apply to
rivers used in powerboat and ship traffic. Included are
practical suggestions with regard to personal safety and the
maintenance of equipment as well as techniques and understanding honed
by experience. We recommend that people read these before
undertaking a river cleanup on their own because bad practices can
cause more harm than good. It is our goal that the Shiawassee
River should continue to be a model for Best Management Practices.
River Considerations:When clearing a river, as a guiding principle, you should
remove as few of the trees and branches in the river as necessary.
Woody debris provide food and shelter for fish, basking sites for
turtles and perching sites for birds, as well as protect the banks of
the river from erosion. In general, you should only be cutting a path
wide enough for boats to pass, typically no wider than 10 feet. The goal of a river cleanup is to make the
river navigable and
preserve the banks of the river, but to not destroy fish and other wildlife habitat. In
making the river navigable, it is important to take logs and branches that are
cut and anchor them along the banks of the river, preferably, against a bank
that the current is cutting. The more
you can protect the banks, the deeper the river will cut to pass the water as
opposed to widening and making the river shallower. A general principle of aquatic engineering is
that the narrower the river, the deeper it will be. This bank protection keeps the water deep
enough for fish and by reducing the surface area, keeps the water temperature
down, something necessary for healthy fish. It has the added benefit of keeping the river
navigable in low water. Logs floating
down a river will naturally float to the outside banks of curves in the
river. Rather than clear these, they
should be made into places that you can
stockpile the logs and branches in the river.
It is far better to accomplish this goal with natural materials as
opposed to putting in sheet piling, concrete sea walls or constructed banks
made from stones with fencing holding them in place. Studies of trout streams, show that fish in
general stay away from concrete. Many
streams are artificially maintained by cutting the trees and putting in stone
removal of the trees
warms the water and allows the growth of weeds, something that is bad
health of the river and the critters that depend upon it as well as
making it difficult to paddle. Typically, if there is a drainage
district and the local Water Resources Management team has any say,
they will destroy a river for wildlife. It is best to try to keep
prevent your streams from becoming regulated by the Michigan Drain
Under the law, the owner of the land adjoining the river
owns to the middle of the river unless the deed specifies otherwise. The land owner on whose land sits the root
ball of a tree is the owner of that tree that has fallen in the river. You need his permission to cut the tree. It is a good idea to get that in
writing. If he is not willing to give
that permission, you can always remind him that under common law, people using
the river are allowed to portage around those obstacles, even if that means
going over his land. He may want an
opening cut in the tree to prevent people from crossing his land. That portaging over the land is not
considered trespassing under the law.
The vast majority of land owners are happy to grant permission
their trees in the river and are supportive of those efforts.
Remember that the courts have said that although a landowner may
own the river bottom, he cannot prevent people from using the river.
That means that not only are boats allowed, but that walking the
river up to the normal high water mark is allowed.
The first step in creating a river stockpile, is to choose
the largest and longest logs available and anchor them to act as a barrier in a
river bend or the bank of the river where there is a place to anchor it. This bow structure in a bend, with the
bank as the bow and the log as the string, provides places to put the smaller
times you can create a place to put brush using a log that is sticking
across the river. Once you cut a passage way through the log, you
can tie logs behind it, making an impoundment. This can be done
cables to wrap around the logs and then anchor these to trees along the
or to anchors driven in the river. With big
logs, you may want more than one cable to secure the log firmly to the
bank or other logs. Once in place, you can tie other
logs to this one and then stack up smaller brush behind the large logs. Over time, the logs will become waterlogged
and sink to the bottom. This is
desirable. It prevents the current from
cutting under them and attacking the bank.
As these sit on the bottom, sediment can build up behind them and help
build the bank back out and allow trees to grow. In some cases, proper placement of logs with
anchors can build sediment back under tree root balls that are being undercut
and will eventually fall in the river if not protected. The rotting wood provides shelter for some
fish and hiding spots for others, as well as a source of food. As the logs rot, the critters that eat the
rotting logs are eaten by the fish.
Use 1 x 19 3/32 galvanized steel wire rope or thicker. Single strand wire fatigues out much quicker
than you will want. This stranded 1 x 19
cable (McMaster-Carr 3498t62) has a 1200 pound breaking strength, something
that is needed in flood stage and in the winter when ice flows back up against
the logs. 3/32 oval copper sleeves
(McMaster Carr 3897t23) can be used to form loops on the end of the cable. It is a good idea to have different length
cables available, such as 10 foot and 6 foot pieces. The loops on the end allow you to loop cables
together if not long enough. Painting
the cables with different colored spray paint, will allow you to keep track of which
are long and which are short. I typically use yellow for 6' cables and no paint for 10' cables. When tying
a log, loop the cables around the log then push one end through the loop on the
end of the cable. This acts as a choker
that holds for a long time, even when the log starts to rot away.
The galvanizing will let the cable last for
many years before rusting through. Do
not use stainless steel or plastic coated cable because you want the steel to
eventually rust away but hold while in use.
A piece of stainless will become a hazard many years after the log has
completely disappeared. Plastic coated
cables don't hold well. The other end of the cable can be attached to
a tree or an anchor in the river. Duck
Bill anchors or others of similar design that can be hammered down into soft
soil with a long rod, that have a cable attached to them. These are useful where ever you want to place
logs where there are no trees to attach to.
It is a good idea to use perforated steel rigid straps to secure the
cables to the logs and also to the nearest trees. These are typically cut into strips with six
holes per piece (McMaster Carr 9600t51 strapping) for small logs. Double these up because they tend to rust
fairly quickly due to their thin design.
Use two pieces and position so that the nails go through two strips, to
make sure that the strap lasts for a reasonably long time and six nails give
you plenty of bite into the wood. Use
spiral shank nails, they don't pull out as easily as smooth nails. Keep a selection of from 5" to 10"
long nails. If the log is partly rotted,
use the longer nails and straps with larger holes. The nails and
straps will eventually rust away. Bending
over nails instead of using straps doesn't work very well. The
bent nails frequently break in the bend
due to the hardening of the nail and it takes very little rotting of
to release the cable. With large spikes, strapping with larger
holes works best. It is difficult to drive the spikes through the
straps with small holes.
Long term protection of the river requires more than just
removing log jams and pulling out debris.
If possible, you want to work with land owners to allow you to plant
trees along the banks of the river. Lawns
with trees along the banks of the river are stable. Lawns
without trees produce unstable banks that erode easily. These
need to be water tolerant trees, such
as willow and cedar. They should be trees that are not having
problems with fungi and insects, such as elm or ash trees.
Whenever possible, plant native trees, not invasives like autumn
olive or buckthorn. Various wetland
bushes grow quickly and make good companion plantings. The roots will stabilize the soil and slow
erosion. The roots pull some of the
excess nutrients from the water that cause excessive weed growth. The shade from these trees, will help keep
the water cool and shade out aquatic weed growth. Often, it is necessary to put posts and
fences around these trees till they get to around 10 feet tall to keep the deer
from eating them in the winter. Still,
after they have grown, in some areas, the deer and rabbits will eat the bark
off the trees in the winter, killing the trees.
There are methods of protecting the trees from deer, such as wrapping
the trunks and spraying the trees with any number of compounds, like soapy
water, to keep the deer from eating them, but most of these wash off and need
to be reapplied frequently. Some people
claim that you can leave bags tied to the branches of trees with rotting meat
in them to keep the deer away. It may
work, but it does leave an unpleasant smell along the river you are trying to
enjoy. The tried and true method
involves 6 foot high fencing strung around three seven foot "T" posts
with the tree in the center. In some
cases you can protect the trees by planting black berries and other bushes that
have thorns, though you want to make sure that those you plant are natives and
not invasive plants like autumn olive. You
can always just plant trees in areas that have lost trees due to disease or
wind storms by cutting some willow branches and sticking them into wet
soil. This works best in the
will sprout a tree from a fresh stick, as anyone who has put pussy willows in
water will have experienced. These trees
are adapted to live in water saturated soils.
Typically, where you see long stretches of river with cut
lawns lacking trees, that go up to the river, you will see erosion that has
widened and shallowed the river.
Judicious anchoring of logs and placement of rocks can help reverse that
trend. In some streams, people advocate
making barriers along the edges, out of straw bales held down by stakes. In high water, mud gets deposited above the
bales, keeping it out of the main channel.
Ideally, you can establish cat tails, wild rice, and other native
wetland plants to keep the sediment out of the river long after the straw has
rotted away. These native plants not
only hold the sediments back, they provide food for birds and nesting places.
When dealing with rocks in the river, it is a bad idea to
remove them from the river. Rocks make
ideal bank protection, but are also necessary for the growth of many beneficial
insects, such as dragon flies, and provide places for fish to lay eggs and seek
protection from the current. A healthy
stream is one that has clean gravel on the bottom.
It is generally a good idea to protect beaver dams where
possible. These animals hold back the
water for long distances, keeping the river deep enough to paddle. These impoundments regulate the water flow in
that they hold back water from high flow periods so that in dry weather, there
is water for the river to draw upon.
This water is not only held in the wetlands created by the beaver's
flooding, the higher water recharges the permeable soils around the
wetlands. When water levels drop, water
stored in the soil surrounding the wetland then slowly flows back into the
river, maintaining a constant and more uniform flow. That water held in the soil tends to be
cooler than water in the wetlands and helps keep the water temperature
down. The dams that the beavers create,
catch debris that then rots in place. In
general, it is far easier to cross a beaver dam than a log jam. Beavers often get a bad rap when these dams
collapse and cause flooding. More often
than not, beaver dams collapse when humans do something to destroy these dams
because they do not want their property flooded. It is not faulty engineering on the part of
the beavers. Public education is needed
to keep people from destroying the dams and trapping the beavers. Any good fisherman knows that the best place
in a river to fish is near the beaver dams and lodges.Beavers
do cut down trees. They need these for their dams and to eat.
Where ever possible, replant trees not only right next to the
banks of the river but also in the upland. Beavers especially
like to eat trees such as aspen and poplar which are only medium hard
Generally, when hand saws and clippers are no longer
sufficient to cut logs, it is a good idea to use a chain saw. When chain sawing in the river, one of the
problems is that if the tree breaks or moves in the wrong direction it can
pinch your saw. To prevent this from
happening, plastic chainsaw wedges work well. Do not use metal wedges. These can be dangerous if the saw hits them
and they most assuredly will dull the saw blade. Make the cut deep enough to have the saw and
the wedge in the slot, then stop cutting and pound the wedge in. When you restart, you are significantly less
likely to pinch the saw. When the log
drops, the wedges typically fall into the water. Never try to grab a wedge before it falls in
or while the saw is running. That is a
good way to lose fingers. In shallow
water, they may not be hard to find, but more often than not, the water is deep
enough that the wedges can be lost.
Drilling a small hole in the side of the wedge near the top and then
gluing in a piece of fishing line gives you something to help you find that
wedge again. Putting a bobber on the
opposite end of the line means that the wedge, line and bobber can fall in the
river and yet be easy to find afterward.
It is usually a good idea to carry at least two chain saws with spare
chains available. No matter how hard you
try and how thoroughly you plan, you will find that you will occasionally still
get a saw stuck in a log. A second saw
gives you the option of cutting the saw back out of the wood. Otherwise, you may end up leaving the bar and
chain stuck in a log somewhere.
When using a chainsaw in the river, you always want to cut
wood above the waterline if possible.
Often times it is not possible.
In that case, you need to consider that a chainsaw needs much more power
to cut in water than in air. This is for
two reasons. The water itself consumes
energy as the blade paddles through it, and the bar stops getting oil once it
is in the water because of the way saws put oil on the chains. Water is a poor lubricant. You will see your chains and bars wear
quickly when used in the water. Once you
pull the blade out of the water, it is a good idea to let the blade free spin
for 10 seconds or more to get oil back on the blade and in the groove of the
bar. Failing to do this can result in
excess rust that will again reduce the life of the bar and chain. If your bar has places to inject grease, you
should do this frequently. The grease
does not wash out of the bar anywhere near as easily as does the oil.
A general pointer on chainsaws.
Always use the highest octane gas you can get and make sure that
the gas is fresh and that you have stored it in a container that does
not have an open top. A metal "Type I" or higher can is a good
option. The reason for the closed top is that gas loses octane as
it evaporates. The reason for the high octane is so that
the engine will not backfire and spin backwards, pulling the cord out
of your hand as you try to start it. This can and has caused
sprained and bruised fingers, with the potential for breakage of
fingers and damage to the saw. It happens because low octane gas
ignites prematurely, before the piston passes top dead center.
High octane gas is by definition, gasoline that is
resistant to pre-ignition. Most chainsaws currently made require
high octane gas. Preventing pre-ignition stops knocking that can
burn a hole in your piston as an added benefit. If your saw has
been sitting for a long time with gas in it, that gas will have lost
some octane and can be a problem. It is best to run a saw dry
before storing it, Alternatively, Briggs and Stratton makes a
product called Advanced Formula Fuel Treatment, that will keep the gas
fresh for a year or more (they claim 3 years), which has been stored in
a sealed container. In theory, this new formulation works with
the newer fuel being sold that has ethanol added to it, better than
older formulations like Stabil(tm). In theory, it prevents
corrosion that ethanol can cause.
logs in deep water is something of a special skill. It may mean
that you need to cut from a boat. In that instance, be sure that
the boat you are in is either big enough that it is stable with you
cutting off the side or you have another boat tied to it for stability.
You always want the boat held firmly in position, with anchors, a
person holding it, or ropes from the shore. Flipping a boat with
a running chainsaw can be extremely dangerous.
Always carry a loggers first aid kit when
using a saw and check it before you go out to make sure that it is fully
stocked and that none of the bandages have been gotten wet. Most first aid kits are only slightly water
resistant. Keep them in a dry bag or
other container when on the water.
Always wear safety glasses, ear plugs and gloves when using a chain saw. Gloves are especially necessary if you
attempt to change a chain while your hands are wet. The water softens them so that they are easily
cut and sharp chains do that well. You
should always work in at least pairs, so that if one is hurt, the other can
help and call for help. You should
always carry a cell phone in a waterproof container with you in case you need
emergency help. Always be aware of the
people around you when using a chain saw.
You don't want to accidentally cut them with the saw nor drop something
on them with it. Chain saw manufacturers
like Stihl, have safety videos that you can request. It is a good idea to have anyone using a
chainsaw review these safety videos before going out with a chainsaw.
you are standing on a log with a running saw and you start to fall into
the river, there may not be time to shut off the saw. Whatever
you do, toss it a safe distance from you. When possible, turn it
off first. You do not want to fall onto a chainsaw blade, running
or not. It is better to risk damaging the saw than risk losing a
limb or getting a severe cut that requires stitches. Make sure
that the people around you give you room to toss the saw before you get
If you should accidentally submerge
your saw, you need to
pull the spark plug immediately, dry it with a lighter if you have one and if
not just blow on the tip to dry it off and wipe the outside with
something dry. Pull the cord on the saw a
few times to flush out the water, and reassemble. After this, start the saw again
to do this can ruin
a saw because the water will get in the piston rings and in the
bearings, allowing rust to form. Dunking a hard running saw into
the water such that water gets into the intake, will usually destroy
the piston and crank
It is a good idea to carry trash bags for the small
trash. Canoes and rowboats are handy for
the larger items, like tires and other big trash. When paddling, you can use trash grabbers to
get at small trash, like plastic bottles in the weeds and bushes along the
use Lansing Forge aluminum tie tongs for moving submerged logs.
Tie tongs are designed for moving railroad ties, but they work
well on logs. They are especially nice when the log is in water
deeper than waist deep and you need to grab hold of it. Bending
down without tie tongs will probably mean that you stick your face in
the water. That can easily result in you losing your glasses.
The tie tongs also prevent you from having to bend a lot to pick
up logs, helping prevent back injuries. Lansing Forge Tie Tongs
help when the logs are slippery and can handle two people pulling on
them. They are able to lift 1800 pounds without bending or
twisting. Other brands of aluminum and steel tongs exist.
These are the ones we use.
What to wear:
Long shirts and long pants help
keep you from getting poison ivy or scratches from the brush and logs you
The best ones to wear are ones that do not hold water. Most
synthetics will drain quickly once you get out of the water. Wool
holds water but also retains heat, so although it will get heavy, it
will still keep you warm. Cotton does not drain easily and can
cool you down dramatically.
Gloves are important when you may
be lifting something unseen that you may find under the water or something that
may have sharp edges or nails. Tetanus
is a real concern if you get cut in the water.
Likewise, sturdy boots or shoes that will not easily pull off are a good
idea. It is not uncommon to step in soft
mud that really holds onto your shoes.
You may step on something sharp in the water like glass from a bottle or
an old board with a nail sticking up. If
you are not a strong swimmer, you should wear a life vest all the time.
What to bring: If you have one, you should carry a cell phone in a
watertight container along with a map of the river. It may be
needed if you have to try to tell a rescuer where you are at.
carry a first aid kit in the river. It should be in a water tight
container. If chainsawing, you should consider buying a Loggers
First Aid Kit. This has supplies for more serious injuries that
you may have when chain sawing. Always open your first aid kit
and inspect it before going out on the river. Check that it has
not gotten wet and that you have all the supplies needed. Wear glasses
when working with a saw. Ear plugs are a good idea. Stihl
makes chainsaw chaps that can help prevent you from hitting your leg
with a saw, though they are not very practical in deep water.
When working in the river, good planning is important. That includes planning for the weather and
other hazards along the way. Although it
is safe to work while it is raining, it is not safe to work when there is
lightning or even a threat of lightning.
At the first sign of lightning, get out of the water and seek
cover. On cold days, make sure you have
towels in plastic bags to dry off with. Plastic
space blankets can prevent hypothermia if the weather cools down or if it just
is cooler than you anticipated. Energy
bars, granola bars or even candy bars of any sort will help you warm back up
again and restore your energy. It is a
good idea to wear clothing that will not absorb water, so that you will not
cool down while you are waiting to dry off.
You should always carry water with you in bottles so that you can
rehydrate. Working hard in the water can
easily lead to dehydration. If you are
allergic to poison ivy, stay away from it, but also put on ivy block. When out of the water, if you have been
exposed, use something like Technu or Fels Naptha oil soap to thoroughly clean your skin. Don't take chances, you may regret it. You may want to take sun block and mosquito
keep bugs out of your
hair and shade your eyes from the bright sun.
go out on the
river to do a cleanup late in the evening when you are not already
pretty sure what you will encounter. Once the sun goes down, it
gets cold in a hurry. Hypothermia can kill. Know the signs
of it. Be prepared to deal with it in cooler weather. Never
use a chain saw after dark.
They are too dangerous to take chances with.
practice shutting a saw off before using it in the river. If you
lose your balance or get stuck in the mud, you want to be able to
quickly shut off the saw so that you don't cut yourself or others
trying to help you. When carrying a saw, you should have the
blade covered in a scabbard when the saw is not in use. These
blades are sharp and can really injure you or someone with you if
fallen upon or if they get pushed up against someone. If you cut
yourself anything more than a scratch, with a chainsaw, go to the
hospital. The teeth can drive debris under your skin and
generally stitches will help it heal.
working on the river, you should always let someone know when to expect
you back and where you are going. If you do not arrive on time,
they know where to send someone looking. Never work in the water
by yourself, especially if using a chainsaw. If you injure
yourself with a saw, you need someone that can give you first aid and
get you out of there or call for help. When working in the water,
it is a bad idea to try to move all of the logs by yourself. If
one starts to get away, it could push you under if you are in front of
it. If the bottom is soft, it may be difficult to get back up to
the surface. A buddy working with you can help. By
yourself, you might drown. I have found that sometimes when
walking in the river, I hit deep soft mud that freezes my feet in
place. With a buddy around, I can hand him my saw before I try to
extricate myself. The swifter the water, the more you and your
buddy need to stay together. In some conditions, you may want a
safety line and a safety belt or harness. A buddy can watch for
signs of hypothermia in you and you him, in cooler weather. Not
all rivers are warm and even normally warm ones are still cold in the
Know your limits and those of your buddy or buddies.
The conditions greatly affect your safety. The deeper and
faster the water, the more dangerous and the more you need to watch out
for others. Keep in mind that shorter people are more likely to
get swept off their feet or get in over their heads than are taller
Use Caution clearing log jams:Always be careful
when clearing log jams. If the current is swift, you might get
sucked under. A life vest may not help then. Good swimmer
or not, that can get you caught where you may drown. In fast
water, use a safety line or stay out of the river till it slows down.
jams catch the floating debris that comes down the river. That
means that that there may be boards or logs with nails stick out.
Glass bottles and metal cans present a risk of cutting yourself
if you are not paying attention.
Log jams are places that
attract animals. You may encounter a snake in the log jam.
The best way of preventing yourself from getting bitten is to see
the snake first. He will usually move else where with only a
little prodding. Be prepared to encounter very large spiders in
log jams. They can give a painful bite but mostly are more afraid
of you than you of them. Mostly, you don't want to panic after
seeing one and become a hazard to yourself and others. Again,
being aware is the best defense. When possible, use tongs for
reaching into the unknown.
Out of State:In Michigan, we do
not have dangerous fish in the water. If you work in places like
Pennsylvania, Louisiana or anywhere near the ocean, there is always the
possibility that sharks can come in with the tide or there may be
alligators. Those are special conditions that are not addressed
The Link below is to a fact sheet that discusses some of these same issues but in a format that can be printed as a handout.