Forest roads and infrastructure
Forest roads are complex engineering structures that provide essential access for timber extraction, management and monitoring of forest resources. They are unquestionably the most problematic feature of timber harvesting operations, as a major part of the total erosion and sedimentation resulting from timber harvesting operations can be attributed directly to roads, often because of design or construction flaws or poor maintenance practices. This has many consequences including a negative impact on the wildlife and aquatic habitats and the removal of valuable forest areas from production. Research also indicates that under some circumstances, forest roads may begin or accelerate the invasion of exotic plant species that ultimately displace native species.
In addition to the impacts of road-building and roads themselves, there are impacts associated with roads such as increased levels of human activities in previously inaccessible areas. The primary problems associated with this are uncontrolled settlements within forest areas as well as illegal logging and poaching of wildlife, particularly of endangered species. Other problems may result from the increase in visitor numbers which will have associated resource impacts, including ground and habitat disturbance and increased expectations for amenities. Also, increased human access may be associated with more frequent fires caused by humans. For these reasons, an environmentally sound, economically efficient and effective road management programme must be utilized in production forests.
FAO promotes the use of forest road construction methods that can reduce the negative environmental impacts by assisting in the adoption and implementation of environmentally friendly forest road construction and maintenance costs. The basic strategy of the FAO programme is to strengthen the capacity of decision-makers and forest road practitioners to better plan, design and construct forest roads and mitigate the destructive elements during construction work and their aftermath.
GUIDELINES FOR FOREST ROADS
FAO is currently working on developing guidelines for the planning, design and construction of forest roads with several partner organizations. The first publication in this series is the Guide to Forest Road Engineering in Mountainous Terrain. In addition, there have been joint publications and meetings to further draw attention to the importance of forest roads and the danger that poorly constructed roads pose to the environmentally sound management of forest ecosystems.
CASE STUDIES ON ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY FOREST ROAD CONSTRUCTION
FAO has been collecting data on road construction under different terrain, formation and climatic conditions through its case studies. This makes it possible to compare the efficiency and environmental impacts of environmentally sound road construction with more conventional construction. Although the case studies are country specific, it is hoped that the results will serve to raise interest in introducing environmentally friendly forest engineering practices, especially in areas where sensitive forest ecosystems are to be accessed.