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Hans R. Heinimann1

1 Professor of Forest Engineering, Section of Forest Engineering, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), CH-8092 Zurich, Switzerland.
Telephone: (41 1) 6323235; Facsimile: (41 1) 6321146; E-mail: [email protected]


Public awareness of environmental issues has increased constantly in the last few years. The construction of forest access structures was presented as one of the main forest activities responsible for destroying the environment. Forest professionals therefore have to look for improved procedures for planning, designing and constructing forest transportation networks to improve public acceptance.

The paper presents an integral framework for the planning and design process for forest transportation networks considering environmental impact assessment. To make the planning process transparent and to ensure public involvement, a project process model is needed that takes into account the whole project life cycle. A structured procedure identifies estimates and evaluates possible impacts on the environment systematically. Project milestones ensure decision-making and public involvement. The classical planning approach tried to optimize possible solutions by taking into account the following criteria: (1) technical capability and (2) economic efficiency. To improve public acceptance we must enlarge the range of criteria by adding (3) environmental and (4) social integrity. To assess the different criteria we need indicators that may be quantified. The paper introduces analysis methods to evaluate the different indicators, and discusses multi-criteria decision-making procedures.

Present experience shows that the new planning process has improved public acceptance and confidence. Moreover technical project quality could be improved while environmental impacts could be minimized. The proposed approach is not a universally applicable recipe. It could serve as a guideline for the development of locally adapted methods and procedures.

Keywords: Opening-up planning, environmental impact assessment, impact indicators, process model, public involvement, Switzerland.


Public awareness of environmental questions has constantly increased in the last years. The construction of forest roads has been the main contentious issue in the discussion between foresters and environmentalists. The main criticism is that the construction of forest roads is destroying the environment causing soil erosion, habitat loss, scenic impacts, etc. Public acceptance of construction work has decreased significantly. In the context of sustainable development as stated by the UNCED (1992), the use of natural, renewable resources is a key element of environmentally sound development. Resource use depends on accessibility of the relevant areas. Therefore, it is impossible to give up the construction of forest road networks. However, the forest community has to look for ways on how to improve environmental soundness and public acceptance of road construction activities.

The classical approach in designing forest road networks has focused on the creation of feasible alternatives that fulfil operational and economic criteria. Keeney (1992) describes this approach as "alternative-focused thinking". He mentions that basic values guiding the acceptance of technical solutions are hereby often ignored. Keeney (1992) recommends an approach that concentrates on the values of the stakeholders affected by the decision context called "value-focused thinking". UNCED (1992) discussed the integration of environment and development in decision-making in Chapter 8 of Agenda 21. It proposes to improve decision-making processes by ensuring (1) the integration of economic, social and environmental considerations in decision-making at all levels, and (2) access by the public to relevant information, facilitating the reception of public views and allowing for effective participation. To improve planning and management systems it moreover recommends adopting "comprehensive analytical procedures for prior and simultaneous assessment of the impacts of decisions, including the impacts within and among the economic, social and environmental spheres". Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a generic term that embraces both an administrative process and a set of analytical techniques designed to predict and appraise environmental impacts of development proposals. Investigations on how EIA can be integrated in the road planning process have recently appeared. OECD (1994) gives a review on practices currently used. For forest road planning, investigations on how to integrate environmental and social issues have appeared to some extent (e.g. Heinimann 1994).

The present paper aims to develop a framework for forest opening-up planning integrating social and environmental aspects. It concentrates on criteria and indicators representing environmental and social values and deliberately omits technical and economic criteria, because forest engineering papers extensively discuss these aspects. The paper tries to outline a framework that could be used in different geographical areas. However, it integrates the experience made with compulsory EIA procedures for forest road networks in Switzerland originating in the 1988 EIA decree of the Swiss Government. The paper starts giving some background information about integrating environmental aspects into decision-making, then describes a framework for a holistic planning approach, and finally discusses techniques and procedures to identify, estimate and compare different environmental criteria.


1. Normative framework

Following Keeney (1992), a decision frame covers a specific decision context as well as fundamental values. Opening-up planning is the specific decision context just now. Values are principles used for evaluation that provide the foundation of interest in any decision situation (Keeney 1992). They are made explicit by the identification of objectives. Opening-up planning is a typical situation in which several distinct individuals and groups, often referred to as stakeholders, should construct a common objective hierarchy. Opening-up planning affects many public interests. The identification of values should hence start by identifying predominant social values and goals. Figure 1 shows two classes of predominant values - government rules and professional rules - which build the frame in which feasible alternatives may be developed.

Legislative rules about environmental issues have their origin in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) which was established in 1969 in the United States and where the concept of Environmental Impact Assessment comes from. In Europe, the European Economic Community's directive on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment (EEC 1985) demands the implementation of relevant procedures by the member countries. Wood (1988) presents a survey of the implementation in Europe. He finds that implementation is not consistent between the different countries and has to be improved in the future. Each country has its system of legislative rules, regulations and guidelines. In the last ten years government rules about environmental issues have greatly increased. A recent example is the Forest Practices Code of British Columbia that covers the Practice Code Act, regulations, standards, and guidebooks (BC Code 1995). Professional forest communities have their own rules. Codes of conduct, codes of practices are established on a voluntary basis and therefore cannot be enforced. Technical standards usually describe the rules for the design of engineering structures whereas "state-of-the-art" rules outline the body of proven knowledge of a profession.

Value-focused opening-up planning has to consider the normative government and professional framework. The first step in the planning process is, therefore, the specification of predominant values. Because these values vary in time and space, analysis needs to be done for each local situation again. It is the first and often the most important step to ensure public acceptance of the planned project.

2. Environmentally sound actions

The emerging of technical sciences has produced a huge body of knowledge on how to design, implement and control technical systems to attain maximum technical capability while respecting economic efficiency. The project life-cycle phases (Figure 2) cover conception, realization, operation, and demolishing or recycling. Today's engineering approaches design technical systems for the whole life cycle. The conception phase is most important one because it commits about 70 percent of all effects. Thus, we have to improve planning processes to minimize potential impacts. "Impact means any effect caused by a proposed activity on the environment including human health and safety, flora, fauna, soil, air, water, climate, landscape and historical monuments or other physical effects on cultural heritage or socio-economic conditions resulting from alteration to those factors" (UNEP 1991).

Since the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1969, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has become the key component of environmental planning and decision-making in many countries. It concentrates on two goals: (1) the preventive reduction and mitigation of undesirable effects, and (2) to encourage and seek public participation in the planning and decision-making process (Dirschl et al. 1993) before irrevocable decisions are made. The principle of prevention is guiding Environmental Impact Assessments. Environment consists of two main components. The natural environment covers the geosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere, and the biosphere. The social environment embodies the anthroposphere characterizing the ways in which people live, work, play, and organize their needs and containing the cultural heritage. Only recently planners and decision-makers have recognized the need to understand better the social consequences of projects (Burgde 1995). However, EIA is an "end-of-pipe" approach involving some disadvantages. It tends to be a process of analysis and criticism rather than being creative - EIA tends not to create solutions (McDonald and Brown 1995). McDonald and Brown (1995) recommend to enlarge EIA procedures including resource (input, see Figure 2) and sink (output) goals. At the same time they recommend the improvement of the planning process by promoting rather than averting problem solving.

3. Current EIA practices in opening-up planning

Integrated planning approaches are widely accepted. For road planning in general the OECD study (1994) presents a brief survey of current practices of environmental impact assessment in the member countries. Although a number of countries introduced compulsory EIA procedures for road project planning, processes integrating impact assessment are rare (OECD 1994). Evaluation practices seem to have many gaps, first of all the lack of methods to evaluate impacts on the social environment (for example the landscape, the cultural and natural heritage, etc.). OECD (1994) recommends viewing EIA as an integral part of the project planning process beginning in the preliminary project phase and continuing through the whole project development. The methodology to estimate the impacts quantitatively and to evaluate the overall impact needs to be improved.

For forest road planning no similar survey exists. Currently many countries are developing codes of practices that try to define environmental quality goals on an operational level. However, only few countries, such as Switzerland, have introduced a formal administrative EIA procedure for forest road network development. The Swiss decree on Environmental Impact Assessment, introduced in 1988, demands a formal assessment if the perimeter of the planning area exceeds 400 ha. The Swiss experience is discordant because the planning process and the EIA process were often treated separately. Thus, the values of the different stakeholders were only expressed explicitly when the preferred road network alternative was presented. Few cantons using an integrated approach made good experience and could improve project quality significantly.

An integrated planning approach

1. A model for the planning process

A process model should integrate four sub-processes: (1) the process of developing and evaluating feasible alternatives, (2) the process of impact-assessment, (3) the process of decision-making, and (4) the process of public involvement. Figure 3 presents a model that brings the main decisions and the main public involvement activities together. There are three basic decisions that have to been made: WHY a road network should be built, WHERE the single road segments should be located on the terrain, and HOW the roads will be designed from a structural point of view. The consequences of the decisions decrease with the ongoing planning process. The WHY decision is linked to the scoping phase (see Bradley 1989) of public participation. Scoping aims to understand stakeholder values and to identify environmental key issues. McDonald and Brown (1995) emphasize that improving the scoping stage is one major measure to amend the acceptance of EIA procedures. The WHERE decision is examined by a public review process taking a stand on the EIA document presented by the proponent.

The project phases have different tasks. The conceptual design phase starts enclosing the planning perimeter and identifying the transport need as well as the relevant stakeholders. The planners consult the proper government agencies to decide if a formal EIA procedure is necessary. They identify environmental values consulting various inventories (habitat, etc.). Moreover they develop a first possibility of feasible transportation networks. The preliminary design phase should prove the transport need, define the scope of planning, identify the known environmental issues and propose a draft system of objectives representing the different stakeholder values. The subsequent public scoping process will state more precisely if the transport need is widely accepted, and if and in what direction the project should be developed further.

The preliminary design phase will become the key phase of the planning process. The planners need to specify the objective system, develop feasible alternatives, analyse the alternatives with quantitative methods, and evaluate the alternatives. Moreover, the planners have to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The EIS document identifies potential impacts on the environment, and predicts the likelihood and magnitude of the different alternatives. Finally, the EIS document proposes measures of mitigation, as well as project modifications, to maximize environmental integrity. The public review process guarantees that complaints about the project proposals may be taken into account. The review process includes procedures for consensus building such as public hearings. Usually, clearing up all the suggestions and reservations needs quite an amount of time, and often leads to modifications of the project proposal (changes in the location of road segments). The relevant government agency will approve the final project, which gives the legal basis for project realization.

The detailed design phase will solve all the constructional aspects such as geotechnical engineering, earth-retaining structures, culverts, pavement, etc. The public project approval often formulates restrictions that have to be considered in the detailed design phase. The detailed project is the basis for cost estimation, and for bidding if the project is realized by subcontractors.

2. A model for impact assessment

The next problem is how to conduct the process of impact assessment as an important part of the overall project planning process. Westman (1985) outlines a possible sequence that is still appropriate today. The impact assessment process starts after defining the project goals and stakeholder values. The first phase identifies potential impacts. A risk management approach recognizes potential actions causing specific effects as a first component (sources). The second component covers elements of the environment that may be affected (receptors). To assess the risk we need to know the frequency and the magnitude of the potential effects, as well as the vulnerability of the endangered elements of the environment. Risk assessment may serve to identify the relevance of potential impacts. Only the significant impacts should be investigated in the project planning process. The pattern of impacts varies widely with different project contexts, that is why it has to be determined again for each project situation.

The second phase estimates and predicts significant impacts. Usually, there exists no absolute scale to measure impacts. This is why we have to use an interval scale. We first have to know the baseline conditions, and second have to predict the magnitude and likelihood of environmental changes. Dirschl et al. (1993) point out that baseline information is often non-existent and that makes impact assessment more difficult. Most of the environmental impacts may not be measured directly. We, therefore, need indicators that measure only some aspects of a potential impact. An indicator is a quantitative or qualitative variable which can be measured or described and which, when observed periodically, demonstrates trends. To guarantee comparability of different impact assessment studies, a standardized set of indicators should be available. OECD (1994) describes selected indicators. However, no general accepted system of indicators exists.

The third phase summarizes or aggregates the significant impacts in a suitable form for communication to the decision-makers. The evaluation of the findings should give some measure for project ranking. Multi-attribute techniques may serve to develop project-ranking models. Project ranking is an integral part of the preliminary design phase (Figure 3). The public review process may impose additional mitigation measures or modify proposed actions. This is why project ranking is usually improved by stepwise refinement.

The fourth phase covers post-impact monitoring. Monitoring action on already realized projects delivers important feedback information. One of the richest sources of experience resides in previous environmental evaluations (Julien et al. 1992). EIA should be a self-learning, self-improving process following the "plan, do, check, act" cycle of total quality management. Today open-loop control dominates.

Techniques to identify environmental impacts

1. Structuring environmental elements

As stated above, the specific project context influences the pattern of significant impacts. A project can be defined as a set of activities organized to achieve a specific goal (improving the accessibility of forest areas). Environmental elements are the receptors of the potential impacts. Julien et al. (1992) recommend structuring the environment by decomposing general environmental categories into specific environmental elements. Figure 4 presents a possible structure for the context of opening-up planning. The environmental category "natural environment" is decomposed into the following elements: soil, water, biosphere, and atmosphere. Soil and biosphere are often the most important elements, because the construction of forest road causes irreversible impacts on the local scale. Impacts on the atmosphere have to be evaluated on the global scale from where a link to a specific forest road network is difficult to establish.

Structuring the component "social environment" is much more difficult. Although the field of social impact assessment traces back to the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), there is no general accepted structure for the social environment. As Julien et al. (1992) point out, a structure never provides an exact description of the environment. It serves rather as a scheme for classification and assessment of impacts in a specific project context. The proposed elements in Figure 4 may serve for the issues relevant in the opening-up context. Westman (1985) was among the first to give a possible structure for elements of the human environment. Burdge et al. (1995) propose a structure prepared by an inter-organizational committee. Their scope is a broad survey focusing on guidelines and principles leaving aside methodological details. The proposed elements of the social environment are: natural resource use, equity, socio-economic conditions, health and safety, cultural heritage, and aesthetics. Social environment is strongly related to the cultural and historic background of the local community. It is, therefore, impossible to establish a structure valid for different cultures. Each local community has its own needs, priorities and goals that must be considered using the proposed structure of Figure 4.

The proposed standard structure of environmental elements can be of help to identify significant impacts of project proposals. Furthermore, it may be helpful in comparing different projects, and analysing past environmental evaluations, as proposed by Julien et al. (1992).

2. Indicators used to measure environmental impacts

To establish baseline conditions of the environment and the change caused by possible impacts we need measurable indicators. OECD (1994) reviews the systems of indicators used for assessing road projects. It recommends improving the available approaches because they are not comparable at present. Table 1 gives a proposal of possible indicators to be used for assessing environmental impacts. The proposal is an attempt to harmonize assessment that has to be validated and improved in the future. For practical purposes 25 indicators are difficult to handle. Some of the indicators seem to be correlated. Statistical analysis of specific road project assessments will probably lead to a smaller number of indicators representing the overall effect sufficiently.

3. Project ranking models

Basic values drive decision-making. The classical techno-economic approach has taken into account two basic values: operational capability and economic efficiency. The present approach has specified two additional basic values: environmental and social integrity. Several methods may be used to formulate project-ranking systems. Following Schoemaker and Russo (1993) the simplest approach is intuitive judgement, followed by heuristic procedures. Importance weighting and value analysis are sophisticated approaches resulting in high-quality judgements. However, they require a high level of effort and are often difficult to explain and to use. Road planning decisions have far-reaching consequences and this is why it is adequate to use sophisticated project ranking methods. Buede and Maxwell (1995) present an excellent survey of different multi-criteria methodologies. They conclude that the Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP) (Saaty 1980) and the Multi-Attribute Value Theory (MAVT) (see Keeney 1992) lead to similar results whereas other methods produce significant rank disagreements. The OECD (1994) investigation points out that multi-criteria analysis is often used in impact assessment of roads. Moreover, aggregation of the different indicators is rarely used. The comparison is done empirically based on value profiles that are presented graphically. According to OECD (1994) cost-benefit analysis (CBA) may be used for investment analysis. However, a strict use of monetary valuation with the need for openness, transparency and expressed environmental considerations is not possible.

Table 1. Proposed indicators for environmental impact assessment

Element of the environment




Direction of preference


loss of productive soil

road surface




slope surface



disturbance of lithosphere

volume of earth movement




reduction of infiltration

road surface



drying up of wetlands

drainage area



damaging water sources

destruction of water source area




habitat loss

destroyed area of valuable habitats



habitat fragmentation

road length per influenced valuable habitat area



disturbance of wildlife





indirect impacts

[no indicators taken into account]

Natural resources

degradation of non-renewable resources

volume extracted



land use for housing, commerce and industry

area taken up



loss of open-space areas

destroyed forest, farm and reserve land




risk distribution

risk density per area


Socio-economic conditions

employment change

lost jobs



new jobs



change of personal income

per caput income



change of local or regional economy

value-added per caput



change of household characteristics

number of households living in the area



Health and safety

occupational accidents

number of severe accidents



private accidents

number of severe accidents



Cultural heritage

destruction of archaeological and historic resources

dependent on object type



visual impacts


unpleasant smell




At present, there is lack of experience in how to quantify an objective system with a value model. Following Keeney (1992) the general shape of utility functions is completely determined by attitudes toward risk. Risk aversion implies that the utility function is concave. Risk proneness on the other hand involves convex utility functions. Keeney (1992) discusses how to quantify these aspects. We may assume that most of the environmental objectives include risk aversion. However, this assumption has to be proved in the future.


The present paper aims to integrate project development, impact assessment, public involvement and decision-making into a single planning model. It then proposes procedures for planning and impact assessment. To adapt these procedures to the operational level, it hence develops a set of indicators to measure the magnitude of different impacts. Multi-attribute decision-making methods may be used to get project ranking models.

The presented approach differs from practices currently used. It focuses on decision-making and the underlying values as proposed by Keeney (1992). A standardized set of indicators to assess and evaluate the impact of proposed actions is crucial, if we want to guarantee comparability between different projects. By integrating environmental attributes, the decision-making process becomes more difficult. Multi-attribute techniques can help to make the evaluation transparent and of high quality. As Shiba (1994) points out, multi-attribute decision-making methods are rarely used in forest road network planning. A possible disadvantage of the proposed approach may be that it is has not yet been validated thoroughly.

The main future challenge is trying to validate and to refine the proposed system of environmental indicators by testing different specific opening-up projects. Another problem is how to determine risk behaviour assessing the different indicators, and to find adequate quantitative descriptions of the value functions. To solve all the analytical tasks Geographical Information Systems (GIS) could be used to generate the needed data seem-automatically. It would then be possible to develop Spatial Decision Support Systems (SDDS) that would be able to analyse and evaluate complex opening-up project situations.


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Figure 1. Decision context with government and professional rules. The decision context covers a set of feasible road network alternatives and objectives fixed by the stakeholders.

Figure 2. Environmentally sound actions. Technically sound actions consist in designing and controlling the whole life-cycle of a technical system. Environmentally sound actions pursue to minimize impacts on the environment as well as to minimize natural resource use.

Figure 3. Integral process model to develop opening-up projects. The model integrates four sub-processes: technical design, environmental impact assessment, public involvement, and decision-making.

Figure 4. Environmental categories to be considered in identifying and evaluating significant impacts. The natural as well as the social environment must be taken into account..

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