One major stumbling block to introducing environmentally sound management practices is the perception that compared to conventional methods they are more expensive. This perception is widespread among land managers, including foresters and forest owners. It explains why, in many locations, forestry stakeholders remain cautious about adopting reduced impact logging (RIL) practices.
Fundac„o Floresta Tropical, the Brazilian subsidiary of the Tropical Forest Foundation (TFF), has recently completed a study on the Financial Costs and Benefits of Reduced-Impact Logging Relative to Conventional Logging in the Eastern Amazon. The objective of the study was to provide accurate information about various cost and benefit parameters. It is particularly interesting as it includes compounded pre-harvest costs, and wasted timber and training costs.
Although the study focused on the economic valuation of RIL it provides some insights into the ecological effects of RIL in comparison with conventional logging (CL). The amount of ground area disturbed by heavy machinery during RIL was nearly 40% less compared to CL. Favorable comparisons also emerged with regard to soil disturbance on skid trails and tree damage.
But what about the costs? RIL planning costs nearly doubled the CL costs, but efficiency gains due to improved planning were large. Skidding and log deck productivity increased dramatically and led to nearly 40% reduced costs. Better recovery of potentially merchantable volume reduced average variable costs associated with wood waste by almost 80% and reduced stumpage cost by 16%.
Overall, average total cost of a typical RIL system was 12% less than average cost of a typical CL system, and net revenue was 19% higher. This indicates that RIL in the eastern Amazon is financially more competitive than CL, primarily due to greater skidding productivity and lower wood waste.
So how likely is the acceptability of RIL, which many still perceive as `reduced income logging'? Higher net benefits associated with RIL should induce the adoption of environmentally sounder practices. Much of the financial benefit of RIL was due to the impact of reduced waste. Unfortunately these costs are often not recognized as many CL operators do not apply rigorous cost-accounting systems. Wood waste simply does not appear in the books. Up-front costs on the other hand do, which explains why the perception of higher costs associated with RIL persists.
Other constraints to adoption include the lack of trained staff, the lack of enforcement of environmental legislation and financial disincentives to change behavior. However, in recent years, in the Brazilian Amazon, environmental regulations have been applied more rigorously. Loggers may thus find it more rewarding to adopt RIL methods than to pay fines.
The final report of the study is available from the TFF:
Tropical Forest Foundation
225 Reinekers Lane
Alexandria, Virginia 22314