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3. Impediments to the adoption of reduced impact logging in the Indonesian corporate sector - A.W. Klassen*

* Regional Director, Tropical Forest Foundation1, Manggala Wanabakti, Blk. IV, 9th Floor, Wing B, Jl. Jend. Gatot Subroto, Senayan, Jakarta 10270, Indonesia, Tel: ++(62 21) 573 5589, Fax: ++(62 21) 5790 2925 E-mail:


The need for RIL

RIL implies a different approach to forest harvesting. But, why is a different approach needed and what is wrong with the present system of extraction when it seems to have been successful and profitable for so long?

There are two possible explanations for the interest surrounding the promotion and research of RIL[1]. First, there is a growing recognition in the scientific, professional and regulatory communities, that the existing practices of forest harvesting inflict an unacceptably high level of damage on trees, soils and forest hydrology. In Indonesia, there is also growing concern that the underlying assumptions of the official Indonesian Selective Cutting and Planting System (TPTI)[2], as practised currently and enforced, are not valid. Unless the forest is left in a better condition after the harvesting, as opposed to today’s norm, the fundamental assumption that the harvesting of the natural production forest is sustainable within the 35-year cutting cycle, is in serious doubt.

Secondly, the international marketplace is becoming more and more sensitive to the issue of ecolabelling. This development addresses the question of sustainable forest management directly. Increasingly, forest managers are more frequently being approached by buyers with the question, “Can you supply certified wood?” Improving forest practices through strategies such as RIL can assist greatly in the achievement of certification; hence there is a growing recognition that RIL is becoming an unavoidable practice for any concessionaire hoping to achieve certification. This second reason seems to be emerging as the primary driving force behind the interest in RIL among forest companies in Indonesia.

Current logging practices

In Indonesia, most forest concessionaires follow the TPTI system and carry out a 100 percent inventory and most of the regulatory requirements. So why is this insufficient?

TPTI is highly descriptive when it comes to harvesting practices. However, the extract of marked trees is left to the discretion of the forest company. In itself, this may not necessarily be bad. However, combined with an almost total absence of effective field monitoring and enforcement of existing regulations, TPTI fails to deliver on its promises.

Within most concessions, harvesting areas are allocated typically to production teams consisting of a production machine and one or more fellers. The production team is relatively free to move around the designated block and extract the marked trees according to the commercial criteria set by the company. Efficiency or environmental considerations are seldom given much consideration.

The result is often considerable wasted machine time looking for logs and inefficient extraction. Damage to the environment is far higher than it would be if a more carefully planned and supervised approach was used. This situation is typical of selection cutting systems throughout the tropics. Clearly, there is much scope for improvements to current practices.

A pragmatic approach to developing a RIL strategy

RIL promises two types of potential benefits. The first is greater financial benefits in terms of higher productivity per machine unit. This can be expressed as lower production costs per unit volume extracted, reduced maintenance costs and other less obvious financial benefits. The long-term benefits can be expressed in terms of better stand conditions for the second cutting cycle and other benefits of a long-term nature that are more difficult to quantify.

Recent research in Brazil provides very strong indications of the financial benefits of RIL. After allowing for the additional planning costs of implementing RIL, Holmes et al. (2000) reported that the overall cost of production was typically 12 percent lower relative to conventional harvesting operations (see also Holmes et al., this volume).

RIL research results from Southeast Asia are not as clear in terms of financial benefits. Most researchers have tended to focus on productivity aspects. A recent review of research in Indonesia shows an almost universal improvement in selected productivity variables for RIL compared to conventional harvesting (Klassen, 1999a[3], see also Applegate, this volume). Major forest projects that have carried out RIL research were polled and a synopsis of RIL productivity benefits was summarized in the article. Clearly, in light of the uncertainties facing the forest industry in Indonesia today, any promotion of RIL must emphasize the short-term financial benefits.

The second type of benefit concerns the minimization of environmental impacts through reductions in damage to the residual stand, soil disturbance and erosion, and a major reduction of the logging impact on water quality and general hydrological functions of the forest stream system. These environmental benefits are easy to see in any RIL trial and have been well documented by many researchers.

Some simple truths

In Indonesia and elsewhere in the tropics, RIL guidelines have, in some cases, been developed as part of RIL research (Department of Forests, 1997; Sist et al., 1998; Ruslim et al., 1999) yet none of these project-driven guidelines have gained broad acceptance by the forest industry. A few simple truths have become evident:


The ten ‘steps’ of RIL

Most of the discussion and initiative concerning RIL is from the perspective of researchers and forestry projects. Consequently, RIL has been defined in a variety of ways, both in terms of what activities it should encompass and what constraints should be placed on forest harvesting.

A review of the literature suggests that there are number of RIL components (see Dykstra, this volume); some require special skills or modifications of existing practices and each one is important in the overall implementation of RIL.

Since TFF’s primary interest is to promote RIL to the forest industry through training and extension, it is convenient to define RIL as a series of distinct components or steps that form the basis of training modules and technical procedure manuals.

This approach is particularly relevant in the Indonesian context. Many forest companies already have well-developed technical skills and management systems. To make the necessary adjustments to RIL may mean that only small gaps in technical knowledge or skills, operational capability, management understanding or management structure require addressing. The modular description of the RIL components also lends itself to targeted training. Gaps in any one or more steps are easy to identify and to address within a specific training module.

Step 1 Creating a receptive management system

A common perception is that RIL is essentially a set of practices based largely on technical aspects of planning and extraction. Yet without a firm commitment from management, it is obvious that technical practices alone will not ensure the successful adoption and implementation of RIL.

A strong commitment, based on an understanding of the potential benefits, is the starting point. Equally important is the recognition of the existing ‘gaps’ in skills and understanding of the RIL concept at all levels of the production process. This recognition must, of course, be followed by the implementation of the necessary corrective actions.

Forest companies will need to examine their organizational structure and various job functions and will have to make both the structural and functional changes necessary to succeed in implementing RIL.

Step 2 Operational inventory

Forest inventory is recognized universally as a prerequisite to the achievement of sustainable forest management. In the tropics, stock mapping is a common inventory technique, although it could be argued that under certain conditions, representative sampling, with or without stratification, is a more effective and efficient inventory method for operational purposes.

In Indonesia, regulations governing the 100 percent inventory require only the mapping of tree positions. Maps are seldom used for any meaningful operational purpose and their utility is largely confined to meeting the requirements of the Ministry of Forestry. Since most companies already perform this function in order to obtain their annual cutting permits, additional and more relevant information can be collected easily with few extra financial outlays.

Step 3 Preparing an operational-scale contour map

Operational-scale contour maps are a fundamental prerequisite for implementing RIL, especially for planning and locating skid trails in the topographically complex Indonesian forest landscape. The scale of such maps could vary from 1: 1 000 to 1: 5 000. The choice of scale and contour intervals should be a function of topographic variability and the level of detail that a forest operator may wish to include on the map, although at present, it is determined by rigid bureaucratic requirements.

The preparation of contour maps can be achieved by conventional mapping techniques from aerial photographs. However, for a variety of reasons, this is still far from realizable in Indonesia. A more practical approach is the collection of topographic data during the inventory and the subsequent production of a contour map according to conventional cartographic or computer-assisted mapping techniques.

This step will require training of inventory crews, not so much to collect the necessary data but, more importantly, to follow a disciplined survey protocol in order to avoid data errors that can be frustrating during the map production. Conventional or computer-assisted mapping techniques will require additional training in most cases. Of all the RIL steps, this one probably presents the major technical challenge.

Step 4 Planning the skid trail network

The operational contour and inventory maps are the basis for the planning of the skid trail network. It is critical to consider the spatial context. Many concessions still use the 100 ha square block boundary system to organize and administer planning and operations. Such boundaries should not be used as the limits of the skid trail planning. Natural barriers such as streams, swamps, ridge tops or excessively steep ground should be included also to determine the shape and size of the area. Successful skid trail planning must look beyond the artificial administrative boundaries within the approved annual operating area and must be carried out in the context of planning for efficient and environmentally sound harvesting.

Map reading skills will have to be strengthened through additional training. Generally, these skills are not taught or emphasized in formal academic institutes and are seldom part of a company’s operating procedures; hence, they are often poorly developed among the technical staff.

Step 5 Location of skid trails and landings

The skid trail network must be located on the ground and demarcated using paint or flagging ribbons. Both the planning and actual location of skid trails should be governed by standards that specify optimum slopes and skidding distances as well as dealing with issues of steep ground, environmentally sensitive areas and riparian protection. Stream crossings should be avoided whenever possible in order to maintain water quality and overall hydrological functions.

To date, efforts at promoting RIL have frequently been frustrated by the lack of technical skills when transferring planned activities into actual ground locations. In addition, the concept of incorporating protection zones or considerations into an operational layout is relatively new for most companies.

Step 6 Opening of skid trails prior to felling

The benefits of opening the skid trail network prior to felling are not always clearly understood. In Indonesia, broken topography and relatively heavy felling intensities make it preferable to open the skid trails prior to commencement of felling activities. In the Brazilian Amazon on the other hand, it has been TFF’s experience that easy topography, short skidding distances and uncertain profit margins on certain species, make it more desirable to open skid trails after felling.

A crawler tractor or skidder should drive along all located skid trails with its blade raised slightly above the ground. The benefit is that a clearly visible extraction ‘framework’ is established prior to felling. The feller has better access and a better sense of assessing options for directional felling.

The soil should not be disturbed and all pole and sapling-size trees need to be left on the skid trail. This woody material helps to protect the soil during skidding. Where the skid trail has to pass along a sloping hillside, side cutting is necessary.

Step 7 Felling

Some experts advocate the marking of the felling direction on the tree by the inventory crews or by a separate marking crew. Our experience suggests that this is counterproductive. The final felling decision will always rest with the feller. Successful implementation of directional felling requires empowerment of the feller through training aimed not only at demonstrating safe and technically effective felling techniques, but also at imparting a simple decision-making framework that will help to guide the feller in choosing the most appropriate felling direction.

Considerations that could be included in such a decision-making framework, or guideline, should include technical considerations, safety, location of protected trees and future crop trees, orientation for more effective extraction, proper bucking to maximize utilization, minimization of felling damage and protection of riparian zones. It is easy to train fellers to follow these guidelines. Adoption of RIL felling techniques is seldom constrained by the failure of fellers to understand the requirements, but rather by a failure of company management to follow through with effective direction and supervision.

This may require the creation of a new position in the operational structure of the company. Currently, the most common practice is to have minimum supervision of production activities and to pay fellers and tractor operators on a unit volume basis. In this arrangement, management is essentially abrogating its responsibilities in ensuring successful implementation of RIL.

Step 8 Skidding

In conventional extraction practices, skidding is extremely damaging to soils and residual stands. Through planning, proper locating and opening of skid trails prior to felling, skidding efficiency can be improved significantly and negative environmental impacts reduced.

Additional reductions in skidding damage require close supervision and the adoption of simple guidelines that are appropriate to the individual company or situation. Some points to consider include the increased use of the winch, the need to stay on existing predetermined trails, avoiding stream crossings and sensitive areas.

Achieving these goals is not simply a matter of training, but requires more effective supervision. As discussed under felling, company organization and functions are both factors in determining the success of these aspects of the RIL process.

The lack of appropriate technology is sometimes cited as a handicap in minimizing logging impact. Alternatives to tractor logging exist in the Asia-Pacific region and need to be explored further. More appropriate ground-based equipment than the standard crawler tractor, originally designed for pushing, exists. There is a need for managers to re-examine these alternatives, not only from an environmental, but also from cost and productivity perspectives.

Step 9 De-activation

In many cases it is desirable to de-activate skid trails. This should involve cross-ditching to minimize channelling and erosion on skid trails with steep gradients. This activity should be incorporated into the normal job description of the tractor operator and carried out once harvesting is completed.

As with many other operational aspects of RIL, clear and simple guidelines should be developed for individual units or concessions to best reflect the unique operating and management conditions. Also, company structure and functions with respect to supervision play a crucial role.

Step 10 Evaluation and monitoring

To provide meaningful feedback to management and operators of a concession, an appropriate evaluation procedure should be developed. This might involve post-logging surveys of the skid trails by sampling of soil disturbance or other parameters or, it might involve something as simple as a field inspection of a logging unit by a designated person and the preparation of a brief report.

Such assessments or inspections are necessary to provide internal feedback so that any deficiency can be identified quickly and corrected, and to ensure that management and staff are constantly aware of the objectives and achievements as part of the overall sensitization process of RIL implementation.


The question remains why, if the environmental benefits are so obvious, regulatory institutions do not put in place the technical standards, guidelines and regulations that can ensure enforcement of better harvesting practices. Furthermore why, if the financial benefits are reasonably clear, do not more forest managers seek to implement RIL within their companies and operations? This last question is of particular interest.

Certainly there is no shortage of possible explanations for why RIL is not being embraced more widely by the tropical forest industry. Although this paper focuses primarily on the reasons that relate to the Indonesian corporate forest sector, it is worthwhile examining a wider range of reasons or ‘excuses’, which are often used. The following are common:

Lack of tenure security

This is a commonly cited reason in the Indonesian context. The Ministry of Forestry’s mandate is being undermined by as yet, ill-defined decentralization processes (see also Bennett, this volume). Indigenous land claims, illegal logging and conflicting signals from the Ministry are all contributing to serious uncertainty within the forestry sector. However, it can also be argued that despite these uncertainties, there is still sufficient reason for forest managers to adopt RIL (Klassen, 1999a).

Ineffective government regulations and enforcement

Ineffective government regulations and enforcement are implicit constraints to adoption. Forest managers have become accustomed to operating in an environment where performance requirements can be manipulated. There is clearly a need to change this environment and to create an effective enforcement agency. Government ineffectiveness is an increasingly significant deterrent against the adoption of sustainable practices and specifically of RIL.

Excessive costs and lack of clear financial benefits

The argument that RIL means ‘reduced income logging’ has been largely discredited by existing research. While there is some validity to this argument as demonstrated by the adoption of RIL strategies within the context of rigorous performance guidelines, such as those adopted for carbon offset schemes (Pinard et al., 1995), most research indicates that productivity gains and financial benefits can be expected through the adoption of a pragmatic RIL system (Klassen, 1999b). There is a need for more dissemination of information about the financial benefits of RIL.

Inadequate information concerning RIL

Despite years of discussions, workshops and numerous research and demonstration projects, misunderstanding of what actually is required to implement RIL persists. It has been our experience that company officials often appear knowledgeable about RIL but when actually required to elaborate on what they have done to adopt RIL, they display a lack of understanding of the implementation requirements.

There is still a need for better information on RIL and for more effective dissemination of such information. The TFF in collaboration with the Association of Forest Concession Holders (APHI), is addressing this information gap by publishing articles on RIL in APHI’s bi-monthly journal, Hutan Indonesia, and through the joint publication of occasional RIL newsletters.

Lack of adequate technical guidance

In Indonesia, the TPTI silvicultural system provides a step-by-step prescription as to how the natural forest should be administered. Many people have argued that this administrative approach has focused on prescriptions to the detriment of adequate enforcement or technical guidance (see Bennett, this volume). While the TPTI states that impacts should be minimized, there is essentially no guidance as to how this is to be achieved.

On the regulatory side, enforcement of the TPTI emphasizes reporting requirements and usually ignores field implementation.

The lack of clear technical guidance for the implementation of the various RIL elements is being addressed by the TFF in collaboration with the APHI, through the development of technical procedure manuals. These manuals are based on training modules that have been developed for specific technical functions.

Lack of serious intent

This often remains a major reason for the failure of companies to adopt RIL practices. Everyone would be more comfortable if we focused our attention exclusively on technical or other explanations for the failure of companies to adopt RIL. The reality is that companies all too frequently are simply not interested in RIL since it disrupts the status quo and since many companies are still more interested in their immediate wood supply than in sustainable forest management.

Increasingly, the realization that sustainability of their business depends on sustainability of the forest is slowly emerging among corporate managers. Companies interested in long-term forest management are responding to market-driven pressures for certified wood and are ‘developing’ an interest in RIL. In this respect, the pressure for certification is emerging as a major driving force for the adoption of RIL.


If indeed, the pragmatic implementation of RIL can produce clear financial and environmental benefits, and if RIL can indeed contribute to sustainable forest management, it should be expected that corporate forest managers would pursue this strategy. However, only a few companies have begun the process of modifying their operations and even fewer have achieved full implementation on a concession-wide basis.

Reasons for this apparent reluctance of companies to adopt RIL have been discussed throughout this paper. Specifically, the main points that pertain to the forest industry are summarized hereunder.

Understanding the opportunity - a matter of perception

There is still a widespread misperception of the potential benefits of adopting RIL. Even among managers who have some appreciation that RIL can yield both financial and environmental benefits, clear understanding about what really constitutes RIL is often lacking. Specifically, this refers to essential measures to achieve noticeable financial and environmental benefits and, what training and organizational changes need to be put in place to effect the necessary improvements.

Convincing company management of the benefits of RIL is often a complex process. It is not just a matter of convincing top management in capital cities. Regional and camp managers should be fully supportive of the necessary changes and, they in turn will have to convince their line management.

In many cases, forest concessionaires respond to ‘demands’ from the industries. Overall company perception is biased towards manufacturing. The forest is still considered a necessary inconvenience.

Concession management frequently has a poorly developed cost-accounting system and concessions are not run as individual profit centres, but as part of a larger system including the manufacturing process. Consequently, a manager’s perception of costs may be incomplete. Hence, a carefully prepared study on the financial benefits of RIL may have little meaning to a camp manager if the manager is not really concerned about certain cost components such as the cost of amortizing equipment.

Gaps in knowledge and skills

Most efforts at promoting RIL have been made by externally funded projects in collaboration with a concessionaire. Projects tended to focus much of their early effort on training industry partners in the various RIL techniques. This type of training typically has been limited in scope as defined by the collaborative agreements and funding constraints.

Major forest companies generally run their operations efficiently and perform many functions necessary for practising RIL. The quality of planning and operational activities is often a function of motivation. For example, most companies carry out 100 percent forest inventories because they are required to do so. The granting of annual cutting permits is conditional on the inventories, and other activities. The companies’ modus operandi, however, generally find little utility in this activity. Hence, field checks have revealed very low levels of accuracy. RIL, however, requires accuracy for planning purposes.

Clearly there is a need for targeted and effective training. The TFF and the APHI are working together to develop training modules that can be delivered directly to forest managers. The underlying assumption is that knowledge or skills gaps are usually minor and filling these gaps can be addressed more effectively in the actual working environment than in a more formal classroom setting. Requests for training have increased due to the effective dissemination of information and in response to the growing interest in forest certification.

Training modules that are being developed:

Management form and function - the need for change

Forest concessionaires in Indonesia have evolved in a relatively unrestricted work environment and have had little need to develop certain disciplines and skills important for the implementation of RIL. Managers, therefore, often fail to appreciate the need for additional training since the performance of their staff has served them in the past. In the same way, managers often have difficulty appreciating the need to introduce new functions and positions.

Seminars and workshops for management and supervisory personnel are important for generating an understanding of the implementation requirements for RIL.


It is time to change the focus in the debate about RIL from research to implementation. Given the diversity of topographical, biophysical and operational variables, there will always be opportunities to question research results. The existing research and demonstration results, if not always definite, nevertheless strongly point to the potential benefits of practising RIL. They indicate that significant environmental and financial benefits are achievable through the pragmatic application of RIL.

There is a need for governments and regulatory agencies to support the broad adoption of RIL through concrete action. Verbal endorsement is simply not enough and can no longer pass for action. More significantly, there is an urgent need for forest managers to be more pro-active in adopting RIL.


Department of Forests. 1997. Vanuatu reduced impact logging guidelines. Vanuatu, Department of Forests, Vanuatu.

Holmes, T.P., Blate, G.M., Zweede, J.C., Perreira, R. Jr., Barreto, P., Boltz, F. & Bauch, R. 2000. Financial costs and benefits of reduced-impact logging relative to conventional logging in the eastern Amazon. Tropical Forest Foundation, Washington, DC.

Klassen, A.W. 1999a. Analisis Aspek Finansial dan Produktivitas Reduced Impact Logging (RIL) (Productivity and Financial Aspects of Reduced Impact Logging), Hutan Indonesia, a bi-monthly journal published by the Asosiasi Pengusaha Hutan Indonesia, Edition 9 and 10, year 2, August and September, 2000.

Klassen, A.W. 1999b. Reduced impact logging: A cost effective way to reduce utilization waste in the natural forest management unit. Paper presented at the Seminar Konservasi Lingkungan Melalui Efisiensi Pemanfaatan Biomass Hutan, Yogyakarta, November 13.

Pinard, M.A., Putz, F.E., Tay, J. & Sullivan, T.E. 1995. Creating timber harvesting guidelines for a reduced impact logging project in Malaysia. Journal of Forestry, 93(10): 41-45.

Ruslim, Y., Hinrichs, A. & Ulbricht, R. 1999. Technical guideline for reduced impact tractor logging. SFMP Document No. 10a. Ministry of Forestry and Estate Crops in cooperation with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit. Jakarta.

Sist, P., Dykstra, D. & Fimbel, R. 1998. Reduced impact logging guidelines for lowland and hill dipterocarp forests in Indonesia. CIFOR Occasional Paper No. 15. Bogor: Center for International Forestry Research.

[1] The Tropical Forest Foundation (TFF) is an international NGO with a mandate to promote RIL through information dissemination, training, and extension. In South-East Asia, TFF has an office in Jakarta, Indonesia.
[2] TPTI (Tebang Pilih Tanam Indonesia) is the main system of natural forest management. It forms the silvicultural basis for the Indonesian forest concession system.
[3] An English version of this paper is available from the author at

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