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The FAO Forest Harvesting Bulletin

Regardless of the extraction system a road is nearly always needed. Here a young woman in Malawi transports fuelwood.

This helicopter is able to fly heavy loads high above the Malaysian forest canopy for many kilometres before reaching a road.

Sustainable Roads?

Roads continue to be a contentious part of forest management. Various locations around the world have forest road construction moratoriums in place this year.

We talk about sustainable development and sustainable forest management but specific discussion of sustainable forest roads is seldom heard. Roads are an undeniable part of forest management nearly everywhere in the world. The only exception, if we include railroads with roads, is where total water transportation is possible. If we agree that sustainable forest management is our goal then sustainable forest roads must be included in our vision.

What is a sustainable forest road?

We might be tempted to paraphrase the Brundtland Commission and define sustainable roads as enduring, as roads that serve current needs and the needs of future generations. It is easy to conjure up images of 2000 year old Roman roadways. But a moment of reflection would convince us that temporary roads are a legitimate component of sustainable development. Obviously longevity is not a prerequisite characteristic.

We can probably agree that a desirable road for sustainable forest management is one that meets current management needs and does not impinge upon future sustainable forest management needs. Sustainability is widely recognized as the integration of interdependent social, economic and environmental elements. However, it can be difficult to define in concrete terms. Certainly the complex interrelationships, long time frames, large landscapes, and dynamic nature of natural processes all contribute to this difficulty. Much effort has been expended worldwide trying to agree upon criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management.

No attempt to address the quagmire of sustainability criteria and indicators is made here. But we are able to list some characteristics of sustainable forest roads. Many organizations have addressed the issue of how sustainable forest roads should be characterized. The following attributes of desirable forest roads have been collected from various parts of the world and modified into a single coherent list. This list represents the current view of advocates for sustainable forest management.

· The desired forest road will:

· provide for the safety of workers and the general public who use or may be affected by the road or traffic;

· utilize natural drainage patterns and refrain from interference with natural water flows;

· cross streams with tactics or structures designed to accommodate 50 to 100 year floods;

· fit with the natural landscape to avoid visual scars and damage to the landscape;

· avoid disturbing areas of significance for cultural, religious, natural beauty, indigenous peoples, or local community purposes;

· be sensitive to the wildlife, flora, and fauna along roadways;

· avoid disrupting the passage of fish and wildlife;

· provide access to the forest for local communities, for product transport, and for sustainable forest management;

· avoid accelerating soil erosion and increasing sedimentation of waterways by,

· be coordinated with users and forest utilization and harvesting requirements to minimize:

· use competent engineers to supervise location, design, construction, and maintenance of roads;

· be located in stable locations, stably constructed, and used by traffic only when structural stability can be maintained;

· be abandoned only after measures have been taken to assure that no future detrimental effects from the road will arise;

· utilize local materials, skills, and techniques while providing an efficient transportation facility.

The Forest Harvesting, Trade and Marketing Branch of FAO sponsored a workshop in Lampertheim, Germany to address forest road issues. This November 1998 workshop was the beginning of an effort to create an up-to-date forest roads manual. This proposed publication aims to give guidance on the planning, design, construction, and maintenance of forest roads in mountainous terrain. The intent is to suggest environmentally sound forest road practices to the forest road practitioner.

This manual will help forest road practitioners with reminders and practical advice to meet the problems they face in their operations. The manual is expected to be divided into four major phases of operation for forest roads:

1. Integrated planning: The process of looking to the future and defining strategies and actions to achieve social, environmental and economic goals.

2. Design: The process of specifying road and engineering standards, collecting data, designing the actual road structures, specifying the structures, and laying the design in the field.

3. Construction: The process of turning the structure designs into actual facilities on the ground. This includes the organization of labour, material and equipment to best accomplish the construction tasks and the monitoring of activities and results to assure attainment of planning and design goals.

Lampertheim forest roads workshop participants included: (left to right) J. Lorbach, K. Ter-Ghazaryan, S. Sever, J. Hababou-Zamperini, J. Begus, D. Jaeger, E. Pertlik, R. Hay, N. Fernsebner, M. Maskay, D. Nearood, K. Velbecker, R. Robek.

4. Maintenance: The process of keeping the constructed facilities in a status that meets the social, economic, and environmental objectives established by the planning processes.

Completion of the project is anticipated for next year. Contributions to this effort are welcome; please contact Joachim Lorbach for details.


Road Infrastructures in Tropical Forests: Roads to Development or Destruction? From summary by J.J. Landrot, D. van Soest, J. Maxin of a Special Issue of The ATIBT Newsletter. This Newsletter comprises articles by 20 authors from around the world. Co-edited by ATIBT and FAO, 1998.

Forest roads seem to be economically beneficial but ecologically damaging. Forestry road networks are therefore a mixed blessing! What should be done?

Tree harvesting does inflict damage on the forest ecosystem but if the forest is given enough time to recuperate most changes are temporary rather than permanent. Road construction requires clearing of forested land and may have other environmentally undesirable consequences such as sedimentation, erosion, landslides, animal disruptions and plant intrusions.

Forestry activities often make agricultural activities in rain forests more attractive in two ways. First, the presence of a road network facilitates travelling into the forests and enables marketing of agricultural surpluses thus increasing agricultural rents. Second, logged forests are attractive because of lower land clearing costs. The indirect consequences of logging are often more damaging than the logging activities themselves.

One of the main measures to reduce the direct impact of road construction is careful, long-term planning of the forest road routes and specifications. The various stakeholders must be heard.

Limiting indirect impacts is more difficult. A first approach is to deny access to the forests for all activities that are incompatible with sustainable timber production. This may include physically blocking roads. Several indirect ways that can be used to prevent encroachment and exploitation of forests are described.

The contributors to this Newsletter generally assess that forest roads are unavoidable. Forestry activities should not be stopped but the subsequent direct and indirect environmental damage should be minimized.

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