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J.M. Assene Nkou

National President of the Association of Cameroonian Foresters (AEFNA), Cameroon

As the old saying goes, "where the road passes, development follows". In the tropical forest zone, it would be better to say: "where the forestry sector passes, the road follows and development with it".

In the case of Cameroon, since the onset of the economic crisis resulting in the abolishment of the five-year development plans, the inhabitants of the forest regions saw their road networks maintained and expanded by the forestry sector alone. Can you imagine that at the end of the twentieth century, the forest population of Yoko (near Nnanga Eboko) saw a car for the first time, after a ferry service was introduced on the Sanaga River and a road was built by the forestry sector, in 1990?

In fact, from a historic point of view, how did the villages develop alongside the colonial roads? Many people migrated into the dense tropical forests after having been chased by the cavalry, whose horses could not penetrate the forest. It was therefore a refuge for the ancestors of the current forest population.

When the colonial powers arrived, the forest population was forced to build the road network that linked the different colonial settlements; this explains why the forest population had settled along the roadsides. Many land conflicts (some even lethal) resulted from the relocation of forest inhabitants, as they did not necessarily settle on their own lands. Therefore, it is difficult to determine who are the real forest residents: those who were living in the forest before they left to build the roads, and whose traces can still be found in the forest, or those who migrated and settled along the roads with forest activity? In this respect the concept of ancestral forest ownership is important in that it upholds land claims by the original inhabitants.

It is therefore to be expected that these people return to their former lands after the construction of a road network in the primary forests. Having regained ownership, the population is more apt to work towards development with modern means, making use of all the possibilities offered by trade, education, health, etc.

The most important issue is allocating forested land to various uses. In addition, the local population must be involved in decision-making regarding this allocation so as to ensure that they understand the reasons for the decisions reached - in order that the implementation in the field can be ultimately successful. In the case of Cameroon, total participation of the local population in forest management also implies that each of the participants in the tripartite decision structure, government-concessionaire-population, knows his rights and duties. A well-defined allocation of land to intensive agriculture eliminates all risks of haphazard deforestation. Moreover, the involvement of an increasing share of the population in agroforestry and silviculture, funded through forestry taxes, will enhance the value of the forests in the eyes of those who find their lives improved.

The surveillance and conservation of the forests is the most important task of the inhabitants who want to perpetuate the benefits they reap from the forests. Thus, if the prescriptions of the management plans that are currently the basis of forestry in Cameroon are adhered to, the forests in reality will become a renewable resource under a national and sustainable harvesting regime.


G.M. Blate and J.C. Zweede

Respectively Co-ordinator for the Tropical Forest Foundation's (TFF) Forest Management Low-Impact Logging (FM-LIL) Programme and Director of Fundação Floresta Tropical (TFF's Brazilian subsidiary, which implements the FM-LIL Programme in Brazil)

Despite the ecological and economic importance of tropical forests (and international efforts to conserve them), they continue, in many cases, to be degraded or cleared at an alarming pace. Because roads open up previously inaccessible tropical forest areas, they can be viewed as a proximate cause of this trend. However, because roads are usually essential to economic development, the question posed by ATIBT about their role in tropical forests is timely.

One way to answer the question is to ask how a particular forest area will be used. In other words, what are the management goals for the forest? Forest management goals include commercial and traditional production (of both wood and non-wood products), recreation, preservation (usually strict protection), etc. Forest roads have a distinct use for each specific management goal. For example, roads may be built for access only, dry weather only, all weather, light use, heavy use, intermittent use, continuous use, etc. For each use, specifications for drainage, surfacing, cleared width, and grade will vary.

No matter what the intended use, roads are costly to build and maintain. When built poorly they compact soil, increase erosion, and reduce water quality. Even when they are well built, roads reduce habitat, or at best, fragment it. In addition, unless strict controls are enforced, roads accelerate encroachment, in-migration, and illegal hunting. These latter impacts of road building, while indirect, are also arguably the most lethal. For these reasons, they should be viewed as a permanent part of the forest infrastructure.

How a particular forest is managed - and what kind of roads, if any, it should have - depends on who owns it. All landowners, however, should assume responsibility for building the roads according to appropriate specifications as well as for mitigating any negative environmental and social impacts. Thus, impacts should be assessed during road network planning, and mitigation measures (especially control of use) should be an integral part of the plan.

Most tropical forest roads have not been built according to appropriate specifications, or with mitigation measures, for a variety of reasons. First, landowners have generally built roads to meet short-term objectives. In some cases, they did not foresee the long-term consequences of building the road, or just simply ignored them. Because of the short-term focus, landowners have usually avoided the investments necessary to meet appropriate specifications. Second, regardless of who owns the forest, in most cases, the "road builder" is not the landowner. Generally, the road builder has not considered the negative effects, and the landowner either has not cared, or has been remiss in (or incapable of) enforcing appropriate regulations. Third, the general lack of land use planning and zoning has allowed roads to be built without considering how the roads will be used or whether it will be feasible to enforce that use.

Growing populations in tropical countries will inevitably spur development, which depends heavily on transportation infrastructure. Since the need for roads will probably grow in parallel with growing populations, avoiding the problems mentioned above will become more critical.

A democratic way to prevent past mistakes is for governments, private landholders (including indigenous groups), and other stakeholders to develop a cohesive strategy to optimally satisfy multiple management goals. On public land, stakeholders should use information from a variety of sources (biological, economic, social, etc.) to determine which forest areas would be best suited for production, recreation, strict preservation, etc. In some cases, multiple uses can be accommodated. Future roads should only be built according to the plan and appropriate specifications. Emphasis should be given to the fact that very few large contiguous tracts of rain forest remain, and that these provide important refugia for wildlife and important global ecological services. Ideally, private lands would be included in the conservation-development strategy. At the very least, governments should provide incentives for private landowners to minimize negative impacts whenever they build a road.


E.F. Bruenig

Associate Member, Oxford Forestry Institute, Oxford University, UK

1. Introduction

"Broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction" (Matthew, 7,13). Roads have been a mixed blessing throughout human history and cultural evolution. The great continental road networks, such as the Silk Road system and the highways in the Roman Empire, were cultural lifelines for the exchange of goods, people, information and sophistication. At the same time, they were routes of expansion of barbarism, crime, war, conquest, damaging competition, economic and environmental decline and cultural destruction. Roads in tropical forests are equally ambivalent. They can spearhead cultural expansion and socio-economic development. But they can also be the epitome of plundering, crime and destruction of amenity, heritage and manifold resources. Their visual appearance is the first key indicator of the kind and quality of resource use in the forest they lead to: broad and rough, badly aligned and poorly drained forest roads unfailingly indicate plunder; state-of-the-art forest roads and skidtrails indicate forest sustainability and viable natural and cultural ecosystems.

2. Real life cases: three forest areas visited in the 1950s and revisited in the 1990s

Three cases in Sabah and Sarawak, Malaysia may illustrate the point I want to make. The area, as the rest of the Southeast Asian-Pacific region, has exceptionally high geomorphologic and climatic hazards, relief energy, overland water flow and soil erosion. The terrain is often rugged and dissected, difficult for road building and logging. Therefore, the following case observations cannot be simply generalized and applied to African and American rainforests. The social and political factors covering forests are universal.

Some of the major wood companies operate in all three regions. The cost is being born by the Malaysian and German people. Like road users generally, forest abusers and wood miners leave the external costs to others. Now, what went wrong, why was the plan not adhered to? The road, planned as a component of a sustainable management system, was misused for illicit re-entry by the concessionaires and illegal logging by the concessionaire and others, sometimes with mutual understanding, condoned by the political establishment at the time. The forest ecosystem was destroyed, the logging progress by area was two to three times faster than anticipated and the forest productivity consequently reduced by more than half.

In 1955-56 Dr. Dames, an experienced Dutch tropical-soil surveyor, and I did a statistically designed combined vegetation, forest growing stock, soil and terrain inventory, supplemented with pilot ecological research, in Pueh and Sampadi Forest Reserves, West Sarawak. This was probably the first of its kind of comprehensive data collecting for forestry planning in tropical forests. For both reserves it was recommended, as priorities, protection, conservation and amenity for recreational uses. Soils and growing stock were so poor and heterogeneous that production forestry and conversion to other uses were impracticable options.

During an inspection 40 years later I found the growing stock in both areas logged, mainly for Bindang (Agathis borneensis, Coniferae) and Kapor (Dryobalanops fusca and D. beccarii, Dipterocarpaceae). The Sampadi Forest Reserve was crossed by a public road, which had lured local people to enter the reserve and occupy illegally land which was utterly unsustainable for the crops they planted. Worst of all, a large oil palm plantation was established, equally on mostly unsuitable soils. Both endeavours failed. The area of illegal native farming has been abandoned to low scrub, ferns and sedges. Most of the oil palms managed to survive, but production is low, the plantation a most pitiful sight and the ecological risk high. What went wrong in this case?

We, the foresters in the 1950s, had planned in this case in an unusually shortsighted way. We failed to realize that greed could be greater than the good sense to leave the forest to itself. We did not see that, for resource sustainability and security, it was necessary to integrate local management and conservation planning into the wider societal and landscape aspects of ecosystem contexts. It did not occur to us that even these poor forests and sites would attract misuse. We failed to consider the high level of uncertainty of future events, that anything unpredictable could happen. Interdepartmental coordination was also inadequate and the public road was narrowly conceived without taking into account our earlier warnings. The result is what we see today: destroyed and unreclaimable ecosystems instead of a potentially valuable multifunctional resource.

Finally, in 1958 I travelled upriver by dugout into the low-hilly to steep-mountainous interior of Central Sarawak. The purpose was to reconnoitre some forest tract by walking back and forth in the rather heterogeneous, but generally good forest, on flat terraces to rugged hills, in order to obtain information for the design of management surveys.

Thirty-five years later, I travelled into the same area, more comfortably on a broad and badly built, consequently heavily eroding logging road. The forest had been very patchily "selectively" logged. Some areas were overlogged, others only creamed. Quite substantial areas had been illegally occupied and farmed by locals in their traditional fashion. At least the soils were reasonably suitable for customary farming. What went wrong, in this case, in terms of forest sustainability and regional development?

Apart from the technical deficiencies of the road, which could be easily corrected, much more serious and more difficult to correct was the non-compliance with the original integrated and comprehensive concept of forest protection and management within the landscape and regional development systems. The present logging plan narrowly focused on exploitation and ignored the needs and inherent dynamics of customary native farming communities, which is quite in contrast to time-honoured standard procedures in the country and not in accordance with the existing law. Naturally, when the road was there, people made use of it and moved into what should have been "off-limits", in order that it become a secure permanent forest.

3. Common conditions and causal factors

Some causal factors appear common to all three cases: the roads were short-sightedly and almost exclusively technocratically perceived, and not environmentally, considered, either to get to the wood or to a terminal location. Long-term aspects of land and forest development at management unit levels (farm, plantation, forest) and uncertainties were hardly, if at all, considered. There was inadequate or no integration within forestry or between forestry and other sectors. Forestry planning remained sectorally isolated at management unit levels, as well as at other higher levels, such as landscape, district, region and State. Direct damages to landscape hydrology, amenity and ecology and decline to the point of destruction of the multifunctional forest resource values were the inevitable consequences, but they were not primarily due to logging or public roads. Prudent application of established procedures of system-compatible planning and proper and effective implementation could have made the roads and the utilization of the forests more positive and constructive elements of viable and integrated development.

These forestry failures are basically due to a lack of comprehensive situation and problem analysis, poor problem and goal definitions, and the short-term and almost exclusive priority given to forest growing stock liquidation by "selective" logging so as to maximize immediate profits and revenues. Suitable comprehensive procedures were available to assess and ensure system compatibility, but were not applied. Without proper procedures, medium- and long-term forestry and land use planning in the face of high levels of risk and uncertainty is a gamble against unknown odds. The hazards are particularly well illustrated by the first two cases where the roads indeed were broad ways to destruction.

4. Fundamental changes are crucial

The art of planning and construction of forest roads for sustainable management in tropical forests is well developed. It is the responsibility of the national governments to enforce proper implementation. The problem is that most wood miners regard this as an irrelevant luxury and a bothersome complication of their trade. Substantial public pressure and government coercion is needed to affect, if not a change of mind, at least a change of performance (see diagram). Until this happens, local native people cannot be blamed if they take what they consider their fair share, either by illegal logging --------- usually on order - or by customary or illegal occupation of land along logging roads.

5. Answers to the question

Obviously, the crucial question is not whether logging roads per se lead to sustainable, system-compatible development or to destruction of natural and human resources. A well-designed network of properly constructed roads and skidtrails is an essential prerequisite for achieving sustainable, ecologically and economically viable, and system-compatible multiuse forest management. Crucial is the integration of planning and construction into the system of management and conservation within the management unit, the adjacent landscape and the regional development unit. Most critical is the effective and efficient implementation on the ground, often against powerful opposition by colluded interests.

Responsibility for proper construction and integration is inseparable from the right to liquidate part of the natural physical capital of wood growing stock in the primary forest. The enforcement to comply with these principles and the moral obligation to reinvest, or replant, liquidated natural capital in the creation of new man-made natural, infrastructural and human capital usually meets with fierce and powerful opposition by colluded interests. The degree of success determines whether the logging road contributes to development or whether it is the broad path to destruction.

The way to success is a long, tedious and tortuous process from the first recognition that there is an existing problem of forest overuse, abuse, misuse and decline; to the creation of extensive public awareness, concern and societal response and finally to appropriate political action; or failing this to system collapse (see diagram). Even if action is decided by parliaments and governments and in fact implemented, it will take some time before programmes filter action to the forests. In recent years the Government of Malaysia and some more enlightened and responsible individual companies in Malaysia and in parts of Africa and America have not only made this decision, but have also begun to implement it effectively. Other governments and companies still lag behind. The problem is not technical, but social and political. Profound changes in the power structure and the concession and tenure systems are indispensable prerequisites for effective implementation of improvement and mitigation programmes. Even then it will take many years before we come anywhere near to system-compatibility and sustainability of forest management and conservation (see curve above the C-line in the diagram).

Figure 1: The development of problem recognition by different participants over time

The tropical forest issue and society: relation between problem pressure, recognition by individual scientists and professionals, awareness in the society, action by the power-holders towards problem mitigation or alternatively non-action to preserve the status quo of privileges leading to build up of societal unrest and possible system collapse. Until:

A-line = Scientists and professionals recognize the problem and issue warnings since 1880, increasingly since 1930, which remain unheeded until level B is reached.

B-line = The general public, some independent politicians and media take notice, become aware and demand action to mitigate the problem but vested and colluded interests obstruct progress; actions are restricted to escapist repair strategies such as promoting more research, conferences and programmes (1930-1970).

C-line = Public concerns and pressures gradually overcome resistance of vested and colluded interests, some national power-holders initiate action towards problem mitigation; reaction of the commercial/bureaucratic/political complex continues to delay progress (1970-1990).

D-line = Public pressure eventually leads to concrete national and international actions, but problem pressures decline slowly. Eventually the tide is turned: the "no action" option will increase societal tension and unpredictable responses and may lead to collapse of non-complying production forestry systems when D-line is reached (1990-?).

(Adapted from B.M. Wirtschaft, Bonn, Umweltbrief 29, 1983, pp. 127, see Fig. 5.12, p. 121.)


M. Cárdenas

Executive Director, Instituto Ecuatoriano Forestal y de Areas Naturales y Vida Silvestre (INEFAN), Ecuador

1. Introduction

Road infrastructures in tropical forests is a subject that has been widely discussed from many points of view, for its socio-economic development as well as its destructive effects. Most of Ecuador's tropical rain forests are located in the Amazon (9.2 million ha). From an economic standpoint, the most important activity in the region, which also happens to be the major foreign currency earner for the country, is oil. However, this activity is the one that impacts the most on the environment. Destruction of the biophysical environment due to oil exploitation is concentrated in forest clearing to make way for seismological recordings, heliport construction, bases, camps, runways and roads.

In terms of human infrastructure, road building is the change that has had the most negative consequences on Amazonian Ecuador, with its constant flow of people and goods. All the roads in Northeastern Ecuador have been built specifically for the oil companies, since they are fundamental in order to gain access to oil wells, and for transporting equipment and machines and building pipelines. Each oil company road in the Amazon is accompanied by its own pipeline; such roads are built for the pipeline and not for the people.

2. The role of oil roads in Ecuador

In spite of this reasoning it is not to be doubted that the road plays a decisive influence on the local population. Because of the great distances involved between villages and the rugged terrain, transport in Amazonia is a factor that shapes community development. A village that is connected to the outside world by a road tends to have a series of options that villages with only river access lack. The type of transport used is an important factor in community structure, since it facilitates contacts that determine inescapable changes, exchanges of ideas, agricultural practices, products and people.

A road facilitates the transport of all kinds of products. For example, it makes transport of wood more easy, giving access to a greater number of loggable areas. Logging lorries have a large loading capacity, and the industrial mining of resources whether legal or not is carried out thanks to the roads.

For all the above reasons, roads are the main means of conquering a region. As far as Amazonian Ecuador is concerned, road building has set into motion a great many hidden forces in society. With the introduction of such means of transport comes the building of new development complexes. Oil company roads have been the main way to colonize Northeastern Ecuador and they have opened up opportunities for tourism in the region.

The other aspect of the creation of new surroundings for human beings is the establishment of a social work environment. Oil activities are carried out by people who live on a temporary basis in the zone although lately local people have also been integrated

World-wide concern has been expressed for Amazonia and a large part of the worries concerns deforestation. Colonization is considered to be the major culprit; it is directly related to oil exploitation and is a consequence of road building. The relationship is simple: where there are more oil wells, there are more roads; where there are more roads there is greater colonization; where there is more colonization there is more deforestation.

3. Recommendations

Although road infrastructures in tropical forests allow surrounding villages to develop - either through trade or through extraction of natural resources - they also promote accelerated destruction of biodiversity, above all through lack of sustainable management plans, or non-existent comprehensive area planning which would allow the local population to have other choices.

On the basis of this analysis, the following recommendations can be made:

· Ensure that road planning, especially in tropical rain forests, takes into account land use, which would allow for less environmental and ecological impact.

· Implement integral development projects to educate and motivate local populations to preserve the environment while at the same time seeking alternatives and production techniques that will not overexploit the trees and the biodiversity.

· Set up a national research programme to implement alternative and sustainable sources of energy.

· Draw up and enforce a strict set of controls and sanctions in the case of contamination and destruction of the environment in relation to all mining and energy activities.


H. Djombo

Minister of the Forest Economy, the Republic of the Congo

1. Introduction

The rational utilization of the tropical forest ecosystems has now undoubtedly become a major concern of mankind. Considered as the greatest reservoir of biological diversity, the rain forests are being destroyed at an accelerating rate: 20 million ha, 5 of which in Africa, disappear every year. According to the World Bank, 70 percent of the causes are of anthropogenic origin, among which slash-and-burn agriculture is responsible for half the deforestation. Logging contributes to it through the road infrastructures that allow the opening up of isolated forest areas. An attempt will be made to give an opinion on the existing problems as they arise in the Congolese context.

2. Road infrastructures and the development of rain forests

The closed moist forests generally constitute the most available natural resource and an asset for the development of the countries where they occur. Their utilization is a source of employment, income and services, and this makes the wood sector an important part of the national economy. In the Congo, apart from informal activities, forest utilization accounts for 6 percent of the GDP and for more than 8 000 direct jobs. It even contributes to improving the balance of trade and the balance of payments and has a considerable impact in ensuring the viability of other economic sectors.

Whether it is a first, second or third category road, it precedes, accompanies and allows the extraction and the processing of wood. Its opening and maintenance represent the main operations of an indispensable infrastructure for the transportation of logs and derived products. Consequently, without roads there can be no access to the forest and therefore no forest production, which results in a significant loss of revenue for the country.

The forest road connects distant parts of the country, those isolated and difficult to reach, to other localities; it facilitates cultural and commercial exchanges, communications, the spreading of the monetary economy to rural areas, the modernization of the countryside, as well as the emergence of new population and development poles. Thanks to the existence of forest roads, populations of remote areas can have access to health care, education, better living conditions and become aware of belonging to a same national community.

At the present time, when funds have become scarce, tropical States are finding it difficult to satisfy their priorities in such a way as to meet the major challenges facing them. In this context, it can be said that road construction and maintenance are among the forestry objectives that are often complex to implement. Thus, the opening and existence of roads make a valuable contribution to investments aimed at opening up the hinterland. In effect, road infrastructures in rain forests acquire the character of a public service. Indeed, as far as the Congo is concerned, the southern forest roads provide the connection between several regions of the country (Lékoumou, Niari, Kouilou, Bouenza), as well as connecting the Congo with Gabon, while the roads in the north now ensure a permanent connection between the Congo, Central Africa and Cameroon.

Through this road network, the forest production of the Northern Congo is regularly and more expeditiously cleared, whereas the Congolese national transport sector shows operating weaknesses which weigh heavily upon the economic performance of the country. The same roads are used for supplying forestry sites and wood industries, as well as for the supply of primary commodities to the northern region during the period of low water levels on the Sangha and Oubangui rivers. In addition, roads provide for a better circulation of persons and goods and, no doubt, contribute to the sub-regional economic integration and complementarity. Besides, some roads are part of the main highways or byways of the trans-African link and thus reduce the cost of future works to be carried out for it.

Furthermore, it is realized that previously logged areas in Northern Congo are increasingly being repopulated by wildlife: pachyderms, antelopes and other species are attracted by young regrowth and return to abandoned roads and tracks to feed on fresh vegetation or to shelter in denser undergrowth.

One can thus conclude that road infrastructures in forests are useful for land use planning, enterprise, local populations and regional integration, and that they are therefore desired and supported by the decision-makers, stakeholders and beneficiaries of the development.

3. Road infrastructures, roads to forest destruction?

On this basis, it is suggested that road infrastructures in forests are a factor of development, although they undeniably cause destruction that should not be minimized. Widespread forest destruction is attributed to the opening of roads. In reality, the surface areas of established roads represent a tiny part of the forests which, once abandoned, is covered again with Musanga before the original ecosystem regenerates.

On the other hand, the factors more responsible for deforestation are the commercial exploitation of wood and, above all, slash-and-burn agriculture. By allowing access to isolated areas, road infrastructures favour access to forest and fauna resources, which leads to over-exploitation on forest sites, poaching and uncontrolled clearing. These encroachments cause the destruction and degradation of the forest, as well as wildlife depletion and disappearance. The rate of devastation varies according to the population density in the areas concerned. The Mayombe forest in Southern Congo, which has been subjected to such practices for 50 years, simply survives because of the inhospitable mountain range where some slopes are unsuitable for agricultural activities. In Northern Congo, 7 million ha of marshy and flooded forest are preserved from human activities because of their inaccessibility. However, the degradation of ecosystems is particularly noticeable around settlement areas in the forest, generally along the roads, even in enclosed regions where the population density is the lowest in the country.

4. What is to be done?

Road infrastructures are indeed indispensable for the management of forests and the socio-economic development. However, by encouraging shifting cultivation in the insatiable search for fertile soils, poaching and selective logging of the forest, they contribute to the degradation of the environment. A sensible land use planning policy must include a consistent land use plan and allow a harmonious integration of the different economic sectors.

By undertaking concerted awareness, supervision or repression campaigns, the public authorities, forest enterprises, local populations and non-governmental organizations can reduce the harmful effects on forest ecosystems that arise from the opening of roads, and restore to road infrastructures their entire usefulness for the country.


R. Fimbel and C. Fimbel

Wildlife Conservation Society, USA

1. Wildlife conservation in production forests

Wildlife plays a critical role in maintaining the health of natural forests. Ninety percent or more of all plant species in tropical rain forests appear to be dependent on animals for their pollination or dispersal, including many important wood species. Forest fauna also provides a critical resource for many tropical people who obtain a substantial portion of their protein from hunting. As populations grow, so do the demands on forest resources. Therefore, it is important to recognize the ways in which forestry activities affect wildlife populations, especially through road networks, and to take actions to reduce these impacts. In many countries, the large size and varied habitats of production forests can make significant contributions to wildlife conservation if the following considerations are taken into account when planning and establishing forest road networks.

2. Roads increase hunter access

Road systems associated with forestry practices represent one of the greatest threats to wildlife because they provide access to the forest interior, greatly expanding opportunities for hunting. Forests that are newly opened up to hunting are especially attractive to hunters, given the relative bounty of wildlife available in these areas. Hunting and trapping activities in wood harvest areas often prove more harmful to wildlife than the direct impacts of overstorey removal (Fimbel et al., in press).

While local residents are often quick to expand their hunting activities in this newly accessible area, non-resident people (recent immigrants, commercial hunters and wood company personnel) normally constitute the greatest threat to wildlife because of their associations with commercial markets. Commercial game hunters and wood company employees often form intricate networks to supply external urban markets with wild meat and pets. Wood company vehicles regularly provide the means to transport both hunters into the forest, and subsequently, the game caught to commercial markets. Finally, once harvest activities cease in a concession, forest roads continue to pose a threat to wildlife because of the long-term access they provide to hunters and colonists.

3. Other impacts associated with roads

Roads, as with any disturbance factor, may benefit some wildlife species which prefer open canopy habitat conditions, upturned soil, or ephemeral water catchments. However, they also cause breaks in the forest canopy, causing barriers to movement for (i) arboreal mammals requiring aerial pathways, and (ii) small animals sensitive to microclimatic conditions that cannot tolerate crossing open habitats. Furthermore, roads cause direct damage to trees and soils (habitat), increase stream siltation, and change the course of small streams, altering their characteristics. These changes may affect the aquatic fauna of the stream, along with terrestrial fauna which rely on the stream for water, food, breeding habitat or escape cover.

4. Recommendations: roads to development, not wildlife degradation

Although most wildlife species can adapt to habitat modifications resulting from logging, increased hunting associated with road networks may have serious consequences for game species. The following measures are recommended to lessen the impacts of roads on wildlife.

Care in construction and crossing streams:

· Plan the road network and supervise its construction to minimize erosion, the disturbance of sensitive habitats (e.g. wetlands and steep slopes), and reduce the overall size and cost of the transportation system.

· Minimize the number of stream crossings, and only cross at right angles and where the stream bottom is stable.

· Dismantle stream crossings that are likely to clog in the future to avoid the creation of stagnant ponds which serve as breeding sites for mosquitoes and parasites.

· Stabilize roads to be used in the future by grading and installing water diversions on sloping sections to minimize soil erosion and stream siltation.

Control access:

· Minimize the number of access points into the cutting area.

· Restrict access to individuals involved in the forest management activities through a system of road gates and patrols.

· Plant trees on roads that are no longer needed.

· Block inactive roads, especially entry roads, with large earthen mounds to prohibit their use by unauthorized parties.

Control hunting:

· Include specific guidelines for wildlife conservation, especially the control of hunting, in concession contracts.

· Enforce national, regional, local, and/or company rules and regulations pertaining to hunting, fishing and the pet trade within the licensed area.

· Discourage hunting by company employees by making sources of domestic meat available to workers in both the logging camps and mill sites.

· Discourage transport of bushmeat on company vehicles by installing a system of fines and other punishments that penalize drivers who engage in this activity.

Further readings

Dykstra, D.P. and Heinrich, R. 1996. FAO Model Code of Forest Harvesting Practices, FAO. Rome.

Fimbel, R.A., Graja, A. & Robinson, J.R. (eds.). Conserving Wildlife in Managed Tropical Forests. Columbia University Press. New York, in press.


P. Gaucher

Forestry Commissioner of the Natural Reserves of Nouragues and Trinité, French Guiana

1. Introduction

The decision to build a road network is a political one (in the broadest sense), and only a few years ago the economic dimension was the principal (if not the only) factor taken into consideration by decision-makers to construct roads. Today, almost systematically a study is undertaken as a part of the decision-making process to assess the impact that roads may have on the environment, including analysis of the alternatives (other route or other means of communication). Therefore, ecological criteria are evaluated at the same level as economic criteria. The result of these impact studies, undertaken by scientists, will determine the future of the road projects.

As a scientist, I undertake this type of studies for the national road between Régina and Saint Georges in French Guiana. This paper addresses the problem posed by ATIBT by explaining the destructive aspects of road infrastructures in tropical forests while indicating the measures taken by this project to reduce the disruptive impact.

French Guiana is a county of about 90 000 km2 (one-fifth of France), 90 percent of which is covered with "umbrophile" forests. Its entire road network of 439 km is located in the coastal corridor, penetrating only 60 km inland. In this context, it might be surprising that the Régina - Saint Georges road has given rise to strong protests by environmental organizations. The reason is that this road has a symbolic value: it will be the first road to split the uninterrupted tropical forest region that stretches from the Andes up to the Atlantic Ocean.

The tropical forests in French Guiana have certain biological characteristics that have direct consequences for the way in which roads should be built: the trees are tall (on average 40 to 50 m high) and are considered to be unstable in this respect that about 1 percent of them falls over every year. This implies that public roads should be at least 100 m wide in order to prevent any interruption of the traffic due to falling trees. Moreover, the trees on the road terrain are uprooted and moved to the side of the road by bulldozer in order to create walls consisting of an inextricable tangle of branches, tree trunks and earth, with a height of more than 4 m.

The road therefore has two consequences: disturbance of the vegetation layers from the forest floor up to the canopy, and creation of an impassable barrier for the large mammals such as peccaries, tapirs and deer.

2. What are the possible solutions?

Regarding the road project connecting Régina and Saint Georges, several solutions have been recommended and implemented, in perfect harmony with the Government. The first was to reduce the width of the road from 100 to 80 m, while in the forests in the lower regions or with smaller trees, the width is even reduced to 40 m. The trees uprooted from the road terrain are shoved to the roadsides into piles rather than as a continuous wall. In those cases where walls still exist, passages have been carved out.

To cross rivers, not only have pipes been placed to allow a normal flow of the water but also dry pipes to facilitate the crossing of small animals. Bridges are constructed in such a way that animals can use the river banks underneath.

In those places where roads do not need embankments, the forests are left standing and only a 10 m wide passage is cleared. This has the advantage of maintaining "forest bridges" that stretch across the road. Currently, five of those forest corridors of about 200 m long can be found on a 90-km stretch of road. The first studies have shown that 20 times more undergrowth birds and nine times more bats use these corridors to cross the road as compared to test zones on other parts of the road. Furthermore, other vertebrates have also been observed using the corridors to cross the road (such as deer, primates, large birds like hoccos and tinamous, and amphibians). If the effectiveness of these natural corridors is confirmed, more of them will be made elsewhere on other stretches of the road. For the moment, all these installations are experiments of which the results should be corroborated over a longer period of time, especially when the road is brought into service around 2002.

Apart from the fact that it can be a biological barrier, this road may also cause other important disturbances in the absence of appropriate measures. Examples may be game hunting which is hardly regulated in French Guiana, and illegal felling that will most certainly take place alongside the road.

3. Conclusion

It seems important to try to find alternatives to road construction in the tropical zone, as these ways of communication are especially disturbing in this zone. If road construction cannot be avoided, all possible measures should be adopted to reduce its impact. Therefore, ATIBT's initiative is very interesting in collecting and distributing all the experiments carried out in this field, thus improving our know-how.


J. Gnomba

Minister of the Environment, Water, Forests, Game and Fisheries, the Central African Republic

1. Introduction

The debate on the impact of the forestry sector's road networks in tropical forests is not always very fruitful, especially because of pessimistic extrapolations of local or regional situations. In the Congo basin in general and more specifically in the Central African Republic, three different levels can be analysed: the demographic and geographical level, the economic level and the ecological level.

2. Demographic and geographical level

Basing their arguments, among others, on the examples of Amazonia and Côte d'Ivoire, opponents of road infrastructures emphasize the correlation that exists between the development of infrastructures and the increase in the number of agricultural settlers in the region. However, such an inflow of people into the sparsely populated forests would not take place if there were not an area nearby characterized by an enormous population density and a low standard of living, like the immigration into the Amazon by people originating from the Andes and Sertao and the Mossi immigration into Côte d'Ivoire.

However, such a situation does not exist in the Congo basin, except on the eastern side near the Great African Lakes, but in that region forestry activity is very limited. Also of note is that the natural entrances in the forests, the rivers (such as the Congo, Oubangui and Sangha rivers), have not induced a massive colonization of forests by peasant households living in the subregion. Why would the phenomenon then be expected to occur in the case of road infrastructures?

3. Economic level

One important problem is how investments in forestry should be entered in the National Accounts. The infrastructure constructed purely for the purpose of forestry activities (outside the public network), built by foresters during their first entry in the forests, are registered as forestry production costs. However, the preparations for roads (such as uprooting of large trees and flattening the terrain) can be seen as an important long-term investment: they reduce the exploitation costs of future logging rounds and make the harvesting of secondary species more profitable.

Given the fact that the cost of reopening a forest road is about one-third of the initial construction costs, the rest of the initial expenditure should thus be seen as an investment in the nation's national capital stock, which has the following economic implications:

· The forestry rent capture by the Government is not limited to forestry taxes; the road network, built by the forestry sector for the Government, is equally a long-term investment, which is important from a fiscal policy point of view.

· The reduction in the natural capital resulting from harvesting is at least partly compensated by the creation of man-made capital by building infrastructures, which should be taken into consideration when determining the value of the nation's forests.

4. Ecological level

The impact of forestry activities on biodiversity in Central Africa seems to be limited, especially because of the low harvesting intensity. Experiments carried out over 15 years in M'Baïki (Central African Republic) with the assistance of CIRAD-Forêt, clearly show that, even after intensive harvesting (70 m3/ha) the forest ecosystem in semi-deciduous forests is only disturbed for five years. In the harvested areas wood growth is stimulated without affecting the composition of the plant species present: the disappearance of the large trees (usually the red wood species with the largest diameters) induces an improvement in regeneration.

However, the opening up of the forests through road infrastructures does affect the forests' richness in terms of fauna by inducing increased hunting activity. Although this fact cannot be denied, it should be noted that:

· After harvesting, the larger mammals (such as elephants, primates and antelopes) are attracted towards the concessions in order to benefit from the increased availability of food in open spaces.

· It might not be the case that keeping animal populations isolated is an efficient long-run protection strategy; the new waves of poaching in the nearly inhabited east of the Central African Republic, may prove the contrary.

5. Solutions

Rather than simply restricting forestry activities, the solution to these problems lies in a coherent management policy with respect to the national territory, dividing it into permanent forests (whoever is the owner), zones for human activity (such as agriculture and mining), and zones for forestry activities properly adapted to the available resource.

The Ministry of the Environment, Water and Forests has, with the help of the World Bank, the European Union and the Coopération française, the means to achieve its ambitions, to undertake the necessary scientific studies to be able to manage the forests (taking into account the observed population densities in the country's forest region). To be able to address the economic and ecological problems associated with sustainable forest management, the long-term impact of forestry activities should be analysed, an inventory should be made of the forests to be able to make a rational land use plan and pilot studies should be implemented.

This active management policy should result in certification of Central African wood to facilitate access to the European and American markets.


D. Kaimowitz

Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Indonesia

Economic theory and empirical evidence suggest that building or improving roads near forests encourage forest clearing. By facilitating access to forested areas and reducing the costs of transporting inputs into those areas, as well as marketing the products produced there, roads make it more profitable to convert forest to agricultural land. Road construction can also promote forest clearing for land speculation, since land values rise as access improves and many people clear forests to establish or strengthen their legal claims to lands near roads. Indeed, econometric models based on empirical data from Belize, Brazil, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, the Philippines, Thailand, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo all show that areas near roads are more likely to be deforested. This continues to hold even after controlling for variables such as soil quality and distance to markets (Kaimowitz and Angelsen forthcoming).

Policies used to mitigate the dangers road projects pose to forests have failed in many countries. Farmers and land speculators often encroach upon protected areas with roads running through or close by, and most governments in tropical countries lack the means and/or will to prevent this. Wood concessions typically require logging companies to keep small farmers from colonizing along logging roads. Often, however, they have little incentive to do so since they do not expect to return and log those same areas again.

Practically all countries now require environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for large road projects near forests that are supposed to recommend measures for minimizing their negative impacts on forests. But more often than not, government agencies and construction companies treat these reports as mere bureaucratic requirements. Consequently, they are often of poor quality and lead to few protective measures being implemented.

On the other hand, it is neither feasible nor desirable to prohibit all new road projects near tropical forests. For many rural people who live near forests, improving their access to markets and services is among their greatest aspirations and highest priorities. These people can put substantial pressure on local politicians to invest in roads, and their ability to influence investment patterns has been strengthened in recent years by the trend towards decentralizing investment decisions to local and regional governments. However, not all roads near tropical forests promote deforestation. Many areas are so far from markets and have such poor soils that few people are interested in moving there even after access improves. Sustainable natural forest management may also require forest managers to have better access to markets. High transportation costs lead loggers to focus only on the most valuable tropical hardwoods and make it uneconomical for them to exploit other wood species. This makes sustainable forest management for wood practically impossible in many tropical forests.

Under these circumstances, an appropriate set of policy recommendations might be the following:

· Avoid road construction projects whose costs do not justify the economic benefits. Frequently, building roads in isolated areas with poor quality soils is simply not economical. Governments build them for strictly political reasons and/or without carrying out serious cost-benefit analyses that might highlight the expected low rates of return.

· Include cost recovery provisions in road projects. Public roads near forested areas should be partially or fully paid for by the people who use them. Governments have no reason to subsidise investments that promote deforestation. Costs can be recovered either by charging for use of the roads or by taxing lands that rise in value as a result of road investments. To protect the interests of the very poor, certain exemptions could be made for certain types of vehicles or small landholdings.

· Focus road investments in areas that already have substantial population and/or higher quality soils. In addition to diverting investment resources away from other forest regions, this may also reduce migration to the agricultural frontier from areas that are already settled.

· Establish performance bonds for forest concessions, which companies will forfeit if farmers encroach upon concession lands. This would provide logging companies with an incentive to avoid such encroachment. Companies should also be required to plan their roads more carefully, based on wood inventories, and ensure the quality of the roads they build.

· Respect the territorial rights of indigenous people. In many, although certainly not all circumstances, indigenous people are the only local stakeholders that oppose road projects out of fear that such projects will encourage other groups to encroach upon their lands. To the extent governments recognize the territorial rights of these people this increases the probability that decision-making regarding road projects will be more balanced.

· Open project documents to public scrutiny. One reason environmental impact assessments have had limited affect is that civil society organizations have lacked full access to these reports and have had little opportunity to monitor the implementation of the reports' recommendations. This also applies to documents necessary to engage in serious discussion regarding the economic viability of road projects.


Kaimowitz, D. and Angelsen, A. 1998. Economic Models of Tropical Deforestation, Center for International Forestry Research. Bogor, Indonesia; forthcoming.


Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik

Minister of Primary Industries, Malaysia

1. Introduction

Road infrastructures in tropical forests are complex engineering structures which provide access to the forests. These road infrastructures involve engineering design, field layout, construction and maintenance, as well as ancillary structures such as bridges and culverts.

While acknowledging that road infrastructures are commonly associated with the extraction of industrial wood, it should be noted that they also provide access to the forests for management, development, conservation and protection purposes. Moreover, the importance of forests for biological diversity, non-wood products, cultural and spiritual values, as well as environmental services, is widely recognized by the world community. As a result, road infrastructure development has become a more demanding and complex discipline: planning and executing road infrastructure development has become a difficult task, as these infrastructures must be designed and implemented in ways that accommodate and, if possible, enhance the various functions of the forests.

2. The need for road infrastructures

It has often been said that the construction of roads during wood harvesting operations constitutes a major part of the total environmental degradation, such as an increased rate of soil erosion (with consequent damage to infrastructures, streams and land), excessive river sedimentation (which could potentially have serious effects on water quality, aquatic life and wildlife populations), increased loss of forest productivity and an enhanced disruption of breeding areas or migratory routes of animal species.

However, Malaysia believes that road infrastructures that are properly designed, constructed according to environmentally sound engineering practices and correctly maintained would provide convenient, low-cost access to forest products and would serve the needs for forest management conservation and protection. The revenue generated from the harvested forest products, notably industrial wood, would provide the much needed resources to enhance sustainable forest management in the long term.

In this context, to ensure that the detrimental effects of road infrastructures on the environment are minimized, the Malaysian Forestry Departments have adopted "Standard Road Specifications" and "Forest Harvesting Guidelines" for strict adherence by all logging contractors, both at the planning and implementation level. All harvesting operations have to be carried out in accordance with the specifications and guidelines, especially those pertaining to road construction, alignment, gradient, drainage, tree marking, direction of felling and the setting up of log yards. The Forestry Departments supervise closely the implementation of the environmental conservation measures, such as the choice of machinery, construction of water bars, and the control of pollution of rivers and water bodies resulting from logging. The forest engineers of the Malaysia Forestry Departments play an active role in providing technical advice and services on all matters pertaining to infrastructural development of the logging sector, such as the design and construction of forest roads, as well as the use of specific harvesting equipment, so as to minimize environmental degradation and forest loss.

More specifically, under Malaysia's Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management, standards of performance or management specifications have been prescribed for forest road construction. Some of the prescriptions for ground skidding operations specify that the total length of permanent roads should be less than 40 m/ha while the vertical road gradient should be less than 20 percent. This road density will not only limit the potential erosion of roads, but it also minimizes deforestation and degradation of the forest ecosystem. In fact, it enhances the profitability of forest operations by reducing the costs of road construction and maintenance.

In some cases, road infrastructures in Malaysia even form part of the planned network of public roads which are essential components of the country's developed infrastructures. This is especially critical in rural areas where these roads have provided mobility for the people living in and around the vicinity of forested areas and have benefited the local communities in their daily socio-economic activities.

In Malaysia, the construction of forest road infrastructures has greatly enhanced the planned development of the agricultural sector on a large scale in late 1970s and 1980s, especially in Peninsular Malaysia. This has avoided the uncontrolled opening of forest land for agriculture which would have caused more damage to the forest leading to forest degradation and deforestation. In this context the orderly conversion of forested land for agriculture should provide land for the landless in their quest for gainful employment and in the creation and distribution of wealth for the nation to attain socio-economic development.

In this connection, Malaysia is fully aware that the development of forest road infrastructure has, to a certain extent, encouraged the spread of shifting cultivation, especially in logged-over forest areas, as these infrastructures have provided easy access for settlers to penetrate and clear the forest. However, this unhealthy activity has since been checked by the authorities, for under the National Forestry Act, 1984 (amended 1993), the Government could declare any forest area closed to the public, especially after forest harvesting, until the next felling cycle to allow the area to recover; and only road infrastructures that are considered essential for the management, conservation and protection of the forest, would be maintained for continuous use by personnel authorized by the Forest Departments.

3. Conclusion

Road infrastructure in tropical forests is seldom a direct cause of forest loss, but its incidental impact can be great because of its immediate disruptive effect on the habitat. In this regard, the major causes of tropical forest degradation and deforestation, among others, include selective harvesting of high valued species, over-harvesting for fuelwood, over-hunting and over-grazing. Other causes of degradation are pest and diseases and natural calamities such as cyclones and forest fires.

Malaysia believes that although forest road infrastructures do cause forest degradation and may indirectly lead to deforestation, this need not be so if the layout of roads has been carefully planned and controlled, and appropriate action taken to reduce the effects of excessive felling and the damage caused by felling and logging.


J. Lorbach

Forestry Officer, Forest Products Division, Forestry Department, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy

1. Introduction

Although most tropical deforestation is attributed to forest clearing for agriculture, various sources estimate that between 5 and 15 percent of annual deforestation can be linked to forest harvesting operations.

In today's mostly environmentally driven debate on the main reasons of global deforestation, forest roads are increasingly blamed for the lion's share of the environmental problems associated with forest harvesting operations. The negative impacts of forest roads on the tropical forests are often described as producing excessive stream sedimentation (with potentially serious effects on water supplies, aquatic life and wildlife habitats); severe soil erosion with a loss of productivity of forest soils near the roads; increased likelihood of landslides on steep terrain (consequently damaging infrastructure, streams and land); disruption of breeding areas or migratory routes of animal species; considerable loss of forest land; and compaction and damage of soil structure, residual trees, plants and roots. Not to mention oil spills and other possible contamination caused by careless road users.

In some areas in tropical forest countries, road construction is considered to be a precursor of deforestation, facilitating spontaneous settlements by land-poor farmers and leading to the conversion of forests into agricultural land, causing significant environmental, social and economic impacts.

On the other hand well-designed and constructed forest road networks, including skid trails, are the basis for efficient forest operations and sustainable forest practices.

In the context of sustainable development, as stated by the UNCED (1992), Agenda 21, the use of natural, renewable resources is a key demand of environmentally sound development. Resource use depends on accessibility of the relevant areas, which can only be provided by the construction of forest road networks. In Chapter 8 of Agenda 21, the integration of environment and development in decision-making is discussed, proposing the integration of economic, social and environmental considerations during the process. Furthermore, access by the public to relevant information, facilitating the reception of public views and allowing for effective participation should be ensured. Thus, the mitigation of undesirable effects could be achieved by seeking public participation in the planning and decision-making process before irrevocable decisions are made.

2. The objective of forest roads

Already Nebukadnezar II (605-562 BC) built a paved road to the temples of Babylon, consisting of three different layers and a width of 16 m. The Romans spanned their Empire by an excellently drafted and completed road network, of which one famous example, the Via Appia Antica in Rome, is facing traffic still today. Concerning the history of forest roads in Europe, for centuries wood was used as fuelwood or converted to charcoal, carried on man's shoulder or by animal; wood was moved by gravity, rafted or pulled by oxen or horses. No sophisticated road systems were necessary at that time.

The situation changed dramatically in the 1930s and after the Second World War when motor vehicles were introduced in forestry, forcing the forest owners and users to build roads suitable for heavy trucks (up to 25-40 tons) and other wheeled equipment such as agricultural tractors and skidders for wood extraction.

Besides using waterways, gravity, cable cranes, balloons or helicopters, nowadays agricultural tractors, skidders and crawler tractors (operating on skid trails), payloaders (used on the landings) and heavy trucks (on the haul roads) are common means of transportation. The opening up of forests by forest roads and a permanent forest road network is an important precondition for forest management, utilization and protection of forests in a sustainable manner. Forest roads:

· connect forest areas to the public road network or could be also part of the public road network at the same time;

· provide access to the forest to serve the needs of forest management and protection as well as benefiting local communities;

· make possible the transportation of wood and non-wood forest products.

At the same time, forest roads are often misused, attracting wood, game and fish poachers and collectors of non-wood forest products from outside the forests, thus causing considerable negative impacts on the forest and the environment as well as on the local people. Although these activities are illegal, in many cases they cannot be controlled or stopped because of lack of capacity of the agencies responsible.

Therefore, forest roads are often blamed for being the gateway to forest destruction, although forest roads are neutral technical constructions per se. It depends on the users whether the roads are leading to development or destruction. It is like a medicine the doctor is prescribing to his patient: if properly taken, the patient will recover soon, if taken in too large a dose it is toxic and harmful to him and he might die.

3. Field examples and results

In a recent FAO Forest Harvesting Case Study it is stated that in a tropical forest concession of the Congo, the average density of primary roads was 1.8 m in length per hectare (m/ha) and for secondary roads 3.9 m/ha, or 5.7 m/ha for the road infrastructure in total. The total surface consumption due to forest road development and felling gaps caused by harvesting amounted to 8.4 percent of the total annual cut. The largest share of the area consumption was for felling (45 percent), followed by skid trails (32 percent), primary and secondary roads (20 percent) and landing accounted for approximately 3 percent (FAO, 1997).

An earlier survey conducted in four different concession areas in the Congo (total area 66 055 ha, total volume harvested 276 394 m3) suggested a road density between 4.4 and 8.1 m/ha or between 0.6 and 2.8 m/m3 respectively (Plan d'Action Forestier Tropical, 1991).

The comparative figure for the commercial forests under intensive forest management of Austria is reported to amount to 27 m/ha (FAO, 1998).

In a comparison made between the traditional logging system and an environmentally sound forest harvesting system described in a recently published FAO case study, carried out in Brazil, about 20 percent of the harvesting operations area was affected by forest infrastructure, due to a criss-crossing network of skid trails caused by unplanned searching for and skidding of logs. In environmentally sound systems, disturbance associated with soil destruction and compaction remained restricted to the areas used for permanent forest infrastructure facilities, which only cover about 4.5 percent of the forest operations area (Winkler, 1997), while further mitigation of undesirable effects could be achieved by seeking public participation in the planning and decision-making process before irrevocable decisions are made.

Another case study carried out in the tropical natural forest of East Kalimantan, Indonesia, explains the advantages of pre-planned skid trails and reduced-impact wood harvesting. Concerning the damage of residual trees in the felling area, research indicates that the conventional wood harvesting system with TPTI (Tebang Pilih Tanam Indonesia, Indonesian Selective Cutting and Planting) is causing more damage on soil and trees (40 percent) than the reduced impact wood harvesting system (9 percent). The surface areas required for skid trails also differ significantly: in the traditional system 8.7 percent of the harvested area is affected while in the reduced impact harvesting system the figure is only 5.2 percent (Elias, 1996).

Taking all this into consideration, it is not so much the technical aspect of road infrastructure that determines whether forest roads lead to development or destruction: the planning and decision-making process are much more important in this respect, together with the consistency in enforcing the decisions taken.

4. Environmentally friendly forest engineering

The reason for improperly designed, constructed and maintained forest roads and skid trails is not so much the shortage of funds, lack of modern and suitable road building equipment or working methods but very often too little awareness of the negative impacts of poorly designed, planned and constructed road systems on the entire forest ecosystem. In many cases it is even more economically profitable to work close to nature than the other way around.

In its work programme, "Improvement of Forest Engineering and Harvesting", FAO proposes a strategy to reduce the destructive elements of forest engineering. The strategy results in:

· utilizing competent personnel;

· pre-harvest road network and skid trail planning in close relation to directional felling;

· choosing harvesting equipment that requires a lower road density;

· downgrading road standards, like clearing width and road width to save costs and forest land for production and environment;

· re-establishing vegetation on roads and landings that are given up;

· bypassing sensitive areas such as wet soils, streams, respecting cultural or religious places or habitats of rare plants and animals.

Concerning the tactical aspects, many improvements could result in reduced impacts by:

· minimizing of cut and fill slopes;

· using excavators instead of bulldozers in steep terrain;

· advanced blasting techniques;

· adequate compaction of road surface;

· establishing proper drainage systems;

· revegetating of slopes;

· appropriate road gradients to minimize erosion problems;

· improving road maintenance;

· using biodegradable lubrications and transmission fluids for machinery;

· introducing automatically operating de- and inflating tyre pressure systems.

5. Conclusion

The opening up of forests is a precondition for effective and sustainable forest management; in many tropical countries forest roads are even part of the national transport infrastructure. Road construction is essential for the multiple use of forest resources, but the forest road infrastructure could, under certain circumstances, also include a high risk of destruction if they are not properly planned and constructed and also particularly in areas with high population pressure.

The negative economic, social and environmental impacts of forest road construction can be reduced considerably by implementing a couple of measures during the four different stages of forest infrastructure development:

· participatory approach during the planning phase;

· environmentally friendly and competent construction works;

· periodical and proper maintenance of the permanent infrastructure;

· considerate and careful utilization of the road system.

The world's tropical forests should be utilized and also protected in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. Environmentally friendly forest road engineering is one precondition for achieving it. It is the responsibility of the people to decide whether forest road systems will lead to development or to destruction.


M. Mabala

Secretary of State of the Ministry of Water, Forests and Reforestation, Republic of Gabon

In Gabon, demographic pressure on the forests is fairly limited. Indeed, for a territory of 22 million ha of forests, covering 85 percent of the country, Gabon only has about 1.2 million inhabitants; 450 000 people live in Libreville while the rest of the population is more or less equally distributed around the principal agglomerations of the country.

The numerous roads built by the foresters to access their concession areas are abandoned after harvesting has been completed; the workers follow the firm when it leaves. Generally these roads, just like the log yards in the forest, are quickly invaded by pioneer species, among which Okoume, and disappear under the vegetation after a few years. When the forestry sites are close to the urban areas, foresters are requested to block access to the roads and to destroy the bridges in order to prevent poaching by car by the urban population.

However, over the last few years there has been a strong upsurge in unauthorized sawnwood manufacturing for commercial purposes, using chainsaws. When logs abandoned at the log yards and roads are involved, the forest is not destroyed and their salvage can be permitted according to the rules in force. But it can be observed that, facilitated by the construction of roads, fraudulent and uncoordinated harvesting of trees becomes more frequent and is turning into a real plague. Therefore, especially around Libreville trade in sawn wood products (of which the origin is easily identifiable) is checked semi-permanently as these products are sold in such quantities at such competitive prices that they threaten the existence of wood processing units for the restricted local market.

The opening up of the forests by road networks also facilitates the harvesting of non-wood products (other than game), of which the uncontrolled marketing also becomes a problem; especially in the case of rattan, certain barks and roots, and medicinal plants.

Currently, as part of the new legislation, additional measures are being studied to control these threatened resources.


P. Mengin-Lecreulx

Regional Director of the National Forestry Bureau, French Guiana

1. Introduction

At the beginning of this century, Côte d'Ivoire was covered with 15 million ha of dense humid forests. This huge area has progressively been equipped with roads, predominantly for the benefit of the forestry sector. After a harvesting round of generally low intensity, the forester leaves behind a forest that can recover in a few decades. However, the forest is not given such a respite.

In fact, peasant households hurry to clear the forest to cultivate crops such as cocoa, coffee and food crops. These activities were encouraged by the Government that declared that "land is owned by he who exploits it" (that is, who clears and cultivates the land). Furthermore, the Government guaranteed minimum prices for cash crops and has built a network of asphalt public roads, thus facilitating the transportation of the crop harvest. Therefore, the forestry roads, extending the asphalt roads, have certainly facilitated the forest clearing process.

In this way, Côte d'Ivoire has become the world's largest producer of cocoa. This is of course an important result in terms of development. However, over the same period the area of dense humid forest has been reduced to probably less than 2 million ha and the area designated as permanent forests has been partly devastated without the cleared areas having been used for agriculture. In this case, the forests have been simply wasted without compensation in terms of development.

2. Development and forest destruction: are they contradictory?

This example is an illustration of the fact that forest destruction and economic development are not mutually exclusive, and that it is therefore not easy to answer the question: road infrastructures in the tropical forests, are they roads to development or roads to destruction? If one thinks about forest destruction, resulting in the loss of their many functions, how can we define development? I propose the following definition.

The use of a forest area is considered to contribute to development if it is pertinent, well-chosen and sustainable:

· Pertinence implies that a certain minimum research effort has been made. For example, it would not be acceptable to ruin an ecologically valuable site for grazing, or to convert an area of forest land into agricultural land if the terrain is unsuited for that purpose.

· A proper choice should be made between different uses which should all be sustainable. Normally, the owner is entitled to make the choice. In many tropical countries the government is the owner, and therefore it should determine the way in which discussions are organized before decisions are taken.

· Sustainable development implies that future generations can equally benefit from the use of forests.

3. On the necessity of land use plans and forest management

The process of developing land use plans enables one to make concerted choices on the use of land (for example areas for towns, agriculture, grazing and areas that will remain forested), that are pertinent, taking into account the analysis of the land (for example, its soil potential), and that are designed for the long run.

Likewise, forest management is unanimously recognized as necessary for sustainable development of the permanent forest area, whatever the functions assigned to them: conservation of biodiversity, education, ecotourism, and production of wood and non-wood products (bushmeat, medicine, etc.).

Thus, forest management is a process consisting of three steps: analysis of all functions of the forest (ecological, economic and social); the choice of the function(s) assigned to it for the long run; and finally the medium-term action plan (for 10 to 20 years) in order to achieve the objectives (especially planning of the road network as a part of the management plan). Unfortunately, up to now, only a few forests within the tropical belt are subject to a valid management plan.

Finally, the forest management process also applies to forests designated to be cleared for other uses, albeit with different means and objectives. In this case the main aim is not sustainable forested management, but full use of the forests' potential.

4. Forest roads

Returning to the subject of this paper, roads are seen as destructive when they lead to forest degradation or even deforestation which was not anticipated in the land use plan. Roads built to be able to carry out the forest management plan are considered to contribute to development. The damage caused by them can be seen as inevitable in achieving the development objectives of the management plan. The planner and the manager thus try to limit the negative consequences.

In all cases, open forest roads induce two phenomena that need to be minimized:

· the direct impact related to the presence of the road (clearing of the route, the isolation of fauna, etc.); and

· the indirect impact (use of the road network for access, resulting in unsustainable and unwanted pressure on the forests).

These will be discussed in the following two subsections.

4.1 The direct negative impact of forest roads

Several examples can be given of the environmental consequences resulting directly from forest roads:

· The clearing of the road terrain implies, in itself, a decrease in forest size; its shoulders are usually wide to ensure a proper exposure of the laterite roadway to sunlight and wind, so that it dries quickly after rain.

· The road may inhibit the normal flow of streams when the pipes are badly placed (or simply missing).

· Soil erosion may result from the rainwater runoff from badly constructed roads, with too steep slopes, not properly equipped for crossing streams.

· Road networks can be a barrier for certain animal species, especially through canopy disturbance or because of dirt walls along the roads (as has been observed in French Guiana, see Philippe Gaucher's article).

· Useless roads, that lead nowhere or just to a few exploitable trees, as a result of inadequate planning before harvesting, therefore causing damage without being compensated by net benefits.

· The last example is drawn from Côte d'Ivoire: forest roads, well-exposed to sunlight because of their relative width, have been colonized by a semi-ligneous species, Cromolaena odorata. Using the roads, this species could also colonize the open spaces resulting from forestry activities and thus impair natural forest regeneration for a long period of time. Worse still, where the forests have been overexploited, this easily inflammable species renders the forests vulnerable to fires. In the 1980s fires occurred in the dense humid semi-deciduous forests of Côte d'Ivoire.

These direct consequences should be taken into account and should be minimized when building a road. Below, I present a non-exhaustive list of measures which can be taken:

· The route should be studied carefully in order to avoid excessively steep hills.

· The roads and accompanying structures should be constructed according to the rule book (flow of rivers and rainwater, road surface profile, etc.).

· The route must be chosen so as to avoid destroying a site of special ecological interest when the road is opened.

· The width of the road surface should be adjusted and minimized given the height of the tree population (less wide if the canopy is lower) and given the road's direction (less wide when the road is running east-west, thus benefiting from a better exposure to the sun).

· On certain stretches of the road, special passages could be made for wildlife that conserve the continuity of the forest cover. Such experiments are undertaken in French Guiana where a major road is being constructed between Régina and Saint Georges; see the article by Philippe Gaucher who reports on the first encouraging results of the effectiveness of those "forest bridges" in terms of crossings by undergrowth birds, bats and other animals. It should be determined where such corridors can be installed along the non-asphalt laterite roads.

· In a managed forest with rotation periods of sufficient length (for example 40 years, as is the case in French Guiana), one can imagine that there is a main road network that is permanently open, maintained and monitored, and a secondary network that is only temporarily open during harvesting of the concessions surrounding the road which will be closed (barriers or blocked by waste) and/or abandoned (without maintenance) after the harvesting round.

4.2 The indirect negative consequences of forest roads

The indirect impact of road construction is generally more important. It results in various types of pressure on the forest which is opened by the roads. Several examples can be given:

· Uncontrolled and unplanned forest clearing, not in line with the land use plan; this is the example of Côte d'Ivoire described above (emphasizing that the roads were not the major factor, but just facilitating immigration);

· Illegal forestry, also uncontrollable as is currently the case in Cambodia;

· Excessive hunting pressure as can be observed in French Guiana forests near the coast;

· A second example from French Guiana is the development of illegal gold mining (although gold mining would have occurred anyway, even if no roads were present).

In order to solve these problems, the following conditions must be met:

· The forest service must be present in the field and have the necessary means at its disposal to fulfil its mission (especially, it should receive part of the forest revenues so that it can manage the forests sustainably).

· The manager must attempt to raise the local population's interest in preserving the permanent forest area.

· The manager must be able to rely on appropriate laws and regulations.

5. Conclusion

Do tropical forest roads therefore lead to development or destruction? One necessary condition for roads to lead to development is that they be part of the forest land use plan or, in the case of forestry roads, of the forestry management plan. Road infrastructures then contribute to the development objectives of these plans.

The direct impacts should be reduced as much as possible. Experiments are undertaken in French Guiana (see Philippe Gaucher's article) and we are very interested in other references in this field of research.

The indirect impacts, arising from increased access to the forests, are usually by far the most important ones: unplanned clearing, unsustainable hunting pressure, etc. These problems can only be tackled if the forest service in the field is sufficiently well-equipped, if the local population acknowledges the importance of forest conservation and if the forest protection is backed by adequate laws and regulations.


M. Nori Hamid

Economic Counsellor of the Sudan Embassy, Brussels, Belgium

1. Introduction

The Sudan is the largest country in Africa with an area of 2.6 million km2, neighbouring nine countries with different climates ranging from desert dry to equatorial moist. The area under forest cover is about 25 percent of the land area or 150 million feddans; the forestry sector contributed less than 1 percent of GDP between 1990-91 and 1994-95. The agricultural sector's contribution to GDP was about 28 percent in the same period. The irrigated agricultural area is 2.8 million feddans and is planned to increase to 9 million feddans by the year 2002; according to the legislation 10 percent of the additional area under this type of agriculture will have to be planted with trees. Rainfed agriculture is to increase to 51 million feddans, of which 25 percent has to be planted with trees especially in rainfed areas where modern mechanized equipment is used.

Today large areas in different parts of the country are covered by forests, in addition to bush in poor savanna and natural grazing land which accommodate about 100 million head of livestock, many species of wildlife including about 35 000 elephants, 450 types of birds, etc. Forests provide work and food for millions of Sudanese, who use wood and non-wood products (for furniture, shelter, clothing and cooking), game and fruit from the forest. In the 1993 census the nomadic population of the Sudan amounted to 14 percent of the Sudanese population (estimated at 29 million people).

The population distribution in the Sudan depends on the natural resources of rural areas for animal grazing, agriculture, fruit picking and wood production. Currently some 70 percent of the population live in rural areas; agriculture, livestock keeping and harvesting forest products are their main sources of income and employment.

2. Forest products

In different parts of the country, we find different types of trees due to the climate and the introduction of new varieties or exotic trees. Today the major tree products in the Sudan are:

· Acacia trees and other trees provide fodder for 3 million head of camel, millions of goats, giraffes, etc;

· Wood for housing, furniture, railway sleepers; leaf fibres; materials for industrial uses, firewood and charcoal;

· In some parts of the country, many people still depend on fruits gathered from trees for their food and income, mainly from acacia trees, baobab, neem, desert palm, palm, etc.;

· Acacia senegal and seyal, the most important trees in the Sudan due to the production of gum arabic, which contributed about 5 to 10 percent to the Sudan total exports in the last five years.

3. Roads in the Sudan

There are about 3 500 km of asphalt roads in the Sudan, and about 6 000 km of planned national roads connecting different regions are under construction. Furthermore, there are about 5 000 km of local roads and thousands of kilometres of paved and non-paved roads. Railways cover 8 000 km. The construction of asphalt and paved roads generates heavy truck and passenger traffic and the transport of millions of tons of goods which could not be traded in the past due to high travel cost. Today different types of forest fruit can be found in all town markets, like doum palm, baobab, desert date, etc. Many of these products are now used as leaf fibre, soft drinks, but are also consumed directly (mainly by the people who came from the rural areas) as dried fruit. They are also exported, albeit in small quantities.

4. Road construction and development

Throughout history, good and secure roads have played a major role in trade and development. In the past, most services were located in the country's capital, and rural people had to move there for secondary and higher education, health care, courts, and to meet politicians, religious leaders, etc. Industry was mainly located in the capital (65 percent of the Sudanese industry). This concentration of secondary and tertiary services in the capital led to migration to the capital by rural people, investors, etc. Unpaved roads were used but at high costs, especially in terms of fuel consumption, spare parts and time: a distance of 400 km took three days to cover. Due to the high transportation costs, it was not possible to take many rural farms' products to the consumer centres: the choice of crops was limited and subsistence farming prevailed.

According to anthropologists, some tribes in the Sudan were completely isolated from the outside world. Roads, together with other means of transport, played an important role in social development through the movement of people and goods, thus resulting in economic development by changing from a subsistence to a market economy.

Due to the construction of roads, mechanized rainfed farming expanded in the Sudan and it is now above 8 million feddans out of 28 million feddans cultivated in the Sudan. Mechanized farming is taking place in rich savannah areas, but also traditional rainfed agriculture (slash-and-burn) is still being practised by farmers. The land under cultivation is growing very rapidly, although the total arable land available for agriculture is five times the area currently under cultivation.

5. Roads and deforestation

Roads bring about agricultural expansion, resulting in considerable areas being cleared from woods, bushes and trees:

· Roads increase the profitability of livestock keeping; the net value of meat and other animal products is increasing faster than the price of forest products, thus stimulating forest clearance for the benefit of this economic activity.

· Roads generate tourism (not only flora but also game tourism), and tourists may become a source of forest fires; there have been many instances in the Sudan like the Jebel Mara forest fire in the 1970s.

· Roads also cause intensive tree harvesting to ensure the supply of logs, poles for roofing, building of shanty towns around urban centres, and firewood and charcoal. These trees are transported mainly for consumption in urban centres, and for export.

The traditional slash-and-burn agriculture leads to the replacement of forests by crop cultivation. Sometimes land productivity drops due to soil degradation. In addition, low domestic and export prices of crops bring about increased forest clearing in order to sustain income, a situation which is worsened by the growing needs brought about by social changes that accompany road construction.

6. Road infrastructure for forest development

Where roads are not asphalted or paved, curbing the smuggling (of wood, charcoal and wild animals for example) is difficult. Unpaved roads can only be used by relatively light lorries (3-10 tons), which cannot all be inspected. Asphalt roads lead to the creation of transport companies and the use of heavy trucks (20-60 tons), often with trailers. From past experience it was found that transport companies tend to respect traffic laws and to smuggle less, especially because they cannot avoid the checkpoints along the asphalt and paved roads.

7. Non-wood forest products

Roads contribute to the growth of tourism, thus encouraging the creation of national parks and wildlife reserves. Indeed, three national parks were created to protect wildlife and to produce gum arabic; one has a surface area of 6 760 km2. By lowering transportation costs, roads promote the production of non-wood forest products, which is very important from both a socio-economic and an ecological point of view. If non-wood products become more valuable, forest plantations are established by the private sector: production of leaf fibres from doum palm, baobab, desert date and neem will be stimulated. The best example is the rapid increase in Acacia senegal and Acacia seyal plantations set up by private firms to produce gum arabic: within a few years, the cutting of trees stopped, nearly 2 million feddans were planted with A. senegal and production tripled.

The increase in value of non-wood forest products, due to easy transport and sound marketing through producer cooperation, good processing and easy access to local and foreign markets, will result in conservation of the forests, and may even result in net increases of the forest size. Of course, additional positive consequences are that employment opportunities will be increased, thus reducing the need to undertake agricultural activities.

The introduction of some exotic trees like neem and the processing of its fruits, in addition to developing bee keeping and growing some crops under the trees, will halt the clearing of forest land for crops. In the Sudan the cultivation of some crops - like sesame, sorghum and millet - under gum arabic trees (Acacia senegal) is very successful since the trees shed their leaves in the crop growing season. Edible oil can be extracted from desert dates as a substitute for groundnut, which is used in the areas mostly affected by desertification and soil degradation. Road construction stimulates the creation of modern ranches by decreasing costs and livestock loss (by rendering long journeys on hoof to markets unnecessary, thus reducing animal death). Modern camel ranches will lead to the creation of new forests and acacia gardens in order to produce fodder for camels in the form of leaves.

Roads facilitate the spread of gas cylinders as an alternative to fuelwood and charcoal, and this leads to a decrease in wood consumption in rural areas and regional towns. Also due to easy transport, building materials are transported to rural areas: steel and zinc sheets replace wood and grass roofs; cement and other materials replace poles for housing. These replacements especially take place rapidly in urban areas for building of public utilities, services and housing. The availability of modern building materials (either produced locally or imported) leads to great changes in house building and decreased demand for wood. The improved road network makes it possible to transport refrigerators and modern cookers, all of which decrease the consumption of energy, especially of fuelwood.

Roads create new opportunities for employment and income in transport (drivers) and in restaurants and garages along the roadsides. This decreases pressure on agricultural land. Furthermore, roads enable the introduction of the local population to new types of food, thus changing their eating habits from traditional food crops to imported foods like rice, wheat, beans and lentils.

8. Conclusion

In conclusion, it can be said that roads promote the expansion of agriculture, growth in valuable livestock numbers and to increased tourism. If laws and regulations are strictly enforced to permit the growth of 25 percent trees in every rainfed scheme and 10 percent in irrigated schemes, it may bring on forest expansion. Development of tourism through the attraction of national wildlife parks resulted in the establishment of three large parks. Roads, if well managed and controlled against poaching and illegal felling, may decrease deforestation and increase the value of non-wood forest products, thus encouraging private investment in, for example, gum gardens and ostrich and antelope farms. Indeed, signs of this progress are beginning to emerge in the Sudan.


S. Rietbergen

IUCN, Gland, Switzerland

1. Introduction

As a recent report has stated, infrastructure represents, if not the engine, then at least the wheels of economic activity. In many developing countries where the majority of the population is based in rural areas, improving road infrastructure is essential for raising productivity by, for instance, reducing the time and effort needed to bring crops to market, or to engage in off-farm employment (World Bank, 1994). At the same time, there is increasing concern about the negative environmental impact on forests of road infrastructure established to facilitate logging and other economic activities. Of course, the environmental impact is only one of many criteria that have to be weighed against each other when deciding on whether or not to construct a road, and if so, what is the best alignment. Apart from both positive and negative environmental impacts, considerations may include engineering, financial cost, economic benefits and social impact (examples of criteria used for deciding between alternative toll road alignments in North Java, Indonesia, are given in Box 1).

Box 1: Criteria for deciding on alternative road alignments

· Construction and maintenance costs including land acquisition and resettlement costs;

· Savings to road users arising from reduced travel times and vehicle operating costs;

· Support for economic development policies and consistency with national and regional plans;

· Impacts on protected areas, ecology and aesthetics;

· Direct and indirect impacts on households and on the integrity of communities.

(Source: World Bank, 1996)

The rest of this article will be devoted to a brief discussion of direct and indirect negative environmental impacts of road construction and maintenance, and of ways to prevent or mitigate such impacts.

2. Negative environmental impacts of road construction and maintenance

Road construction has both direct and indirect impacts. Direct impacts include erosion, pollution and habitat disruption, and can often be easily avoided or mitigated through the application of simple environmental guidelines for road planning and construction. Such guidelines have been in existence for many years (see next Section), but they are only rarely respected by loggers and others involved in road construction - although many of these guidelines could serve to reduce both environmental impact and financial cost.

Non-maintenance of roads can lead to substantial erosion, as can poor maintenance practices such as excessive bush and tree removal, and blocking of drainage through trash dumping. In addition, there is a danger of disruption or pollution of the water table. Again, simple guidelines are available to prevent or mitigate most of these negative impacts - but they are rarely applied.

Indirect impact is often more important and harder to avoid. New roads into previously inaccessible forest areas can cause significant deforestation by opening up such areas to colonization by farmers. Where such roads link areas rich in wildlife to major urban bushmeat markets, as is often the case in Central Africa, the impact on animal populations can be devastating. Road alignment can often be done so as to avoid the most sensitive areas, but protected area and environmental management authorities are rarely involved at an early stage in decision-making about road infrastructure.

3. Measures to avoid and mitigate negative environmental impact

Planning, location, design and construction of roads, bridges, causeways and fords should be done so as to minimize environmental damage, through the respect of limits to dimension, road grades, drainage requirements and conservation of buffer strips along streams (Box 2), as well as avoiding environmentally important areas.

Box 2: Measures to mitigate negative impact of road construction

· Respect of upper limits to ramp and road dimensions, and clearing width for various categories of extraction roads.

· Location of roads for minimum earthworks and ease of drainage. Maximum allowable road grades and exception to this condition (where construction can be significantly shortened or earthworks reduced, and adequate drainage can be installed).

· Drainage may be either side (turnout) drains, inverts or cross drains, or simply points along a road which, by their nature or design, are to remove water from the track or road.

· Avoiding soil displacement (for instance side cutting) as much as possible during road construction.

· Stream crossing design. Permanent crossing construction specifications. Temporary crossings to be located on sites with stable stream bed material and where bank restoration will be possible. Crossing to be corduroyed with logs or constructed of stable gravel material if necessary.

· Definition of buffer strips or streamside reserves and other no-go areas, to remain undisturbed except where through access has been approved. Widths of strips in proportion to water course width.

(Source: ITTO, 1990)

Governments should develop planning mechanisms to involve protected area and environmental management authorities at an early stage in decision-making about road infrastructure, so that road alignments avoiding the most sensitive areas are favoured.

Road planning. Contour mapping of concession areas would help logging companies with proper planning of extraction roads and control of grades. Steep road gradients not only cause erosion and pollution of streams and water courses, but they also result in excessive truck and tyre wear. Similarly, the alignment of bridges and culverts should be planned in advance of road construction - but this is rarely done in practice.

Road construction. Many roads are now constructed just ahead of the logging operation, although extraction roads should be constructed at least six months, and preferably one year, ahead of production to allow adequate weathering and soil settlement. Instead of proper construction with a soil compactor and a road roller to seal the surface and allow the rainwater to drain off, current practice is not to use such machinery but rather to clear a wide area on the sides of the road to prevent water settling on the surface. Thus, although 8-10 m clearance on either side would be adequate for properly constructed and properly drained roads, often as much as 20 m are completely cleared on both sides of the road to allow sun- or fast drying (Gartlan, 1992).

Road maintenance. Well-planned and supervised road maintenance is essential for minimizing environmental impact of roads. Several measures can prevent or mitigate much potential damage, such as preservation of trees during piling of materials, spreading of stripped material to facilitate water percolation and allow natural vegetation growth, tree planting, re-establishment of previous natural drainage flows, digging ditches to collect runoff, and dumping of debris upstream of the ditch at a sufficient distance from the roadside and spread with a counterslope to prevent ditchwater being polluted with fines entrained by rain. Simple clauses specifying such measures inserted in road maintenance contracts would yield significant environmental benefits if properly carried out and supervised (Lantran, 1994).

Access. Permanent production forests should be protected from activities that are incompatible with sustainable wood production, such as the encroachment by pioneer farmers often associated with the opening up of the forest. Access to logging roads that are not part of the national infrastructure (i.e. through-roads) should be strictly controlled (ITTO, 1990). Specific measures that can be taken by logging companies include the provision of beef or other meat to workers at reasonable prices, and banning their personnel from engaging in commercial hunting and from transporting bushmeat to urban centres on logging trucks (BmZ/IUCN, 1997). As so often, prevention is better than cure. Where road access cannot be effectively controlled, alternative means of evacuating wood (e.g. river landings, rail transport) are preferable - but these are not always feasible.

4. Conclusion and recommendations

Some of the negative impacts of the construction of logging roads are inevitable, but most can be avoided through proper planning and the observance of simple road construction and maintenance standards. Governments should develop planning mechanisms to involve protected area and environmental management authorities at an early stage in decision-making about road infrastructure, so that road alignments avoiding the most sensitive areas are favoured.

The direct impacts are often less severe and easier to prevent than the indirect impacts due to roads providing access to pioneer farmers and hunters. Logging companies can take specific measures to mitigate indirect impacts, e.g. by banning their personnel from commercial hunting. Where road access cannot be controlled, prevention of environmental impact by developing alternative means of wood transport is the preferred option.


BMZ and IUCN. 1997. Assessment of the CIB Forest Concession in Northern Congo, A study undertaken on behalf of the Bundesministerium for Wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung by the World Conservation Union. Bonn and Gland.

Gartlan, S. 1992. "Practical Constraints on Sustainable Logging in Cameroon", in: Cleaver et al., editors, Conservation of West and Central African Rainforests. World Bank Environment Paper No. 1. Washington, D.C.

Lantran, J.M. 1994. "Road Maintenance and the Environment". World Bank Infrastructure Notes No. RD-17. Washington, D.C.

International Tropical Timber Organization. 1990. "ITTO Guidelines for the Sustainable Management of Natural Tropical Forests". ITTO Technical Series No. 5. Yokohama.

Bank World. 1994. World Development Report 1994: Infrastructure for Development. Washington, D.C.

World Bank. 1996. Environmental Assessment Sourcebook Update No. 17: Analysis of Alternatives in Environmental Assessment. WB Environment Department. Washington, D.C.


A.J. Taplah

Deputy Managing Director for Operations at the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), Monrovia, Liberia, and Lecturer at the Department of Wood Science, College of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Liberia

1. Introduction

The flora and fauna resources of Liberia together make up its biodiversity. In this country, the high forests cover 4.8 million ha or 49.8 percent of the total land area of Liberia covering 98 420 km². The forest area consists of varying vegetation types including mangrove, savannah, swamp, plantations, etc.

Based on the last assessment of the forest resources of Liberia, which was conducted in 1985, this country has a total forest reserve of 79 million m3. With sustainable forest management principles being practised, Liberia has an allowable annual cut of some 3.2 million m3. This figure has never been obtained in the history of log harvesting in Liberia; in 1988, a record of 1.008 million m3 was extracted. Thus, Liberia still has a rich biodiversity that, if well-managed on a sustainable forest management basis, can last forever.

2. Logging companies and infrastructural development

With this vast forest resource, attempts were made by the Government over the past years to harvest the forest to generate revenue. Investors came to Liberia and invested in the forestry sector of the national economy. As part of their concession agreement with the Government of Liberia, concessionaires were required to construct, among others, farm-to-market roads, schools, clinics and recreation centres. Furthermore, sawmills, plymills and veneer mills were to be constructed by the concessionaires. Therefore, prior to the outbreak of the civil war, there were 40 logging companies, 18 sawmills and 3 veneer- and plymills. The establishment of these facilities created jobs in the rural areas, which enabled rural dwellers to earn an income. Additionally, the schools, clinics, and farm-to-market roads built by loggers were the only ones in existence in certain areas. Therefore, the establishment of road networks by loggers in Liberia contributed to the socio-economic development of Liberia.

Prior to the war, loggers constructed roads which linked many villages and towns to the major public highways. For example, in Nimba County, logging roads connected Karnplay to Bahn and then on to Saclepea. Also in Iofa County, a logging company connected the isolated town of Vahun to the rest of the country. These roads run through tropical rain forests, and in most cases harvesting rights of 40 chains on both sides of the road are granted at reduced cost.

Presently, following the election and establishment of a new government in Liberia, logging companies have taken the lead in rehabilitating our major highways. As the Government does not have the funds to carry out the necessary repairs, this road network rehabilitation is most welcome and it facilitates not only the transport of logs and other forest products to the ports, but also the flow of much needed agricultural food and cash crops to the various markets.

3. Traditional agriculture versus forestry

As logging roads are built to connect major towns and cities, farmers also have easy access to the market. An interesting point to note here is that the traditional farmer is always in search of fertile soil, which can be found in the rain forest area. As the farmers follow logging roads, they select farm lots in logged-over areas and then clear the vegetation; subsequently, the organic matter is burnt. This habit of clear felling and burning by the traditional farmer is very destructive to the rich biodiversity of Liberia. In other instances, hunters in teams use logging roads to go deep into the tropical rain forest of Liberia to indiscriminately kill wildlife. These hunters may camp in the forest for days, killing and drying wildlife up to 5 tons. This destructive activity greatly affects the fauna of Liberia. As a result of such above-mentioned activities, one can see patches of farmlands in the midst of the tropical rain forest of Liberia from a small aircraft or helicopter.

In other instances, rural dwellers use logging roads to go deep into the forest and then establish cash crop plantations. Such farms are usually planted with oranges, coffee, cocoa and natural rubber. The establishment of these farms results in a reduction of the area under forest cover and in emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. A conservative estimate on the annual loss of forest land to agriculture in Liberia is about 40 000 ha.

4. What should be done?

Based on what has been said above, one can conclude that road infrastructures in the forests of Liberia are necessary. However, the construction of forestry road networks should be well-planned and coordinated during implementation. In the planning process, especially the presence of nearby towns and villages that need farm-to-market roads should be taken into consideration.

For example, a logging road is presently being built in Liberia that will connect Grand Bassa County to Lower Nimba County. This road is passing through the Krahn-Bassa forest, a part of Liberia's tropical rain forest. In another instance, a major wood concession company has completed the construction of a major highway which connects the two port cities of Buchanan and Greenville. Another logging road is connecting Greenville to Kahnweaken in Central Grand Gedeh County. These road networks facilitated the movement of fleeing civilians during the Liberian civil war. They also made possible the delivery of essential food commodities and medical supplies to internally displaced people, including women and children. As part of the road construction efforts on the part of logging companies, major development objectives were met. Bridges were built using logs. Now that peace and stability have returned to Liberia, the author is appealing to non-governmental organizations, the European Union, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Government of the United States of America to assist Liberia in replacing these wood bridges with permanent ones made out of concrete.

5. Conclusion

Based on the views expressed in this article, it is clear that road infrastructures in the tropical forests have contributed immensely to national development. Since the inception of logging activities in Liberia, road networks built by logging companies have expedited the delivery of basic health care services. These roads have also helped our traditional farmers in transporting their agricultural products to markets.

In Liberia, forestry companies helped open up the countryside through road networks. If these were left entirely to the central government alone, Liberia would still be highly inaccessible today. In conclusion, the author firmly believes that road networks in the Liberian forests have brought development to the country and its inhabitants from the late 1960s to the present day.


P. Tweneboah

Principal Planning Officer, Ministry of Lands and Forestry, Ghana

1. Introduction

Ghana's high forest zone covers about one-third of its land area or 2 000 km². Its forests are part of the Guineo-Congolean phytogeographical region, with the flora and fauna having strong affinities with those of Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone and lesser affinity with the Nigerian forests from which they are separated by the arid "Dahomey gap". The high forest zone is divided into vegetation types, each with distinct associations of plant species and corresponding rainfall and soil conditions (Hall and Swaine, 1981). Four broad ecological types, namely Wet Evergreen (WE), Moist Evergreen (ME), Moist Semi-Deciduous (MSD) and Dry Semi-Deciduous (DSD), have been identified in the forest (Hall and Swaine, 1976). Floristically, these are synonymous with the Cynometra-Lophira-Tarretia, (Rainforest) Lophira-Triplochiton, Celtis-Triplochiton and Antiaris-Chlorophora associations, respectively (Taylor, 1976). There is however no distinct line of demarcation between the associations, as one association imperceptibly emerges into the other. The general pattern is of wetter forest in the southwest turning to increasingly drier forest zones towards the north and east.

The high forest of Ghana, like the other tropical rain forests of the world, is characterized by a rich and complex floristic composition. For instance, there are over 2 100 plant species in the tropical high forests of Ghana. Of these 730 are tree species with 680 of them being about 5 cm dbh (Hall and Swaine, 1981). Hawthorne (1989) observed that 420 of the tree species are common and of wide distribution. Some 126 tree species grow to wood size of which 50 are considered marketable (François, 1987) and 66 have been exported at least once since 1973.

Ghana's forests can be categorized into reserved and unreserved forests based on the forest management system. The reserved forests cover an approximate area of 2.1 million ha. Ghana has established 266 forest reserves, 204 of which occupy 1.6 million ha in the high forest zone and 62 in the savannah zone covering 0.6 million ha. Production reserves constitute almost 45 percent of the total forest estate, with the rest earmarked for protection, conversion and research. Reserved forest areas have been demarcated and managed as permanent forest estates for the preservation of vital soil and water resources, conservation of biological diversity and the environment, and sustainable production of domestic and commercial products. Legally, the Forestry Department has the responsibility for the management of these forests and is accountable to the landowners. The forest reserves represent the permanent forest estate of the nation from which the bulk of the nation's wood is produced. Until recently, it was only the reserved forests that had engaged the attention of Ghanaian foresters for sustained yield management.

The unreserved region was largely forested at the turn of the century but is rapidly disappearing as the forests are giving way to other land uses. The forests with continuous canopy outside reserves is estimated at 0.3 million ha. However, the Forestry Department estimates the total forest area of off-reserves at 0.5 million ha. Off-reserve areas have high potential for private forestry and farming activities and are destined to be appropriated for agriculture. The off-reserve areas consist of intact forests, bush fallows and agricultural areas. The intact forests (mostly located in the western region of the country) have substantial forest canopy cover with forest composition similar to the reserved areas. The bush fallows are secondary growth from abandoned farms with high potential for maturing into high forest if adequately managed. The agricultural lands are characterized by a relatively high density of trees on farms. Results from a forest inventory conducted by the Forestry Department of Ghana, with the support of the Overseas Development Administration (now the Department for International Development, UK), revealed that off-reserve forest areas contain about 268 million m3 of standing tree volume of suitable form to be classified as wood.

The natural forest vegetation of Ghana has been greatly modified and in some places completely removed through human activities such as farming, fire, logging and road construction. This implies that the natural forest habitat of trees and animal species (flora and fauna) is no longer intact. Much of Ghana's forest has been depleted over the past few decades as the demand for wood for both local use and export has greatly increased. At the turn of this century, the forest zone of Ghana covered about 34 percent of the total land area. However, by 1987 over 75 percent of the land area originally covered by forests had been cleared (Forestry Department, 1987). It is believed that in most cases the first step to forest degradation in the tropical rain forests of Africa is the construction of forest roads. Unfortunately, there is very little data on the effect of road construction on deforestation.

Two types of roads are constructed through the forest. The first one is logging-related and the second provides access between two major towns or villages. Studies in Ghana indicate that about 1.5 percent of the total area of logged forest is covered by roads (Agyeman et al., 1995). The area occupied by roads in Ghana is similar to that of Nigeria where 1.1 percent of areas outside forests (farmlands) were covered by roads following logging in the Jos Plateau area in Nigeria (Popoola and Nkwatoh, 1994). However, 11 percent of the total damage resulting from logging is due to road construction (connecting two cities or towns). This is primarily because communities settle alongside these roads due to greater accessibility.

This paper attempts to trace the history of logging in Ghana and how it has influenced deforestation. The paper also compares forest destruction through logging roads with that of forest roads connecting cities.

2. Nature and policy of forest roads

In the past, exploitation of forest resources to satisfy socio-economic needs has led to deforestation as well as resource depletion and degradation. In order to minimize environmental damage resulting from resource exploitation, the Ministry of Lands and Forestry published a new Forest and Wildlife Policy in 1994. The policy does not deal specifically with forest roads, however, it establishes broad guidelines on resources exploitation (Sections 3.2.1 and 5.3.9), conservation (Sections 5.3.7 and 5.3.10) and management (Sections 3.2.3, 4.2.1 and 5.3.2), which embodies forest roads.

Another policy document that guides forestry sector development and activities is the Forestry Development Master Plan (1996-2020). This plan is a comprehensive action programme to guide implementation of the policy objectives and key strategies up to the year 2020. The Forestry Development Master Plan (FDMP) emphasizes the development of effective intersectoral land use plans, including forest road construction. Of prime importance is the intensification of local community initiatives to protect forest resources through their active participation in its management.

Actual specifications on construction of forest roads are outlined in the Timber Harvesting Manual of 1997, which is derived from the FDMP and the 1994 Forest and Wildlife Policy. The Timber Harvesting Manual spells out the details of logging and forest road specification. The manual specifies that all wood contractors must prepare a Compartment Logging Plan, which is composed of a 1:10 000 scale map and which chiefly relates to road and track layout. The logging practice standards or specifications as set out in the Timber Harvesting Manual are as follows:

· Approval must be sought from the Ministry of Roads and Highways for all logging plans that require the construction or rehabilitation of public roads.

· Forest roads shall be designed in such a way that there is minimum disturbance to the forests and farms in forest areas outside reserves.

· All forest roads must be surveyed prior to construction and should be compacted to prolong road life.

· Where areas are being relogged at the end of a felling cycle of 40 years, there should be an attempt to use the old road system as much as possible.

· Bridges shall be constructed perpendicularly to courses of streams and rivers.

· All water courses, culverts and drains are to be kept clear during logging.

· To prevent excessive soil disturbance, any tree with a diameter above 15 cm that is located in the road alignment, must be felled into the road corridor with a chainsaw.

Apart from the Forest and Wildlife Policy, which lays the foundation of effective forest management in Ghana, the government has formulated the Forestry Development Master Plan 1996-2020 to guide the operations of the forestry sector in order to ensure sustainable forest management.

These strict and effective government policies governing the location and construction of forest roads has resulted in relatively low damage to the forest as a result of logging. For example, damage resulting from unrestricted logging at Bura and Draw River Forest Reserves in Ghana (Agyeman et al., 1995), was 1.5 times lower than what was observed at Bipindi, Cameroon (Duiker and Van Gemerden, 1989), and 5 times lower than what was observed in Sapoba Forest Reserve in Nigeria (Redhead, 1960).

3. Forest roads and socio-economic development of local communities

The benefits of logging and forest roads to local communities are easier access to non-wood forest products and provision of connections between villages (Agyeman, 1994). These factors were also noted by Spiers (1974) as the major benefits of forests road construction to local communities in the Republic of Korea. Apart from the benefits listed above, forest road construction in particular has had very little effect on the socio-economic development of local communities.

This is probably because the roads were constructed without any form of consultation with the local communities which are directly affected by them. Most of the needs and aspirations of the communities with regard to the forest utilization were not catered for in wood harvesting in general and road construction in particular. This created a negative attitude and resentment towards forestry and caused the communities to view forestry as a threat to their livelihood. The way forest management planning and wood harvesting were carried out in the past led to greater financial benefits to the Forestry Department but to little socio-economic benefits to the local communities. The Ministry of Lands and Forestry (MLF) has sought to reverse this trend by formulating effective strategies in the 1994 Forest and Wildlife Policy to ensure rapid socio-economic development of forest dependent communities. The MLF has also recently set up programmes to accelerate payment of a certain percentage of royalties from forest products to local communities as enshrined in the constitution of the country.

Recent maps of the forest zones of Ghana produced by Satellite Imagery indicate that whereas the reserved forests are largely intact, the areas outside forest reserves are completely degraded. Strict policies and laws by the government have been partially effective by protecting the reserved forest against degradation and illegal exploitation following forest road construction. According to Hall and Swaine (1981) and Hawthorne (1989), the forests of Ghana are among the best known and the most protected in the tropics. However, in the past these policies did not encourage local community participation in forest management. The failure to include forest dependent communities in forest utilization and planning led to a mistrust of the Forestry Department's policies and a lack of socio-economic development following wood exploitation. The 1994 Forest and Wildlife Policy seeks to address this imbalance by enhancing local community development through increased participation of forest dependent communities in all forest management planning and operations.

4. Ecological impacts of forest roads

Log exports began in 1888 and until the opening of the Takoradi harbour in 1928 the great majority of logs were floated down the Ankobra and Tano rivers to the ports of Axim and Half Assini. At this time very little damage was done to the forest since the yield from the forest was low. The opening of the Takoradi harbour was followed by the world-wide economic depression of the 1930s and then by the Second World War. The wood industry did not recover until the late 1940s. However, during this period when the wood industry was moribund, forest destruction was still going on at an alarming rate. It is estimated from Forestry Department records that the deforestation rate from the 1930s to the 1950s was over 684 km² per annum.

A fact finding committee was set up in 1951 by the Minister of Commerce, Industry and Mines of the colonial Government of Ghana (then known as the Gold Coast) to assess the impact of logging, especially road construction, on the destruction of the country's forests. The committee was set up in response to the rapid expansion of the wood industry in the 1940s. After an extensive study, the committee stated that "the wood industry, as a factor in the destruction of valuable forest, is in no sense so dangerous as the traditional system of shifting cultivation" (Timber Industry Report, 1951). An earlier committee set up by traditional rulers of Ashanti in response to an increased spate of logging in that part of the country came to a similar conclusion.

The operations of the wood industry increased from 1945 to a peak in the early 1970s followed by a gradual decline. The Forestry Department estimates that over a third of the forests outside reserves were destroyed between 1955 and 1972. The rapid rate of deforestation was primarily due to increased wood requirements arising from an increasing population. Other important reasons include inefficient agricultural practices (such as shifting cultivation) and the government policy of encouraging agricultural expansion in the forest zone of the country.

It became apparent in the 1980s that drastic institutional measures needed to be undertaken to avoid ecological damage and ensure sustainable forest management. The Government of Ghana therefore discouraged the conversion of natural forests into farmland in the 1980s and reduced the rate of wood exploitation in order to minimize forest degradation. This may probably explain why FAO (1988) observed the annual deforestation rate in the country between 1981-1985 to be only 220 km². Agyeman (1997), however, noted that the decreasing deforestation rate may be a reflection of the small forest area outside reserves that remained to be felled. From the foregoing it can be concluded that even though road construction is an important factor influencing forest destruction, there are other more important causes of forest destruction.

Generally, it is known that roads linking major towns that pass through the forest do relatively more damage than roads that are constructed for the purposes of logging. This is because forest roads linking major towns are more permanent and better serviced by vehicles. The greater accessibility encourages the movement of farmers into the shrinking forest areas. Within a relatively short period of time these frontier farmers move to other forest areas quickly due to soil erosion and loss of nutrients as a result of poor agricultural practices.

According to Swanston (1971), forest roads are the most damaging operation on forests, followed by wood cutting, and slash-and-burn agriculture. Damage attributable to forest roads is higher in forest areas of relatively high population densities, such as, for example, the central region of the country where settlement development is extremely rapid. According to Cha DuSong et al. (1996), forest roads result in an increase in litter and garbage disposal, deterioration in visual landscape value, damage to farmland and a reduction in forest land. Poorly located and unwisely built roads and badly planned fellings disrupt the patterns of water run-off and cause soil erosion and stream sedimentation leading to disturbance of the environment. Such damage can be avoided or minimized by advance planning of logging and wood extraction methods, and proper siting of roads and tracks (Spiers, 1974).

5. Conclusion

Forest roads have generally had very little effect on the socio-economic development of forest dependent communities. In the same vein, forest roads constructed as a result of logging have had relatively low impact on forest degradation. The major agents of forest degradation are, however, forest roads linking cities or urban centres, increased wood requirements arising from an increasing population and inefficient agricultural practices, including shifting cultivation.


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