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1. Introduction - Thomas Enters and Patrick B. Durst*

* FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, 39 Phra Atit Road, Bangkok 10200, Thailand, Tel: ++(66 2) 697 4000, Fax: ++(66 2) 697 4445, E-mail: and


While there are some who insist that the only way to protect forests from destruction is to ban all forms of timber harvesting, economists have been quick to point out that if timber production were to cease, tropical forests would be viewed by many governments and individuals as a resource of little value -perhaps more logically and profitably converted to other productive uses. Hence, there are a growing number of pragmatists who promote the improved management of the majority of the world's forests that will likely remain outside of strictly protected areas. They contend that improving timber harvesting practices can greatly reduce negative impacts to forests, thereby helping to maintain a natural resource whose productive and sustainable use is important to national economies and local well being.

Forests featured prominently in the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and have remained high on the international agenda ever since. People concerned about forests have worked diligently to identify new and better ways to manage forests in a more sustainable manner. Criteria and indicators (C&I), covering economic, social and environmental aspects of forest management, have been developed and tested to help plan, monitor and assess progress toward the new and broader concept of sustainable forest management. Manuals have been prepared to guide the collection and compilation of data required by the various C&I schemes. Certification programs have been established to recognize and encourage sound forest management

Responding to the need to refine timber harvesting practices and techniques, codes of forest harvesting practice have also been developed. The main objective of such codes is to promote harvesting practices that improve standards of utilization and reduce impacts to the social and physical environment. The Code of Practice for Forest Harvesting in Asia-Pacific, published in 1999, complements the recommendations and guidelines by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF) and the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) by providing additional direction for field-level application. Most member countries of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission (APFC) have drafted national codes or similar forest harvesting guidelines.

In recent years, a great deal of attention has focused on low-impact logging, or reduced-impact logging (RIL), as one means for moving toward sustainable forest management. RIL is a systematic approach to planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating forest harvesting. It has been developed and refined over several decades and new practices and thinking continue to emerge. Various timber-producing countries in the Asia-Pacific region have recognized the substantial potential of RIL in advancing sustainable forest management.

While considerable progress has been made towards some aspects of sustainable forest management in recent years, attitudes and practices on the ground have changed little in many areas. Although initial experiences with RIL - mainly based on research and small-scale projects - are promising, widespread adoption is not in sight. Moreover, despite the flurry of articles published in scientific journals over the last several years on how timber harvesting is transforming from exploitative to environmentally sound and efficient, awareness about RIL and understanding of its concepts and components remain weak. Hence, it should not come as a surprise that some in the industry argue that RIL stands for "reduced-income logging," and many company representatives continue to insist that they cannot afford RIL. Actual field experience suggests that RIL is indeed more costly than "conventional logging" in many instances. In others, however, RIL can actually enhance profitability.

The question of profitability is only one of many issues that arise during discussions on RIL. Although RIL guidelines have been drafted and disseminated, it is still not clear to many what actually constitutes RIL and in what ways it differs from current widely applied logging practices and techniques. While there is broad agreement that more training is critical for sustainable forest management, little is known about the elements and approaches of appropriate training programs. There is also recent recognition of the importance of safety and occupational health issues and the need for tailored incentive schemes to motivate people and organizations to change. There is a lack of adequate information on both issues. There are many uncertainties regarding the economic aspects and the adequacy of current regulatory frameworks.

To enhance understanding of RIL and to promote improved timber harvesting the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission (APFC), the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Sarawak Timber Association (STA), the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the USDA Forest Service, the Tropical Forest Foundation (TFF), the Forest Department Sarawak and the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry (MoF) organized the International Conference on the Application of Reduced Impact Logging to Advance Sustainable Forest Management in Kuching, Malaysia, from 26 February to 1 March 2001. The main objectives of the conference were to review the current knowledge of RIL with regard to technical, economic, institutional and training aspects and to provide interested stakeholders with the sound data and accurate information on forest harvesting options.


The papers included in this book were presented and discussed during the conference and served as the basis for identifying follow-up activities. The book does not provide the definitive answers to all RIL-related questions, but it provides useful insights and assessments to guide future activities and implementation of RIL. A look at the contributions from different parts of the world, provided by authors with very diverse backgrounds and experiences, indicates that many aspects are quite location-specific. What works well in one location because of enabling conditions may not be feasible under different circumstances.

This publication is not intended to be a practitioners guide. It is written for policy makers, scientists and senior forest managers, to familiarize them with the pertinent issues related to RIL. It seeks to raise awareness about the opportunities for improving timber harvesting as well as the challenges that lie ahead. Finally, it is hoped that this publication will stimulate a discussion on RIL that ultimately leads to changes in attitudes and practices on the ground.

The papers in this publication are organized according to the following themes:

The final section of the book presents an overview of the most pertinent issues, identifies some knowledge gaps and discusses the recommendations that were presented on the last day of the conference.

In the first paper, Dennis Dykstra points out that RIL is not a new concept. Its basic elements and technologies are generally well understood from many years of application in temperate forests. At the same time, RIL can be perceived as both new and different because of important dissimilarities between temperate and tropical forests. These factors require a new mindset by logging operators and a new approach to tropical forest management. Dykstra stresses the importance of training and of reducing wood waste as key areas for advancing better forest management.

Art Klassen looks at constraints to the adoption of RIL within the Indonesian corporate forestry sector, with particular implications for extension and training. He acknowledges the importance of training, but also emphasizes that forest companies need to modify their management approaches. New technical and management functions are essential to implement RIL successfully. This will require organizational and structural changes in planning and harvesting.

Danny Chua Kee Hui describes helicopter-logging systems in Sarawak, Malaysia. Helicopter logging is not intended to replace completely the existing ground-based crawler tractor system in Sarawak. However, harvesting of the hill mixed dipterocarp forests is progressing towards steeper and more difficult terrain where helicopters can be used effectively if timber prices are high enough to cover the high costs of operations and capacity building.

Clynt Wells provides information on the economic consequences and potential environmental problems associated with poorly constructed logging roads. In acknowledging the many examples of good roading practice, he concentrates on the problems that can occur and offers some basic, but key, points that are fundamental for making forest-harvesting roads effective, economic and environmentally responsible for all parties concerned.

Ugyen Thinley describes initiatives in Bhutan, where the adoption of skyline logging systems, improvements in road construction and more appropriate silvicultural systems help to sustainably manage the mountain forest environment. According to Thinley, the greatest challenge is to strike a balance among commercial timber harvesting, traditional utilization for domestic consumption and the national goals of maintaining the environmental values of forest cover, soil conservation, and clean air and water.

Alexander Hinrichs and his colleagues report on their experiences in implementing RIL in one forest concession in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. They stress that even simple adaptations of current practices can achieve substantial results. However, this requires long-term commitment by senior management to change from a functioning and legally acceptable harvesting system to a more complex system that requires detailed instructions to field managers. Such change is fostered by a culture of openness, regular communication and feedback, and investments in training.

Plinio Sist, Jean-Guy Bertault and Nicolas Picard warn against expecting too much from RIL as long as timber harvesting and logging intensities is determined by the rule of minimum diameter cutting limits. RIL is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for sustainable forest management. Based on original population density, population structure, regeneration dynamics and breeding systems, the authors propose additional silvicultural rules to complement the minimum diameter cutting limits. Such rules would serve to keep logging intensity under a threshold compatible with sustainable forest management.

Four papers examine training needs, opportunities and approaches related to RIL. The first paper by Napoleon Vergara presents an approach to developing training strategies that could lead to the more effective implementation of RIL. Vergara stresses the importance of basing training on the sound assessment of human resource development needs. It should encompass the training of national RIL trainers and will usually require training of priority target groups at all organizational levels - from field operators to senior management and policy makers. Training should also seek to integrate RIL principles and techniques in formal silviculture and forest-harvesting courses in forestry education institutions.

Ross Andrewartha presents the approach adopted in Tasmania (Australia) and Vanuatu to provide training and education across all levels of the forest industry to support the adjustment to new forest-harvesting standards and codes. He emphasizes the essential need for a structured and systematic approach to training and education to ensure that improvements in harvesting standards occur. Competency-based training and assessment requires operators to demonstrate competence, measured against predetermined criteria rather than focusing on course inputs. Active participation of trainees is emphasized. Other important components in improving harvesting practices include providing skilled training staff, developing training and support materials, establishing demonstration sites, developing assessment criteria and training workplace assessors.

Peter Kho and Barney Chan describe experiences in developing a directional tree-felling training program that the Sarawak Timber Association offers to concessionaires and contractors. They point out the difficulties of providing training in remote locations to loggers who may not have enjoyed any formal education, and the initial reluctance of trainees who feel that they know already what needs to be known about felling trees. Although the training faces many obstacles, Kho and Chan conclude that they have been successful and provide evidence of the improved performance of tree fellers.

Ed Aulerich and Jefri Sirait describe efforts in Indonesia where they have provided training in cable yarding operations and road construction. The authors highlight the importance of providing knowledge and skills to employees at different operational levels as well as to regulatory bodies. It is important that all parties have an understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of the new harvesting practices and equipment to be employed. Most training programs only target operators, although these programs are rarely successful unless the management understands the need for training and supports such programs.

Perhaps the most controversial issues regarding RIL relate to the financial and economic implications of adoption. Wulf Killmann and his co-authors ask the fundamental question whether it pays to adopt RIL or not. Seeking to answer this key question, the authors analysed 266 publications dealing with RIL. While no definite answer emerged, the tentative conclusion is that RIL costs more than conventional logging if only operational costs are considered and a short-term perspective is taken. On the other hand, if the long-term economic implications of site and stand damage and increased timber recovery are considered, RIL is often economically competitive with conventional logging.

John Tay, John Healey and Colin Price present their findings of a very detailed study conducted in Sabah, Malaysia. Applying RIL practices to harvest timber reduced damage to vegetation and soils by 50 percent compared with conventional logging (CL). However, RIL is costly when applied on hilly terrain because of opportunity costs associated with foregone timber (i.e. trees that are not cut for environmental reasons). Of the 176 ha allocated to CL units in the study, almost all of the area was logged. In the RIL units, only 129 ha (56 percent) of the 230 ha was logged. The considerable reduction in area logged has obvious and substantial financial implications. Therefore, the authors call for compensatory payments and the design of appropriate financial transfer mechanisms.

Thomas Holmes, Frederick Boltz and Douglas Carter draw a different conclusion from their study on financial indicators in the Brazilian Amazon. They conclude that RIL can be competitive with, or superior to, CL in financial terms if the costs of wood wasted in the harvesting operation are accounted for. Standardizing study methods, and replicating studies across different forest types, levels of industrial scale and markets, would allow more rigorous tests to be made of relative profitability of RIL and CL. The authors note that the adoption of RIL is impeded by the opportunity cost of timber set aside to maintain productivity and ecosystem integrity, and issues regarding land tenure security.

Aaron Ago Dagang and his colleagues report on their financial and economic analyses of CL and RIL in Sarawak (Malaysia). They found CL to be financially more profitable than RIL from the business perspective. The economic analysis, on the other hand, demonstrated that from society's point of view RIL was preferable to CL. Sensitivity analysis revealed that RIL can become financially more attractive than CL if any of the following occur: a) harvesting intensity is increased from 28 m3/ha to above 36 m3/ha; b) harvesting costs are reduced by 30 percent; c) timber prices rise by 15 percent; or d) certification and carbon trading supplements are incorporated. To increase the profitability of RIL, the authors recommended increasing the intensity of the initial harvest. Damage assessments should be carried out to monitor the effects of higher extraction volumes. The authors also strongly recommend a payment system that rewards workers for good practices.

Grahame Applegate compares four recent studies of the costs and benefits of implementing RIL in the closed forests of East Kalimantan, Indonesia. He concludes that studies involving operational costs and benefits of harvesting are inadequate in the Asia-Pacific region. There are serious problems related to different, or inappropriate, methodologies that limit the ability to compare study results. The partial nature of some financial analyses can also yield misleading results. Applegate suggests a new approach to more accurately identify actual operational costs of improved harvesting practices. The method is designed to account for the scale of operations, and to determine and define interrelationships and dependencies of different harvesting components or those that have a major impact on costs.

In the final paper of the economics section, Muhandis Natadiwirya and Martti Matikainen explain how to save money by saving the forest. They focus on the comparative costs of skidding under RIL and CL in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. The results of their study reveal differences in the time skidders are used, skidding efficiency, and overall skidding costs under CL and RIL. Good planning, based on accurate pre-harvest inventories under RIL, can save as much as US$ 600 in skidding costs in one compartment (100 ha) alone.

Forestry is characterized by difficult working conditions, heavy physical efforts and high risk of accidents. To secure the future of forestry, both human resources and forest resources must be managed in a sustainable manner. Paradoxically, safety has largely been neglected because of perceived economic constraints. Peter Blombäck argues that high costs of accidents should be a major stimulus for companies to tackle the poor safety situation in forestry, particularly in logging activities. Safety is not a stand-alone issue and should not have a status and organization separate from other production functions. Approaches that treat occupational safety and health as integral elements of company objectives and optimal quality management tend to be far more successful.

Concerns for workers' safety in forestry are not new. Robert McCormack presents the health and safety developments in the Australian forestry industry over the last 40 years. Important developments included the introduction of the chainsaw, training needs created by new technology, the contribution of scientific studies, recognition that holistic and comprehensive training is required and the importance of acknowledging prevailing social attitudes. The Australian experience provides examples of how factors interact, and how the evolution of thinking and philosophy can influence change.

Although there have been calls for improving forest harvesting for decades, the wide-scale application of environmentally sound practices is still the exception rather than the norm. Nonetheless, numerous practical experiences are emerging from areas where RIL has made inroads. Wybrand Jonkers describes different approaches in implementing RIL on three continents. He compares four RIL methods developed in different types of rain forests. All methods are based on existing technology, and include pre-felling surveys, directional felling and planned skid trail patterns. Differences in approach relate mainly to differences in logging intensity and forest composition. All methods lead to substantial reductions in logging damage compared to conventional operations, and are comparable in costs to CL. Jonkers highlights constraints that still need to be overcome if RIL is to be implemented widely.

Drawing from experiences in Tasmania (Australia), Graham Wilkinson emphasizes the importance of "partnerships" in regulating forest practices. Collectively, partnership arrangements between various stakeholders can facilitate the development of a progressive forest practices system. Compliance with codes of forest practice can be achieved through either a cooperative or an adversarial approach. Partnerships, by nature, require a cooperative approach that achieves mutually agreeable outcomes. Wilkinson highlights that the continuing challenge for Tasmania's forest practices system is to maintain a spirit of cooperation and to avoid regulatory changes that would lead to a more adversarial and punitive system.

Geoffrey Blate, Francis Putz and Johan Zweede attempt to clarify the elements and factors that facilitate and impede the adoption of RIL in the Brazilian and Bolivian Amazon. The authors draw conclusions from their collective experience in the region and open-ended interviews with various forest sector stakeholders. From 1995 to 2000, at least 15 forestry enterprises in each country began implementing many RIL elements. They have made the most progress in pre-harvest and harvest planning. In Bolivia, improving market access through certification is a key motivation for companies to adopt RIL practices. In Brazil, the cost savings that result from better planning appear to be the principal factor motivating RIL adoption. The authors identify various factors that impede RIL adoption in both countries, including risk of invasion by squatters, fire hazards, lack of trained staff, lack of markets for lesser-known species, the perception that RIL is too expensive, and lack of national policies supporting the forestry sector.

Nana Suparma, Harimawan and Gusti Hardiansyah highlight the experiences of the Alas Kusama Group - Indonesia's third largest forest company - in implementing RIL. The authors' message is that, if applied correctly, RIL can result in increased productivity and lower operating costs. The environmental benefits of RIL have also been demonstrated in trials carried out in the company's concessions in Central and West Kalimantan, Indonesia. The authors stress that success requires targeted training, effective supervision and a new payment scheme that rewards operators for quality work. They conclude that, within the overall forest concession system in Indonesia, changes on a large scale will only take place if the Ministry of Forestry ensures that all harvesting activities are carried out within an effective and transparent regulatory framework. Companies must also be required to comply consistently with the regulations and laws governing forest resources.

Widespread adoption of RIL, especially in tropical forests, will probably remain an elusive goal wherever the forest policy environment is overly prescriptive and input-based. Chris Bennett advocates an alternative approach that focuses on forest management outcomes to allow site-specific adaptations while providing the framework for sufficient regulatory oversight. RIL adoption is fostered through the establishment of secure rights of access to forest resources, adequate recognition of village roles in forest management, replacement of overly bureaucratic and prescriptive regulations with policies that focus on forest management outcomes, and removal of trade and industry policies that undervalue forest resources (making alternative uses of the land more attractive). Bennett also notes that both local and central government accountability are likely to be pivotal in the adoption or rejection these policies.

The emergence of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) has raised hopes, that payment for carbon sequestration services will provide a significant incentive for sustainable management practices in industrial forestry in tropical countries. Joyotee Smith and Grahame Applegate assess the prospects for realizing these hopes. They note the paucity of data to support CDM planning in forestry and the high degree of uncertainty about CDM rules. The cost of RIL-based SFM projects may be higher than previous estimates indicate, because most economic analyses assume that a permanent forest estate is maintained under conventional logging. A more realistic conventional logging scenario is repeated timber harvesting at short intervals, leading to degradation of logged areas. While this scenario increases the potential carbon and other environmental benefits from RIL projects in the long run, it also increases the opportunity cost of adopting RIL-based SFM, particularly in the short term. Also, the cost-effectiveness of RIL-based SFM projects is likely to be highly site-specific. Hence, the authors conclude that CDM RIL projects should not be perceived as a "silver bullet" for inducing sustainable management. If targeted carefully and embedded in an integrated program of policy reforms, they could, however, considerably enhance the effectiveness of more conventional approaches. The result could be improved forest management, contributions toward climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation.

Simon Armstrong and Chris Inglis explore the gap between the theory and practice of RIL. Research undertaken in a commercial harvesting operation in Guyana indicates that RIL improves efficiency, reduces unit cost of production and reduces damage to the forest. Strengthening management systems and changing attitudes are particularly important in improving harvesting practices. Armstrong and Inglis report on experiences of companies in adopting these recommendations from research that were simple and pose the least risk to the company. The authors argue that improvements in harvesting are unlikely where harvesting guidelines or targets are set without planning and managing the necessary change within harvesting operations. Despite the growing body of literature that indicates that RIL is cost-effective, its uptake by industry remains limited. According to the authors the key reasons include poor communication, the use of inappropriate terminology, and differing perspectives between researchers and commercial operators.

Mohd Shahwadid and his colleagues analyse the various new and improved activities acribed by the Malaysian Criteria and Indicators (MC&I) for sustainable forest management. The incremental costs of adhering to the MC&I were appraised using cost data from a research project conducted in Terengganu, Malaysia. Improved road construction, tree marking and mapping, skidding and foregone revenues from protected buffer areas, were the main factors contributing to higher costs of complance.

William Magrath and Richard Grandalski suggest that governments, communities and international organizations could begin to employ a large number of promising approaches to enhance forest protection and management. The authors emphasize that forest resource protection should not simply be measured in terms of numbers of infractions or actions taken against undesired activities. Forest resource protection needs to be considered as a specific dimension of overall resource management. The authors conclude that the need is not so much for more forest resource protection, as it is for better forest laws and policies and more effectively targeted forest resource protection programs.

The papers included in this publication reflect the wide diversity of perspectives and experiences related to the implementation of RIL. These differences are most evident when comparing the papers arguing the economic implications of adopting RIL. Many authors further caution that their experiences may be location-specific and perhaps difficult to replicate in other forest types and less enabling economic environments. Thus, the final section of this book summarizes the key insights gained from the papers and the discussions that took place during the conference in Kuching. It seeks to identify knowledge gaps and to offer recommendations to be taken up by various stakeholders and organizations in the forestry sector.

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