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3. DESCRIPTION OF THE CURRENT FOREST HARVESTING SYSTEM

The forest harvesting system commonly applied in Timber Permits in Papua New Guinea is based on a general forest inventory for the entire project area and a preharvest survey (mapping and pre-logging inventory) of each cutting unit, which is referred to as a "set-up". Data from the survey enable the TP holder and/or the logging contractor to plan harvesting operations and also permit the Papua New Guinea Forest Authority (PNGFA) to monitor harvesting activities. Planning is done at three levels: the Five-Year Plan, the Annual Logging Plan, and the Set-up Plan.

In recognising the PNG Forest Authority Mission Statement "to promote the management and wise utilisation of the forest resources of Papua New Guinea as a renewable asset for the well-being of present and future generations" (PNGFA 1996b), one of the main responsibilities of the PNGFA is to monitor and control logging operations in the field. As outlined in PNGFA (1995b), monitoring and control are undertaken in particular in order to:

3.1 Planning and monitoring of harvesting operations

All harvesting operations undertaken are to be guided by the consideration that unless the forest is left in a condition that will permit the attainment of a desired future condition, sustainability cannot be assured. To meet the requirements of environmentally sound forest harvesting, all harvesting operations must be well-planned. Therefore, short-term planning, often called tactical planning, has to be based on a strategic plan (Dykstra & Heinrich 1996).

The strategic harvest plan is a long-term plan that mainly answers the questions where and when harvesting should be done for the Timber Permit area as a whole. These questions will be addressed in the feasibility study which is conducted by the selected project proponent, the potential "developer," prior to the execution of the project agreement by the Board and the granting of the timber permit by the Minister.

Whereas the development options study is more related to the general fact-finding process on potential future land uses in the project area, the feasibility study addresses questions related to forest production and downstream processing. The former identifies feasible options for the project area and investigates means of landowner participation in such development, environmental and social impacts of such development, and the feasibility of local processing and marketing prospects generally of any forest products (PNGFA 1993). The latter comprises a management-level forest inventory, forest development plan, industrial development plan, implementation strategies, financial prospections and proposed corporate arrangements (Neville 1993).

For new timber projects which are designed to comply with the requirements of the National Forest Policy for sustainable wood production (PNGFA 1995b), the total project's production forest area is split into thirty-five more or less equal portions based on a 35-year cutting cycle. The Five-Year Plan identifies five of the 35 compartments to be harvested during the planning period.

A map of the entire project area at a scale of 1:50,000 demarcates non-harvest areas, namely major preservation areas and deforested areas, from the production forest area and divides the latter into annual logging areas, normally referred to as "annual coupes" or simply "coupes" (Dykstra & Heinrich 1996). The map shows the areas already harvested with the year of harvest, indicates the areas to be harvested during the next five years, and identifies the existing and proposed transportation systems.

The strategic plan itself is part of the forest management plan and both are based on a comprehensive land-use plan which identifies the permanent forest estate, areas of forest plantations, and land to be cleared for other purposes such as agriculture.

The tactical plan, in PNG referred to as the Annual Logging Plan, provides details on operations that are to be carried out during a period of one year. This annual operating area in a particular year will be more or less one-fifth of the total area approved for harvesting in the Five-Year Plan (PNGFA 1995b). The annual coupe is not necessarily a single, contiguous block but instead the area to be harvested within one year is dispersed throughout several separate parts of the area covered by the Five-Year Plan.

The Annual Logging Plan, at a scale of 1:25,000, splits the annual coupe into individual cutting units of up to 150 ha, referred to as "set-ups" in PNG, and indicates the proposed order of harvesting. The sizes of the annual coupes for year 2000 of the two timber projects in this study were 11,384 ha (SBLC 2000) and 22,208 ha (VFP 2000). These areas were divided respectively into 76 set-ups for SBLC (of which 11 were carried over from previous years), and 167 set-ups for VFP.

One of the intended features of the projects is year-round timber harvesting to provide stable, continuous employment. Therefore, the PMCP provides for additional set-ups to be specified by the permit holder or its logging contractor and held in reserve for periods of wet weather.

The individual set-up is the focus for monitoring and control of harvesting operations in the field, and in particular assessing compliance by the permit holder or its logging contractor with the Key Standards for Selection Logging in PNG (PNGFA 1995b).

After pre-logging inventory and terrain reconnaissance have been carried out, each set-up is mapped individually. Harvesting planning of set-ups should be done on the basis of a detailed topographic map (1:10,000). Where a topographic map is not available, the operator's planning staff is required to produce a 1:5,000 sketch map (PNGFA 1995b) showing boundaries of the set-up and all features that may influence harvest planning (water courses, swampy areas, slopes, or other problem sites) within the set-up.

The information obtained from terrain reconnaissance will be used for the layout of temporary forest roads, skidtrails, and landings, all of which will be drawn on the map and also marked in the field. When the pre-logging inventory is carried out in a systematic manner, it will indicate areas of lower and higher volumes and, therefore, should enable a more efficient layout of the transportation system. Combining the set-up map prepared after thorough terrain reconnaissance and the results of a systematic pre-logging inventory would enable preparation of a highly accurate set-up plan for the individual set-up. However, this is not commonly done and layout of skidtrails is guided by relevant terrain features mainly. Planned locations of skidtrails are generally indicated only approximately on the maps (see Figures 3 and 4).

In addition to set-up mapping after thorough terrain reconnaissance and pre-logging inventory, the PMCP indicates that all trees to be harvested are to be marked in the field prior to approval of the set-up plan by PNGFA. Along with enumeration of trees to be harvested in the individual set-up, the desired felling direction is to be indicated on each tree marked for harvesting. The felling direction chosen by the surveyor should be guided the objective to minimise damage to the remaining stand, namely PCTs and regeneration, and to facilitate efficient and minimum-impact felling and skidding operations. Unless unmarked trees are badly damaged during operations and are found to be of commercial value, logging crews are supposed to remove only marked trees from the set-up.


Photo 5. Consistent log tagging permits monitoring and control of logging operations.

Once the logs have arrived at the landing, they are identified, cut to length, and scaled (i.e., measured for volume). It is prohibited for logs to be removed from the landing unless they have been tagged with official PNGFA tags and the scale information has been entered onto the official PNGFA Log Scaling Record Sheet (PNGFA 1996c) for checking by PNGFA officials.

After completion of the harvesting operations and complying with the post-logging requirements as set out in the Key Standards for Selection Logging (PNGFA 1995a) the permit holder or logging contractor may apply for the issuance of a "certificate of satisfactory completion of work" (PNGFA 1995b). This so-called set-up clearance procedure is to ensure:

The granting of a set-up clearance effectively "de-activates" the set-up (PNGFA 1995b) in order to allow the forest to recover until the next planned harvest 35 years later.


Photo 6. Final grading of logs at the wharf to prepare for export.

3.1.1 Forest road planning

Forest roads are unquestionably the most problematic features of timber harvesting operations with regard to environment and landscape (Photo 7). They are complex engineering structures upon which transport efficiency depends and are, nevertheless, essential for providing reliable access to the forest for management and monitoring purposes (Dykstra & Heinrich 1996).

In most timber permits in PNG, furthermore, part of the road network to be established by the timber permit holder is an essential component of the country's development infrastructure and often forms part of the planned network of public roads.

To illustrate the importance of the timber industry as "developer," the area in the northern part of TP 14-52 may serve as an example. The whole area on the north coast is well-served by roads, with the main roads (e.g., Kimbe-Hoskins, Kimbe-Talasea) being sealed (see Photo 2) or in the process of being upgraded. The timber industry, through SBLC, has contributed significantly to the development of the road network on the north coast by the construction of over 60 km of national and 700 km of provincial roads (SBLC 1989) during the implementation of TP 14-31 from which the current project originated.

In contrast, the central part of the island and the south coast had virtually no transport and communications infrastructure in 1989 when the new project agreement was signed between SBLC and the Government of PNG. There was one airstrip in the area, at Fulleborn, where the only large commercial coconut plantation on the south coast is located, and two airstrips nearby at Uvol, about 20 km to the east, and Gasmata, to the west, which were served by regular flights at that time. All other long-distance travel was by village boat or speedboat (SBLC 1989).


Photo 7. Landslide caused by road construction activities.

In addition to roads needed for industrial timber extraction and other forestry activities, SBLC has provided the following infrastructure as outlined in the timber agreement of TP 14-52:

In compliance with the project agreement, SBLC will build a total of 4,288 km of roads over the first 20 years of TP 14-52, of which the above-mentioned 177 km will be roads of provincial importance and the remaining 4,011 km will be forest roads (SBLC 1989).

As a general rule, all but village feeder roads should be "decommissioned" after the harvesting operation has been completed (PNGFA 1996a). This means the road will be closed to normal traffic but will be left intact for reopening if required. It is the landowners' prerogative to keep main forest roads open but they must then decide who will maintain the road, including structures such as bridges and culverts. The developer has the obligation to design bridges for a minimum lifetime of 25 years and to maintain the bridges to the standard of construction, in a safe and trafficable condition for the whole period of time they are used for timber hauling (SBLC 1989).

Village access roads of about 41 km and all main forest roads providing access to other infrastructure provided by the developer such as schools, clinics, and government houses will certainly remain open. Although the majority of forest roads will be decommissioned in many timber areas, comprehensive planning (i.e., to ensure proper location, design, construction, and maintenance) is essential to ensure that all roads meet economic objectives with minimal impact on the environment.

The starting point for proper road planning is a good topographic map representing data gathered during the general forest inventory and terrain reconnaissance. In order to open the annual coupes in the most efficient way, the steps in planning the road network are roughly as follows:

Independent from the planning level there are some guiding principles and factors to be considered which influence road location and layout:

The infrastructure densities shown below have been derived from data on planned annual harvest areas and related new road construction in the respective Five-Year Plans for TP14-52 and TP10-8 (SBLC 1999, VFP 1999). These figures may be considered representative for selective harvesting operations in natural forests in PNG since the respective areas cover the whole range of terrain conditions one can expect in PNG.

Type of infrastructure

Planned density

Forest roads

7-8 m/ha

Main skidtrails

up to 120 m/ha

Activity

Machine Type

Equipment

Clearing / first opening

Crawler tractor

Cat D7G

Komatsu 83P

Grading

Crawler tractor

Caterpillar D6H

Construction / loading

Excavator

Komatsu PC220-5

Loading gravel

Bucket loader

Komatsu WA420

Transportation of gravel

Dump truck

Nissan TZA520

Surfacing / shaping / maintenance

Motor grader

Caterpillar 140G

Caterpillar 12G

Road compaction

Roller / Compactor

Komatsu JV100

Features of maps prepared to accompany:

Five-Year Plan

Annual Logging Plan

Scale

1:50,000

1:25,000

Boundaries (provincial, TP and/or TRP/OGA)

Areas of logged-over forest and year of logging

Water courses

Timber inventory lines

Annual coupes

 

Proposed set-ups and alternate set-ups

 

Harvestable but reserved forest

 

Buffer zones (50 metres wide) along major rivers

 

Inaccessible forest areas

Areas excluded from harvesting such as:

   

      mountainous terrain with slopes over 30 degrees

 

      larger swampy areas

 

      developed / cleared / inhabited areas

      village reserves / cultural and historic sites

 

Existing roads (by category) and bridges

Proposed roads and bridges:

   

      main / branch forest roads / alternative routes

 

      roads to be retained / decommissioned

 

Proposed low-level water crossings:

   

      bridge/culvert to be decommissioned

 

      bridge/culvert to be retained

 

Sawmills

 

Logging base camps

 

Log ponds

 

Log landings

 

Gravel pits

 

Site

 

Width of buffer zone

Cultural sites, reserves, conservation and garden areas

 

At minimum 100 m, can be increased upon request by local community to the PNGFA project supervisor

Village areas

 

At minimum 500 m, can be increased upon request by local community to the PNGFA project supervisor

Lakes, lagoons, coastal shorelines, swamps

 

At minimum 100 m

Permanent streams

 

At minimum, 50 m from the sides of a class 1 stream (bed width > 5 m)

At minimum, 10 m from the sides of a class 2 stream (bed width 1 to 5 m)

Streams of any width (either permanent or intermittent) used by a community

 

At minimum, 50 m from the sides of the watercourse; but harvesting might also be excluded from the catchment area of the water source

Log ponds and wharves

 

No buffer, but the maximum shoreline clearance is 100 m

SBLC (1989)

   

VFP (1990a)

 

Crew leader

1

 

-

 

Compass man

1

 

Compass man

1

Chain man (length measurement)

2

 

Chain main (length measurement)

2

-

   

Tree taggers

2

Brushers

3

 

Brushers

3

Total crew

7

 

Total crew

8

Figure 6. Map of a set-up showing the inventory striplines (Source: VFP 1990a).

 

Production rates [worker-days/ha]

Activity

Flat terrain

BL14/VFP

M38/SBLC

Establishing of set-up boundaries

No data

0.16

No data

Establishing of buffer zones

0.28

0.03

0.42

Marking of harvestable trees

0.35

0.17

1.68

Location of landings and skidtrails

0.07

0.05

0.14

Measures

 

Objectives

     

Vine/climber cutting during set-up marking

(Key Standard 5)

 

Minimise size of felling gaps

Minimise damage to residual trees, especially PCTs

Reduce safety hazards of felling operations

     

Directional felling into canopy gaps

(Key Standard 15)

 

Minimise size of gaps in the forest canopy

Minimise damage to residual trees, especially PCTs

Facilitate efficient extraction (aligning logs in a "herringbone" pattern relative to the skidtrail)

     

Keep stump heights low, make cut level and complete back cuts to reduce pulled wood

(Key Standard 16)

 

Avoid wood waste (maximise the volume of wood utilised from each felled tree)

     

No felling into buffer zones

or excluded areas

(Key Standard 17)

 

Keep buffer zones and excluded areas intact

Work element

Time

Time share

Travel unloaded

39 min

26%

Loading operation

12 min

8%

Load control and fixing load

1 min

1%

Travel loaded

50 min

33%

Unloading

8 min

5%

Waiting to be loaded or unloaded

41 min

27%

Total time

2 h 31 min

100%