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27. Addressing the gap between the theory and practice of reduced impact logging - Simon Armstrong and Chris Inglis*

* Edinburgh Centre for Tropical Forests, c/o LTS International Ltd, Pentland Science Park, Bush Loan, Penicuik, Edinburgh, EH26 0PH UK, Tel: ++(44 131) 440 5500, Fax: ++(44 131) 440 5501, E-mail: [email protected] and [email protected]


The Edinburgh Centre for Tropical Forests (ECTF) has been working together with Barama Company Limited (BCL), a commercial timber harvesting and processing company, on the North West Guyana Sustainable Timber Production Programme since 1992. The aims of the two partners are:

Earlier work undertaken by the project, notably the establishment of permanent sample plots, is described by Inglis et al. (1996). These plots are being used to assess post-harvest forest growth and the impact of damage on growth (ECTF, 2000). Additional background to Guyana and forestry in Guyana can be found in Inglis et al. (1996) and van der Hout (1999).



Guyana is situated on the northern coast of South America, bounded by Brazil, Venezuela, Suriname and the Caribbean Sea. The country covers an area of 215 000 km2 with a population of around 900 000. Over 90 percent of the population live within five miles of the coast where sugarcane and rice cultivation predominate. Commercial timber extraction of one species, greenheart (Chlorocardium rodiei), has been practised in Guyana for centuries. However, given the localized and limited stocking of commercial species, and poor accessibility of most of the interior, the country’s forest cover is still around 85 percent. Guyana experienced a period of intense economic decline during the 1970s and 1980s, which left it with a greatly reduced human resource base and a weakened infrastructure and administrative system. In the early 1990s, a number of Southeast Asian companies invested in forest harvesting in Guyana and a new level and range of production was attained.

The BCL concession

BCL operates a 1.67 million ha concession in Northwest Guyana. Stocking of commercial species is poor, with harvesting volumes averaging 8.2 m3/ha. At an average volume of 3.4 m3 per tree, this equates to a harvesting intensity of 2.4 trees/ha. Baromalli (Catostemma spp.) comprises nearly 90 percent of the harvested volume. The productive forest is also interspersed with unproductive swamp and steep terrain. BCL’s harvesting is undertaken in 100-ha blocks using a bulldozer to build skid trails. Extraction is done by wheeled skidders. Conventionally, bulldozer operators use the blade to position logs at the stump to ease the attachment of skidder winching cables.

The work on which this paper is based was carried out within the BCL concession and developed from studies of merchantable wood left in the forest and the resulting impact on operational and financial efficiency. The logging waste studies revealed additional areas for improvement, specifically in skid trail layout, and in turn focused research on operational systems and machine use. The focus and methodology of the work has therefore evolved as new areas for research emerged. As the study progressed, additional techniques intended to improve harvesting practice were adopted, moving towards what is now termed reduced impact logging (RIL). The first blocks to be harvested (top of Table 1) may be considered to be conventionally logged, and each subsequent block more closely matching full RIL. The research began in 1996 with block 1 and ended in 1999 with block 8. The composition of the harvesting team changed during the research as operators moved out of the area to return to their families or to take up other work.

Table 1. Treatments applied to each block in the trial

Block number

Skid trails marked out based on map

Pre-harvest map given to team

Increased supervision

Vine cutting

Directional felling training



























A 100-percent inventory of all potentially merchantable trees was completed in each block. The inventory team walked the block along pre-cut 50-m wide strips divided into forty 25-m long stations in each strip. Each tree was identified with an aluminium tag. During the inventory of the last six blocks, the location of enumerated trees within each strip and station was recorded to produce a pre-harvest tree location map at a scale of 1: 2 500. The location of features restricting harvesting (e.g. creeks or steep slopes) was marked also. The map was used to plan the layout of the main skid trails and to locate trees for harvesting.

In the last five blocks the operation of the harvesting machinery was timed and recorded by activity. After harvesting, the length of skid trails was surveyed. In most blocks, the number of merchantable trees that were not felled, merchantable logs felled but not skidded, and the volume wasted from logs being cut short, were recorded.

The technical results of the work are described in detail elsewhere (Armstrong and Inglis, 2000; ECTF, 2000). A smaller-scale, more intensive study of the ecological and silvicultural impacts of RIL elsewhere in Guyana is described by van der Hout (1999).

Comparison between forestry in Guyana with Indonesia and Malaysia

BCL brought its extensive experience of harvesting in Southeast Asia to Guyana. The harvesting system adopted in Guyana was based on that practised in Sarawak. Unlike Sarawak, however, stocking of commercial species in Guyana is generally low and highly variable. The logistics of road building and hauling are particularly difficult given the heavy rainfall throughout much of the year, the deep clays and the absence of suitable surfacing material. It is difficult to find and retain people to work in large commercial harvesting operations, as there is not the same tradition of large-scale forestry work as in either Indonesia or Malaysia.

The Government of Guyana, in recognizing the need for sustainable forest management, issues 25-year leases to concessionaires. The Guyana Forestry Commission, with support from international aid agencies, has developed its management and regulatory capacity. Detailed environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and management plans are now required to operate a concession. International environmental NGOs are active in Guyana, especially those associated with indigenous land rights and the environment. The main commercial threat to forest operations in Guyana is the low profitability of forestry operations, because of the low number of commercial species. Land clearance for hydraulic mining causes significant local impacts. Much mining is undertaken illegally and most mining activities are unregulated. There is no real threat from land clearance for permanent agriculture or shifting cultivation.


A paper that focuses on areas for improvement will tend to highlight shortfalls. It must be pointed out, however, that the operators and managers at BCL generally were experienced in harvesting operations and that BCL’s harvesting operations are among the best in Guyana.


1. Supervision: A “block inspector” to check the felling block after harvesting to identify environmental impact and levels of wastage. The block inspector should report to production management, be independent of the harvesting team, and not paid on a piecemeal basis. Additional middle management supervisors should be employed to supervise harvesting.

2. Senior management: During routine visits to the forest, senior management should visit harvesting areas and simply assess the quantity and value of wood left behind in the forest and the skid trail network.

3. Planning: Strategic-level inventory, road alignment and identification of harvestable trees within each block should be improved through a systematic inventory procedure, based on stratification using low-cost aerial surveys - in advance of road construction.

4. Survey of harvesting blocks: Surveys should be conducted prior to harvesting to identify likely extraction routes and the location of merchantable trees.

5. Training: Emphasis should be given to training in tree identification, felling and machine operation.

6. Standardization of log-grading specifications: Mill graders should visit forest operations to ensure consistency of grading rules among fellers, hauliers and the mill.

7. Monitoring of volumes felled, skidded and hauled: Volumes or number of logs at each stage of the process should be compared to track losses using a system already in place. Pilot tagging and tracking of logs from stump to mill should be performed.

8. Limiting movement of bulldozers: Moving the bulldozer to the stump of the tree and raising the end of the log off the ground should be discontinued. Where possible the skidder should enter without the bulldozer first clearing a path. Where possible, the bulldozer should move with a raised blade, and bulldozer movement should be restricted to minimize the area used for skid trails.[44]

9. Piloting of changes and rejection of impractical techniques: Pilot 100-percent tree enumeration in fifty 100-ha blocks. Skid trails in areas of high vine density should be avoided as a more practical alternative to cutting vines several months ahead of harvesting.


1. Supervision: An additional supervisor and several block inspectors were employed to improve the standard of harvesting and reduce logging waste. The benefits were apparent to management and appointment of additional staff represented a low-cost step to improve efficiency. The block inspector had to live with harvesting teams and therefore was dependent on the people that he was monitoring for food and accommodation. This physical dependence undermined the objectivity necessary for impartial monitoring. The block inspector required a range of skills, including analytical skills, understanding of commercial harvesting and environmental guidelines and their interpretation, and importantly negotiation skills. Retaining skilled people is difficult and requires attractive incentives, especially where such people may be able to obtain work in less arduous conditions closer to their families.

2. Senior management: Field visits by senior management allowed visualization of the current impacts, stimulating institutional changes and fostering a sense of trust. The involvement of senior management proved crucial.

3. Planning: Strategic-level inventory required significant changes in survey approaches - notably use of inexpensive digital aerial surveys. The system called for the development of a new data gathering and handling system, requiring additional highly qualified staff and specialist equipment. This worked well when the staff and equipment were available, but failed if either was not working. There was also a requirement to employ staff with skills in remote sensing and understanding of commercial logging practice.

4. Survey of harvesting blocks: Block inspectors undertook pre-harvest block surveys and post-harvest evaluation. The process provided qualitative information of great value in planning harvesting at the block level.

5. Training in tree identification and felling was undertaken as skills were limited. Fellers accepted the training in felling techniques as they recognized the value of improved safety and reduced costs in chainsaw use from proper maintenance. Training in tree identification was less successful as the tree spotters were not skilled in training techniques. Regular training in machinery operation was not possible, as no trainers were available. Informal sessions, during which operators reflected on their harvesting techniques, resulted in operators adopting alternative practices (e.g. stepping down from the bulldozer and walking when appropriate, or working with the blade raised off the ground).

6. Standardization: Mill and forest operations were managed separately. Mill staff did not have a clear understanding of the practical problems faced in forest harvesting, and people in the forest knew little about mill operations. Mill staff did not visit the forest operations, and as such only limited standardization in log-quality specifications between forest operations and the mill was possible. Mill staff were not involved in the planning and implementation of operational changes and did not see any personal benefit by modifying the current system.

7. Monitoring: A log-tracking system was already in place in the operation, but was underutilized. Basic training in comparison of data from different sources provided a rough guide to losses in the forest, which was useful in monitoring logging waste. A more sophisticated system of tagging stumps and logs was piloted, but required fellers with analytical skills that proved difficult to acquire.

8. Limiting bulldozer movement: Some operators changed the way they used their machinery, as they became more aware of the damage caused. The most important changes were of a behavioural nature. By drawing on people’s experiences and understanding of the technical capacity of machinery and the capabilities of people, planning and implementing realistic changes were possible.

9. Piloting of changes and rejection of impractical techniques: Change and the adoption of recommendations depended on trust between management and operators. This trust was called into question where impractical recommendations were made. Vine cutting months in advance of harvesting (necessary if the vines are to be dead at the time of harvesting), was impractical because of high labour inputs, and the logistics of accessing areas in advance of harvesting. Ultimately, vine cutting was rejected. Instead, approaches were adopted for skid trail layout to avoid areas with high vine densities. Where the implications of change were uncertain, pilot studies were conducted, and new techniques were tested in either small areas or by single harvesting crews. The 5 000-ha pilot study identified that 100-percent tree enumeration was an ineffective use of time and resources, requiring a high degree of training and supervisory input. Indeed, it was calculated that 100 percent tree enumeration for commercial trees alone would require 45 additional staff to keep pace with harvesting - an unacceptable additional administrative and logistical burden. Even accurate maps were of limited use in planning skid trails as ground conditions changed with rainfall and the actual route was often determined at the time of extraction. In the highly variable, swampy and hilly terrain of the harvesting area, an alternative approach of “prospecting” in advance of harvesting was appropriate. The approximate location of trees and physical constraints to harvesting were noted, enabling a strategic-level planning of skid trail layout. Actual skid trail layout was determined in the field. This approach suited the local conditions and available resources.


Some very important changes that are required relate to behavioural rather than technical issues. Trust is critical in introducing change. Involving people in planning change increases the likelihood of success as fears are overcome. Impractical recommendations and poor communication threaten the change process. People have to want to change before they will do so. Often this means that people must be able to identify direct and personal benefits.

Effective management is the key to improving harvesting operations. Retaining people with the range of skills needed to implement, manage and supervise improved harvesting practices requires incentives. People with the ability to apply theory in practice are particularly important.

New concepts should be suited to local conditions, developed and tested in collaboration with operators and management. Changes that have been tested and which build on current resources, and skills are more likely to be adopted than new systems. Complicated and inflexible systems are more likely to go wrong and be deemed unacceptable.

Training needs to be planned carefully and conducted by skilled trainers if it is to be effective. One-on-one coaching, and reflecting on past experience and behaviour can be more effective than formal training courses.

Improved efficiency usually results in reduced damage. Whilst regulations may be difficult to enforce, improved harvesting practices are more likely to be implemented and should be more sustainable if cost-effectiveness can be proven.


Based on the work undertaken at BCL, and other experiences in Guyana (Zagt and Armstrong, 1999), a number of key points have been identified for more effective collaboration between researchers and forest operators and in support of the adoption of improved harvesting practice.

Objectives and approach

The objectives of researchers and commercial harvesting companies are usually very different, even though notionally both may be concerned with the wiser management of forest resources. The number of scientific papers published is an important indicator for researchers whilst commercial operators are more interested in financial performance indicators. Areas where the objectives of both groups are shared have to be identified and built upon. Research outputs should address the needs of commercial operators and take account of the available resources and practical limitations to applying theoretical best practices.


The incorporation of research results into practice invariably follows a path through awareness raising, increased interest, testing, evaluation and adoption. If messages are to be delivered successfully to a target audience it is necessary to understand where on that path the audience is positioned. Research results should be marketed precisely if they are to stand any chance of being adopted by practitioners. The timing, place, content and style of presentation are all critical to the successful marketing of new ideas or approaches, and need to be chosen with care to suit the target audience.

The work at BCL was undertaken in close collaboration with management and staff. Outputs were directed at practitioners rather than the scientific community and addressed real needs and considered resource availability and constraints. As such, the work was able to support and inform those who were developing and implementing harvesting plans.


Companies must have good reasons to adopt proposed changes. Driving forces for change may come from within the organization, but commonly are external, such as changes in national policy or the demands of international markets. The desire for change must also be shared by those affected the most, assuming that their continued commitment and involvement are expected. Often it can be difficult to have a shared goal for change where different groups (e.g. management, machine operators, supervisors) within commercial operations have different - and perhaps even contradictory - objectives.

The need for change must be reflected in the company’s strategy and business plan. When change is sought, the management structure or resources (often human resources) may not permit rapid adjustment of the system. Decentralization of decision making, for example, is often important for successful RIL, but may not fit with current institutional structures. Transforming such structures can be complex.

Change must be planned and managed properly. Where companies lack relevant skills in-house they may be dissuaded from acquiring external assistance because of concerns over high costs, transparency or unwanted attention. The corporate culture may discourage the use of external inputs.

High workforce turnover is common in many operations and dissuades companies from investing in training, an activity that is central to the introduction of new practices. Addressing this constraint is crucial if harvesting companies are to increase effectiveness and efficiency.


Objectives and approach

Research can contribute towards the formulation of practical guidelines and can inform decision-makers of the potential impacts of adopting new practices. Guidelines should be flexible to take account of the specific conditions and resources available to each harvesting company. Financial implications, and implications at the operational scale (rather than simply at the harvesting site) have to be made explicit. This requires involving commercial operators in the development of guidelines.

Contrasting the costs of RIL with the costs of conventional logging (CL) can be misleading, particularly because research results often cannot be compared. CL - a more appropriate term would be “current working practice” - can represent the entire spectrum from bad to excellent logging practice. Thus, research carried out in a concession that is poorly managed is likely to conclude that significant cost savings are achievable, while similar research in a concession that is well-managed may arrive at a rather different conclusion. Inappropriate or misleading comparisons simply confuse harvesting companies and are barriers to the adoption of improved working practices.


There is a need for open two-way communication between commercial operators and researchers to maximize benefits. The means of communication, particularly the media and language used heavily influence the effectiveness of communication between researchers and commercial operators.

It is probable that the apparent improvements in efficiency and associated reduction in damage are points of interest to both commercial operators and researchers. Such areas of mutual interest could be explored usefully and developed jointly. Introducing different approaches at the pilot level in commercial operations will enable improvements to be tailored to a company’s needs and resources. The improvement of harvesting efficiency and the raising of standards by voluntary means will be more sustainable than rules that requires regulation by authorities.

Acceptance of RIL depends on individuals identifying with the benefits of new practices. Thus, the benefits of RIL must be demonstrated clearly. At this stage, it is particularly important for researchers to show that they understand the wider implications of applying RIL theory in practice. As operators and managers become more aware and informed of RIL, they require different information for which alternative means of communication may become necessary. Whilst fairly general media, for example articles in trade journals, will suffice at the start of the process (awareness raising), specific face-to-face contact is likely to be necessary if a company is to adopt RIL.


Improving harvesting practices depends on a process of change rather than adoption of a set of externally imposed standards. Change is complex, will have to be nurtured and carefully planned and managed, and often requires some form of direct or indirect incentives. These should come from internal sources, but are likely to be influenced by external pressures, such as regulations, or opportunities such as access to environmentally sensitive markets for timber and timber products.


Armstrong, S. & Inglis, C.J. 2000. RIL for real: introducing reduced impact logging techniques into a commercial forestry operation in Guyana. International Forestry Review, 2 (1): 17-23.

ECTF. 2000. Report by Edinburgh Centre for Tropical Forests on an overview of the North West Guyana Sustainable Timber Production Programme 1993-1999 for the Barama Company Limited. Unpublished.

Inglis, C.J., Sutton, G. & Lawson, G.J. 1996. Research and monitoring for sustainable forest management in NW Guyana. In: Dykstra, D.P. & Heinrich, R. (eds.). Research on environmentally sound forest practice to sustain tropical forests. FAO/IUFRO Satellite meeting, IUFRO XX World Congress, pp. 27-36.

Van der Hout, P. 1999. Reduced impact logging in the tropical rain forest of Guyana: ecological, economic and silvicultural consequences. Tropenbos-Guyana Series 6. The Tropenbos-Guyana Programme. Georgetown, Guyana.

Zagt, R. & Armstrong, S. 1999. The role of research in improving forest management - collaboration between a research institute and a forest concessionaire. Presented at the workshop Management and Monitoring of Forest Concessions, organized by FAO, Paramaribo (Suriname), 12-14 October 1999.

[44] The machinery used in the operations did not permit the winching of logs over long distances.

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