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30. Cautious optimism but still a long way to go - Thomas Enters and Patrick B. Durst*

* FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, 39 Phra Atit Road, Bangkok 10200, Thailand, Tel: ++(66 2) 697 4000, Fax: ++(66 2) 697 4445, E-mail: [email protected] and [email protected]

Close your eyes and visualize a world in which the sustainable management of natural forests has become commonplace. Concession planners, working together with competent and motivated government foresters, carefully identify and map areas for harvest. Critical ecological and cultural areas are recognized in cooperation with local residents and ecologists and set apart for protection. Stands to be harvested are thoroughly inventoried and trees to be felled as well as future crop trees are meticulously mapped and marked. A low-density road network is designed, the size of landings limited and extraction routes are carefully sketched out and linked with anticipated felling directions. Highly-skilled and well-trained tree fellers and equipment operators ensure that damage to the remaining residual stand and soils is minimized, and logging residue is reduced to a minimum. After logging, skid trails are, whenever necessary, rehabilitated, roads are closed and log culverts and temporary bridges are removed. Access to the area is restricted to allow the forest to regenerate for the next cut. Post-harvesting assessments have become standard procedure to provide feedback to concession holders and logging crew, to evaluate their performance and to provide them with the agreed upon reward for sound and effective timber harvesting. Wouldn't that be nice!

If you find it difficult to have such nice thoughts you can open your eyes again and look at reality. Within the Asia-Pacific region, a number of countries have imposed logging bans or similar forest harvesting restrictions for their natural forests (Durst et al., 2001). In those countries, there is, at least for the time being, no need to discuss reduced impact logging (RIL) and other improvements in forest management, as the legal harvesting of timber has ceased. Although the final words on the merits of logging bans have not been spoken, the majority of people concerned about the future of the natural forests in Asia-Pacific do not view such bans as a practical and effective step towards forest conservation. Most people agree that forests should not be locked up and harvesting needs to continue. But how can we ensure that natural forests are managed sustainably, and how can we bring about the necessary changes that makes the application of RIL an integral part of forest management?

These two questions were debated during the conference and dealt with in detail in the preceding sections of this book. There is general consensus that environmentally-sound timber harvesting is a fundamental aspect of sustainable forest management and that RIL is one means to improve forest management. It is also obvious that adoption of RIL is largely contingent on satisfying concerns about its direct and indirect costs, and political commitment by governments in the region. While there is broad agreement on numerous issues, there is also disagreement, which continues to constrain the widespread adoption of RIL.

In this final paper we distill the lessons learned and synthesize the experiences gained in the recent past. While we draw heavily on the papers of this book, we also use additional information in discussing, on which aspects we find broad agreements and where a consensus has not emerged yet. The discussion concludes with recommendations as they were presented and deliberated at the end of the Conference.


In discussing the persistence of poor logging practices in the tropics, Putz et al. (2000a) point out the widespread perception among representatives of the logging industries that there is "nothing wrong with current logging practices." This is perhaps surprising as Poore et al. (1989) concluded more than ten years ago that most of the world's tropical rainforests were managed in an unsustainable way. This assessment has been echoed by others including the venerable forester Alf Leslie who, in describing present-day practices, refers to the "... mess left by logging practices which are almost standard in tropical forests and still fairly common in temperate forests (2001, p. 32).[50] The attitude that there is nothing wrong appears to be very common at all hierarchical levels of forest management, from senior management all the way down to operators. The Sarawak Timber Association (STA), for example, faces resistance to its tree felling training program by tree fellers who express their misgiving about the training in the following way: "We have done this for so many years, why should we go through this training?"

Obviously there is something wrong (Johnson and Cabarle, 1993; EIA, 1996; Dawkins and Philip, 1998). Concern over the world's forests and their capacity to maintain their environmental values and production potential has been manifested by increased exposure in the media and heightened consumer concerns. Many consumers - predominantly in industrial countries - ask for "green" forest products (Telfer, 1996), although they may not have the willingness to pay higher prices for timber sourced from sustainably managed forests. The logging industries either feel the pressure exerted by environmentalists and consumers or have started to agree with them because otherwise STA or the Association of Indonesian Forest Concession Holders (APHI), as well as a growing number of timber companies, would not invest in training operators and supervisory personnel. However, investments in human resource development are fruitless, if attitudes towards quality of work do not change along with skill upgrading. Gone are the days when natural forests appeared to be an inexhaustible sea of trees stretching from one end of the horizon to the other. Decision makers and forest managers alike have to acknowledge that tropical forests are not an inexhaustible resource. Although it is a renewable resource, if managed properly, it is finite if overexploited. Recognizing this requires an attitudinal change towards the resource, and a professionalism in timber harvesting, which unfortunately is still lacking in many concession areas and forest agencies.

What constitutes logging waste or residues also has to be reconsidered. In a recent study, Enters (2001) estimated that every year approximately 24.6 million m3 of "waste" is generated within Asia-Pacific, which can be economically used. Whether such a reduction can automatically translate into a reduction in the annual area of tropical forests harvested, as Dykstra concludes, is open to question. However, the more efficient use of this raw material can certainly offset some of the additional costs of RIL, as Holmes et al. describe in their study in Brazil. Innovative royalty and fee schemes for making the extraction of logging residues more attractive is only one step in the right direction. More important is that professional foresters realize the value of what is currently left in the forest to rot.

This professionalism also needs to acknowledge that natural forests differ from tree farms in that they provide more than just raw material for the wood-based industries. The recognition that forests provide an array of goods and services with local and global benefits has not only emerged since UNCED. Long before Rio, foresters acknowledged the need for multiple-use forest management. Unfortunately, this recognition has rarely been translated into operational changes and forest exploiters still dwarf professional forest managers in numbers. In addition, as Dykstra explains, "there is a tendency to treat the logging operation in the way farmers treat the slaughterhouse - hide it away in the hope that it won't disturb the customers." As long as we treat forests as slaughterhouses, there is little hope for their survival. It is this attitude or perception that needs to change before we can expect the widespread application of RIL.


Those who thought that it takes only the application of RIL to turn what Leslie called a "mess" into sustainable forest management, will be disappointed to learn that RIL is widely considered a necessary condition only. It is not sufficient to focus efforts on improving timber harvesting without acknowledging that the complexity of the tropical forest ecosystem requires other measures to provide many goods and services over long periods of time. Even if we define sustainable forest management narrowly as sustainable timber management, environmentally-sound harvesting will not guarantee that subsequent cuts will produce similar volumes of comparable timber quality as the first cut.

The natural forests in the tropics are complex ecosystems, rich in genetic and species diversity. While many temperate forests may be made up of only a limited number of tree species, a tropical forest contains literally hundreds of different species, with different reproductive characteristics and regeneration dynamics. This makes these forests far more difficult to manage.

Forests differ in their biodiversity value and their capacity to support different intensities of harvesting (Putz et al., 2000b). Accordingly, one would think that logging regulations would be rather intricate. However, they are not, which probably does not matter too much in those forests where only one tree in 10 ha is removed. In Southeast Asia, as Sist et al. explain, any tree with a diameter at breast height (DBH) above a specified limit of 60 cm may be felled. In the dipterocarp forests, the so-called minimum diameter cutting limit (MDCL) leads to harvesting intensities of 10 to 20 trees/ha or 100 to 150 m3/ha. Under such high extraction rates, even RIL is unable to reduce damage sufficiently to guarantee sustainability.

Although science is currently not able to assess the precise impacts of logging on ecosystems, plant communities, species and genetic diversity, it is clear that it leads to substantial changes in the structure and composition of forest stands. Although the effects under conventional logging regimes are most likely more pronounced, assuming that they are insignificant under RIL is erroneous. Sist et al. suggest four rules in addition to the MDCL to maintain timber species' populations. Other strategies include setting aside a portion of each logging area for complete protection (Putz et al., 2000b), which is of major concern to the logging industries because of forgone benefits. Furthermore, as Jonkers stresses, concurrent logging over large continuous areas should be avoided to reduce the negative impacts on wildlife.

These points illustrate that RIL is likely to be only the beginning of moving towards sustainable forest management, and that the road to sustainability is more challenging than many thought. Tropical forests and the biodiversity they contain need to be recognized as complex systems that require distinct regulations and flexible silvicultural treatments. In addition, as Jonkers points out, RIL planning needs to consider the needs of local people.


Talk about RIL and invariably you think about improving the standard ground-based tractor logging systems, although there are still some pockets of indigenous logging practices such as the kuda-kuda system in the swamp forests of Sarawak, Malaysia, or logging with elephants (e.g. in Myanmar and Thailand) or carabaos (e.g. in the Philippines). The days of timber harvesting in the lowland forests are mostly gone and activities have moved into the hills where ground-based systems are increasingly difficult to apply, are more expensive, cause greater damage to the forest and result in higher negative externalities, especially from increased soil erosion and stream sedimentation rates.

In his paper, Chua describes helicopter logging as a viable alternative to ground-based systems, although there are various constraints to using helicopters on a wider scale. While costs can be competitive, helicopter logging requires skills that are often not available locally. Supervision also differs substantially from ground-based systems, as the area where the logging takes place is far less accessible. These are constraints that can be overcome with time. The major concern that remains is the impact of helicopter logging on biodiversity, as the area considered difficult terrain under the conventional harvesting decreases considerably for helicopters. This emphasizes once again the importance of setting aside completely protected areas within production forests, which will make helicopter logging financially less attractive.

Yet, another alternative is skyline logging, the standard system in the mountains of Bhutan. Under the Bhutanese conditions it is the only viable option according to Thinley. In the tropical forests of Asia, it is rare and still in an experimental stage. However, as Aulerich and Sirait explain, in steep terrain it seems to be the most promising alternative for improving production, decreasing costs and reducing environmental impacts.

The examples in the three papers indicate that we should not concentrate our efforts solely on improving ground-based systems. Alternatives exist, although embracing them too enthusiastically could be misguided. As with RIL, the systems are only tools of better forest management but do not constitute sustainable forest management in themselves.


Perhaps the greatest impediment to the wider adoption of RIL is that it was originally promoted, if not even marketed, as an environmentally friendly way of harvesting in the tropical forests. The initial impetus for bringing tropical forests under sustainable management came from the environmental movement as well as some concerned foresters who dared to swim against the current. Before others could contribute to the discussion, to many forest managers RIL became something one does for the environment, something with a green touch. Until today the perception - or rather misperception - persists that doing something for the environment is costly and reduces profit margins. We will turn to the impact on profit margins later as this is an area of great controversy. In contrast, regarding environmental benefits there is unanimous agreement; RIL is good for the environment in general and for the residual forest stand in particular. At least it is superior to conventional logging.

When properly applied, RIL can have dramatic results. The review of 266 studies and articles on RIL and conventional logging in tropical forests by Killman et al. revealed the following environmental benefits from RIL

The question that has not been answered in the comparative studies on damage under RIL and conventional logging is, whether a reduction of 50 and more percent is sufficient to guarantee the long-term integrity and value of the region's production forests. Leslie asked the question of "how much is enough?" The answer to this seemingly simple question is difficult and requires more long-term research efforts in the future.


Besides a strong political commitment, the single most critical requirement for the adoption of RIL on a wide scale in tropical forests is the availability of skilled personnel at all levels. This message in consistently woven throughout most papers in this book.

Providing training to increase the skill levels of forest harvesting operators is not a new idea. Most employees are informally instructed and learn on the job. This is slowly changing and many organizations and projects have started to provide organized training, in particular for field-level workers directly involved in logging operations such as tree fellers and tractor operators.

In the absence of thorough needs assessments, the impact of training has been disappointing. Recently, the consensus has emerged that much can be gained by bringing order to the proliferation of training efforts, which are dissipating scarce resources. It has been realized that what has been lacking in the past is a cohesive strategy for improving forest harvesting practices through a structured and systematic approach to training and education of industry and forest agency personnel at all levels. The APFC has responded by preparing a "Regional Training Strategy," which lays the foundation for a comprehensive effort to build a skilled and trained workforce with the competency to perform tasks and responsibilities effectively and efficiently (Vergara).

A number of key messages emerge from the papers on training. First, training efforts are constrained by the scarcity of suitable trainers and many people in target training groups may not have received any formal training or education before. To be effective and relevant for field workers, training must be conducted on the ground under local conditions. This means training sites are dispersed and difficult to access. Language will also remain a challenge until the number of local trainers has increased significantly (Chan and Kho).

One encouraging sign is that the concept of training for improved timber harvesting has progressed considerably from a very narrow focus on operations such as directional felling and improved skidding to now include training for staff at supervisory and management levels. Training is not only necessary at different levels within an organization but also for regulatory groups outside the organization (Aulerich and Sirait). Ultimately RIL needs to become an integral part of formal education in technical schools, colleges and universities (FAO/APFC, 2001).

Blombäck and McCormack emphasize that training in RIL entails much more than just developing capacity to carry out tasks more efficiently and with less damage. In many countries, the forestry sector continues to be seen declining in importance and highly dangerous. Compared to other sectors forestry is characterized by a high labor turnover that drains skills, and reduces productivity and earnings. If working conditions are unattractive, turnover is inevitably high, which makes it impossible to instill and maintain the skills needed for RIL. It is therefore crucial to integrate safety and health concerns in training, planning, organizing and supervising operations.


Although the distribution of financial costs and benefits of RIL remains unclear and contentious (see below), RIL provides tangible benefits, especially environmental benefits. This raises the question of whether those who contribute to the successful application of RIL should be compensated for providing such benefits. At present, progressive concessionaires and forest operators receive no incentives to conduct environmentally sound harvesting (Hinrichs et al.). In general, a near consensus has emerged that incentives are necessary to stimulate positive changes in timber harvesting, although what form they should take remains vague, and who should receive them is still uncertain.

It is probably being recognized that providing equitable and secure tenure and enhancing resource values constitute powerful incentives for the adoption of SFM, in general, and RIL, in particular. Such incentives are undoubtedly easier to sustain than external funding (Bennett), although they are far more difficult to introduce. Among the proposals are calls for the establishment of long-term, legally binding land-use planning and increased resource security for timber companies. However, the conversion from short-term harvest licences to long-term agreements is no panacea and will not in itself prevent land users from acting in ways that impose social costs (Dagang et al.). Long-term agreements need to be complemented with market-based incentives and more innovative royalty schemes that reward quality and penalize waste and destructive practices.

It is obvious that current volume-based payment schemes and piecemeal rates for operators will not lead to improved forest harvesting. For tree fellers, current payment schemes mean that it only counts how many cubic meters are cut, irrespective of damage to the forest. More careful harvesting (i.e. less damage) will usually lead to lower productivity and therefore lower income. As long as operators are not compensated for improved felling and yarding operations, nothing will change. Quality needs to be rewarded and this is an area where incentives have a key role to play. Training must be made more attractive and higher skill levels need to be rewarded with more money in the pocket. An alternative payment scheme may consist of a fixed monthly salary, a piecemeal bonus and a quality-dependent reward (Dagang et al.).

Although incentives are important policy instruments and can clearly contribute to improved forest harvesting, they do not constitute a silver bullet. Equal weight needs to be given to more appropriate regulatory frameworks and rules (i.e. "carrots" need to go hand in hand with "sticks"). Enforcing regulations is a crucial missing element, as many forest managers have become accustomed to operating in an environment where performance requirements can be manipulated easily (Klassen).

Where the forest policy environment is overly prescriptive, bureaucratic and input-based, and meaningful monitoring and evaluation are ignored, the widespread adoption of RIL will remain constrained. Bennett advocates an alternative approach that focuses on forest management outcomes to allow site-specific adaptations while providing the framework for sufficient regulatory oversight. This approach is comprised of simpler and more useful regulations that focus less on pre-logging inputs and more on post-logging outcomes such as minimal logging residues and rapid recovery of the residual forest stand. Local and central government accountability are likely to be pivotal in the adoption or rejection of output-based policies.

Ultimately, neither the "carrot" nor the "stick" will result in compliance with codes of forest practice and tangible improvements of forest harvesting as long as relationships between regulators and forest managers remain antagonistic. Apractical solution to this has been pursued in Tasmania where adversarial and punitive approaches to regulating forest practices have been replaced by partnership arrangements among various stakeholders to facilitate progressive forest practices and achieve mutually agreeable outcomes (Wilkinson).

The importance of "mutual agreements" is significant. Forest concessionaires tend to resist changes that are imposed from the outside even if they are sweetened with incentives or other support. The complexity of the tropical forest ecosystem, the forest industries and forest management arrangements necessitate that all involved stakeholders talk to each other and agree on what needs to be achieved in both near term and long term. Although a consensus on this issue is emerging, it is hampered by continuing disagreements over the financial implications of RIL.


The answer to the question of whether RIL costs more or less than conventional logging is a straightforward: "It depends!" You may ask how we derive this conclusion, when even The Economist reports in its May 12 issue of 2001 that according to a study by the Tropical Forest Foundation, RIL is 12 percent more cost-effective than conventional logging methods in tropical forests. Isn't that a clear-cut indication of RIL superiority over conventional logging? Holmes et al. report even more encouraging results. If direct and indirect waste costs are accounted for, net revenues from RIL are claimed to be 18 to 35 percent higher than conventional logging revenues in Brazil.

In contrast, studies from a dipterocarp forest in Sabah, Malaysia, are consistent with the more widely-held perception that the financial profitability of RIL is lower than that of conventional logging. Tay et al. estimate that profits generated under RIL are reduced by 62 percent compared with conventional logging. The biggest factor in this reduction can be attributed to lower volumes of timber harvested under RIL. Nearly half of the forest areas currently accessible under conventional logging in Sabah would be placed off limits under RIL restrictions that prohibit harvesting on steep slopes. Interestingly, the studies found that if only extraction costs are ponsidered. RIL actually appears to be slightly cheaper than conventional logging. The decreased profitability is primarily due to reduced volumes of timber extracted.

It appears that we are right with our assessment that "it all depends". This is also confirmed by Hammond et al. (2000) who found that the actual costs of RIL, and the profitability of logging operations, vary significantly from location to location due to differences in biophysical conditions, costs of labor and equipment, and other operating inputs, as well as socio-economic and institutional factors.

Unfortunately, there is a lot more to it than the issue of location and conditions. Assessing the economics of RIL and/or conventional logging is inherently complex. The science - perhaps more appropriately described as art - is still in its infancy. Most studies have only been conducted over the last five years and there remains a great deal of uncertainty and confusion over the actual costs of applying RIL, and the implications for company profits. The majority of studies that have been conducted lack a standard methodology and consistent definitions of RIL components and costs.

In reviewing four studies of RIL at various sites in Indonesia, Applegate identifies several areas of ambiguity. There are two main areas contributing to the confusion. First, although researchers claim to assess the financial implications of RIL in comparison to conventional logging, most conduct only partial financial analyses. It is not uncommon for researchers to overlook various cost elements of RIL or to assume that a trained workforce is already in place. Results of such analyses should be treated with considerable caution.

An even more problematic aspect is lack of comparability among most studies. For example, RIL is usually described in detail, conventional logging is not. In some situations or locations the shift from conventional logging to RIL may require only minor modifications. In these cases, financial benefits may well outweigh additional costs. In other cases, the whole approach to logging needs to be transformed with major financial implications. Complicating the analysis is the fact that conventional logging is defined in several different ways. Smith and Applegate touch on this issue in their paper when they convincingly argue that the term "conventional logging" is misleading since most analysts do not consider re-entry logging - a practice not foreseen by RIL, but common under conventional logging. Why is it we ask, that in studies of RIL adherence to rules is generally very strict whereas in conventional logging existing regulations are often not enforced, a phenomenon that invariably leads to increased profit margins? Surely such analyses are misleading and tend to paint RIL in an unfavorable light.

Finally, most studies have not elaborated on the effects of timber price distortions due to illegal logging. Durst and Enters (2001) recently argued that illegal logging is so pervasive in some countries that it would be more meaningful to compare the costs of RIL with the costs of illegal logging rather than conventional logging. In effect, under current circumstances in some countries, illegal logging is the convention.

The discussion above indicates that we should not be surprised by the disagreements concerning the costs of RIL. Considerably more studies of the economics of RIL are required to advance the discussion on incentives for timber harvesting operators. But perhaps we accept that we will never obtain a definite answer to the question of whether RIL is more or less cost-effective than conventional logging. It's like asking whether growing rice is profitable. It all depends!


The papers in this publication emphasize that reduced impact logging is an essential component of sustainable forest management. They indicate - and this was also emphasized during the conference discussions - that we can be cautiously optimistic, although there is still a long way to go until the expressed intentions to improve forest harvesting are translated into better practices with tangible positive impacts on the ground. Those expecting changes overnight will be disappointed. In fact, corruption and an increase in illegal logging and illegal timber trade remain major impediments even for the most innovative operators and governments. However, there are many encouraging signs. National and international efforts, particularly directed to training, have considerably increased and researchers continue to address the contentious issue of cost and benefit distribution.

Recognizing that sustainable forest management requires considerable support, the conference participants called on governments, industry, research institutions, and international organizations to cooperate in furthering the adoption and application of reduced impact logging. The following recommendations were made by the conference.[51]

For governments:

For forest industry:

For international organizations:

For research:


Dawkins, H.C. & Philip, M.S. 1998. Tropical moist forest silviculture and management: a history of success and failure. CAB International, Wallingford, Oxon.

Durst, P.D. & Enters, T. 2001. Illegal logging and the adoption of reduced impact logging. Paper presented at the Forest Law Enforcement and Governance: East Asia Regional Ministerial Conference, 11-13 September 2001, Denpasar, Indonesia.

Durst, P., Waggener, T.R., Enters, T. & Tan, L.C. (eds.). 2001. Forest out of bounds: impacts and effectiveness of logging bans in natural forests in Asia-Pacific. RAP Publication: 2001/08. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Bangkok.

EIA. 1996. Corporate power, corruption and the destruction of the world's forests. Environmental Investigation Agency, London and Washington DC.

Enters, T., 2001. Trash or treasure? Logging and mill residues in Asia and the Pacific. RAP Publication 2001/16. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and and Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission, Bangkok.

FAO/APFC. 2001. Regional training strategy: supporting the implementation of the code of practice for forest harvesting in Asia-Pacific. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission. Bangkok.

Hammond, D.S., Van der Hout, P., Zagt, R.J., Marshall, G., Evans, J. & Cassells, D.S. 2000. Benefits, bottlenecks and uncertainties in the pantropical implementation of reduced impact logging techniques. International Forestry Review, 2: 45-53.

Johnson, N. & Cabarle, C. 1993. Surviving the cut: natural forest management in the humid tropics. World Resources Institute, Washington DC.

Leslie, A. 2001. The trouble with RIL. Tropical Forest Update, 11(2): 32.

Poore, D., Burgess, P., Palmer, J., Rietbergen, S. & Synnott, T. 1989. No timber without trees - Sustainability in the tropical forest. Earthscan Publications Ltd., London.

Putz, F. E., Dykstra, D. P. & Heinrich, R. 2000a. Why poor logging practices persist in the tropics. Conservation Biology, 14(4): 951-956.

Putz, F.E., Redford, K.H., Robinson, J.G., Fimbel, R. & Blate, G.M. 2000b. Biodiversity conservation in the context of tropical forest management. Environment Department Papers. Paper No. 75. The World Bank, Washington, DC.

Telfer, I. 1996. Environmental certification of forest products. In: Commodity markets & resource management. Proceedings of the Natural Agricultural and Resources Outlook Conference. Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Canberra. pp. 177-184.

[50] Alf Leslie addressed the conference participants on the first day. A short version of his address is available as "point of view" in ITTO Tropical Forest Update 11/2.
[51] While individual recommendations were directed toward specific groups, the conference recognized that close collaboration among all groups will be required for effective implementation.

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