HORVÁTHNÉ SÁNDOR Erzsébet
Environmental issues and nature protection are being given stronger emphasis in the planning, design and construction of road networks to open up Hungary's forests. At the same time, planners are paying more attention to social expectations related to opening-up forest.
From the point of view of desirable road density, the decisive factor is not the height of mountains but their steepness and the extent of broken terrain. The following figures illustrate the average gradients of terrain in some of Hungary's forest areas:
Taking into account increasingly important environmental considerations, it is likely that the long-term average road density will be 15–20 m/hectare, with road spacings varying between 800 and 1,000 m and skidding distances between 400 and 500 m. In productive forests, the desirable road density is 20–25 m/hectare to achieve optimal costs for wood transport and road construction. Road networks with lower densities not only increase skidding costs and distances but the skidders considerably and to an increasing degree compact soil on cut areas.
Road network density can also be reduced through the use of cross-country forwarders, linking the skidding and extraction phases, and working at a distance of 1,000–1,5000 m from tree bases to solid roads. In mountainous areas, there is insufficient experience with skidders but it might be assumed that the use of forwarders would not noticeably decrease road density because they cannot entirely replace skidding operations. Nevertheless, they could be useful in operations involving movement on soil tracks where there is no solid road surface.
Hungarian forests suffer from a lack of solid surfaced roads, and while the development and siting of road networks on terrain to open up forests is both an economic and environmental question, the surfacing of roads is an economic question. Forest road surfacing has a double function: to render transportation independent of weather conditions and to facilitate administrative management and control activities through faster traffic. The amount of surfaced roads a forest enterprise will build depends on its financial situation, apart from some cases when public welfare or other necessities call for solid road surfaces.
A more complex issue is determining the optimal quantity of surfaced roads. Various technical texts have approached this issue, looking at the use of tractor extraction on soil tracks and truck transportation on surfaced roads. The optimal quantity is deduced from cost comparisons, and from estimates of road construction and maintenance costs. But this does not recognize that the two cannot be assessed separately in practice, or that the cost of activities on well-maintained soil tracks in dry weather conditions are little different from the costs of activities on surfaced roads.
An alternative to surfaced roads is use of cross-country trucks, but this is not a long-term solution because of the high charges and running costs of cross-country trucks. In addition, cross-country capacity is only necessary on portions of the full transport distance, meaning that roads are unable to fulfil the function of making forest operation activities easier and quicker.
Transport by cross-country trucks also has the disadvantage of badly ruining soil tracks in the rainy season: not only is rehabilitation expensive, the soil tracks themselves become impassable even for cross-country trucks after some time.
The main advantage of solid surfaced roads is all-weather safety, a factor that appeals to forest companies endeavouring to serve buyers in time and carry out continuous marketing activities. These companies have an ever-increasing need for surfaced roads in order to overcome the difficulties of rainy periods.
THE SITUATION TODAY
Within the framework of the forest opening-up activities of the National Forest Association, forest companies operating in mountainous and hilly regions were questioned about the current situation regarding forest opening-up.
To the question regarding how long they thought it would take to reach a sufficient level of road density, most companies either envisaged many years (20–60) or avoided making a prediction, partly through financial uncertainty and partly through lack of clear knowledge about road density.
It became clear that most companies do not possess accurate survey-based road registers. The have data regarding surfaced roads and the number of soil track roads built with assistance from the country's forest investment fund. But, to a greater or lesser extent, most companies continue using soil track roads inherited from previous years, and figures for these roads are not included in registers. In addition truck transport is also used to a limited extent and depending on weather conditions, on soil tracks that do not meet road quality standards. An accurate map of existing road density is a necessary first step for the process of opening up forests, to help plan where and how many new roads to construct.
Within the framework of forest management, the trend is to keep road construction costs to a minimum, building roads only when motivated by economic advantage, recovering costs of investment in short-term roads. This approach does not take into account the need for nature and environmental protection or environmental conditions. The result has been that, over the long term, maintenance spending has risen because, given insufficient investment finance, forest roads quickly suffered damage because they were already in poor state when forest operations started.
The aim of keeping implementation costs to a minimum should not, however, preclude consideration of the global costs of the entire forest operation. Roads, particularly those for basic transport lines, must be built within certain parameters, including forest management respect for environmental factors, and this implies an increase in expenditure.
Harvesting and transportation, and to limited extent silviculture, are increasingly being outsourced to external contractors, most of whom are former state employees supported by companies in the acquisition of the necessary machines and tools. Outside contracting of most wood harvesting and transport operations has contributed to the damage to Hungary's forest roads.
DIFFICULTIES AND EMERGING PRIORITIES
More emphasis is now being placed on environmental and nature protection issues in planning, designing and constructing road networks to open up Hungary's forests, and planners are paying more attention to social expectations related to forest opening-up, although it is necessary to orchestrate forest activities with the nature protection authorities.
In the mid-1980s, the Mátra-Nyugatbükk forest company pioneered this new approach with the incorporation of ‘environmentally friendly’ measures within its forest road construction regulations. The company's objective was to use only that volume of forest area technically necessary for production purposes. It also regulated construction techniques, taking measures to ensure careful blasting as a means of reducing the damage caused by stone slides.
Since then, new considerations concerning the environment have come to the forefront:
It might correctly be said that roads constructed using the skills of foresters fit harmoniously into their natural surroundings, do not run counter to a sense of aesthetics and nature is able to recover in a short space of time. If it is accepted that the basic element of close-to-nature, multi-purpose forest management is the rational opening-up of forests, the issue then becomes one of finding the tools to ensure this approach in a way that satisfies both public and forest management interests.