Environmentally sound forest operations

SUSTAINABLE FOREST OPERATIONS ensure that the natural productivity of forests and the benefits obtainable from them are maintained; that nutrients are retained on-site for the benefit of remaining trees and other vegetation; that wildlife and non-timber forest values (including scenic beauty and recreational opportunities) are preserved; that waterways and soils are protected; and that local communities are involved in management decision-making and share in the benefits of forest utilization. Good practices begin with careful planning, utilize trained workers under the guidance of technically competent supervisors, and conclude with thorough post harvest assessment to determine prescriptions for future management.

The key to sustainable forest harvesting is to apply the best knowledge available in six critical areas: harvest planning, forest roads, felling, extraction, long-distance transport and post harvest assessment.

FAO Model Code of Forest Harvesting Practice

Produced in 1996, the FAO Model Code promotes harvesting practices that will improve standards of utilization, reduce negative environmental impact, help ensure that forests are sustained for future generations and improve the economic and social contributions of forestry as a component of sustainable development. The Model Code focuses on four essential elements:

  • comprehensive harvest planning;
  • effective implementation and control of harvesting operations;
  • thorough postharvest assessment and communication of results to the planning team and to harvesting personnel;
  • development of a competent and motivated workforce.
The Model Code is being adapted to regional and national needs; an edition for Asia and the Pacific was prepared in 1999 in collaboration with FAO’s Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission. A joint European Commission (EC)-FAO project has developed the Regional Code of Practice for Reduced-Impact Forest Harvesting in Tropical Moist Forests of Central and West Africa. In several countries of Asia and the Pacific and West and Central Africa, national codes of forest harvesting practice have been endorsed or are in preparation.

Case studies on environmentally sound forest operations

FAO collaborates with government agencies, private companies, universities and research stations to field testand demonstrate harvesting practices that are compatible with sustainable forestry. In particular, efforts are devoted to identifying systems that require only a modest level of investment in training and technology. Case studies over the past decade have focused on the use of animals in forest harvesting and on environmentally sound forest harvesting practices in Brazil, the Philippines, the Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Suriname, Mozambique, Ghana and Uganda. In addition, studiescomparing the costs and benefits of conventional and improved harvesting, for example in Malaysia, and a literature synthesis, analysis and prototype statistical framework on reduced-impact logging in tropical forests help foster the transfer of environmentally sound technology to developing countries.

Promoting environmentally friendly forest roads

Forest roads are often blamed for environmental problems associated with forest harvesting operations, including excessive stream sedimentation; severe soil erosion and compaction, with damage to remaining vegetation; increased likelihood of landslips and landslides on steep terrain; disruption of animal breeding areas or migration routes; loss of forest land; and oil spills or other contamination caused by careless road users. Road construction is sometimes considered a precursor to deforestation, as it facilitates settlement by landless farmers and subsequent conversion of forests into agricultural land.

Nonetheless, a permanent forest road network is an important precondition for sustainable forest management and use. Roads provide access to the forest for management activities and for the benefit of local communities and facilitate transport of forest products to consumers.

FAO promotes the use of forest road construction methods that can reduce the negative impacts, with an emphasis on mountainous and difficult terrain. Such methods include:

  • shortening the length, width and density of roads and trails;
  • using excavators instead of bulldozers on steep terrain;
  • advanced drilling and blasting techniques;
  • adequate compaction of the road surface;
  • establishing ditches and drainage systems;
  • reducing the maximum road gradient to prevent erosion;
  • bypassing sensitive areas, such as those with wet soilsor streams, those with cultural or religious significance, or habitats of rare plants and animals;
  • using biodegradable lubricants for machinery.

FAO has produced a guide to forest road engineering in mountainous terrain as well as studies on environmentally sound road construction in mountainous terrain in Austria; on environmentally sound forest infrastructure development in Bhutan; on “green roads” in Nepal; and on forest roads in southeast European countries.

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last updated:  Tuesday, March 18, 2014