Environmental impacts of forest utilization and mitigation practices

Poorly planned and implemented extraction of timber and non-timber products, logging and transport roads, construction of facilities for logging camps or for recreational activities in the forests and waste accumulation cause direct and indirect negative impacts on forest plant and animal resources, and on ecological functions of forests such as the conservation of biological diversity and carbon and water cycles. They also impact human health and the cultural and social foundations in and around areas of active forest utilization.

The negative environmental consequences vary in the severity, irreversibility and significance depending on the form of forest utilization. The impacts might be felt at the local level or have global significance. Detailed scientific information about how forest utilization may alter environmental conditions and the environmental functions of forests is often not available. Proving both the positive and negative influences of forest utilization on the environment is often a difficult task because most impacts are rather indirect and complex.

Environmental impacts of harvesting non-wood forest products (NWFPs) and the recreational uses of forests have so far been assessed less than timber harvesting. While activities such as ecotourism and harvesting of NWFPs are considered inherently benign, studies have shown that these activities can have serious environmental impacts when devoid of careful planning and management. Unplanned harvest of NWFPs without adequate knowledge about their resource base, appropriate tools and techniques to be used, the regenerative capacity of species, their silvicultural requirements, the seasonal variations in productivity and the local subsistence demands, can result in severe environmental damages.

The ¿bushmeat crisis", directly linked to commercial hunting for the meat of wild animals in the Congo Basin, is an example of serious environmental impacts of non-timber forest product use and trade.

Logging impacts

Summary of potential impacts of forestry activities (FAO Conservation Guide 7, FAO 1992)
Checklist of potential environmental impacts of individual forestry activities (FAO Conservation Guide 7, 1992)

Potential negative impacts of natural forest management and mitigating measures (World Bank Environmental Assessment Sourcebook vol. II Sectoral Guidelines, 1991)

Negative impacts of timber harvesting activities and their avoidance/minimization are described in the literature on Reduced impact logging (RIL), codes of harvesting/logging practices and engineering works in forestry. FAO's Web site on environmentally sound forest harvesting and engineering provides access to this information

A bibliographic review of the RIL literature has been recently published by FAO:


Impacts of non-timber utilizations

Environmental dimensions of NWFP utilization (Non-Wood Forest Products Series 3, FAO 1995)

Wilkie, D. & Carpenter, J.F. 1999. Bushmeat hunting in the Congo Basin: an assessment of impacts and options for mitigation.
Biodiversity and Conservation, 8(7): 927-955

Environmental impacts of ecotourism
last updated:  Thursday, September 29, 2005