[Table of Contents]

Sustainability of Forests

Reduced-Impact Logging


Conventional logging practices are often highly destructive to forest ecosystems. Heavy machinery can compact the soil and destroy vegetation while high-volume harvesting can contribute to erosion, and reduce species diversity and regenerative capacity. Excess organic debris can make forests more vulnerable to destruction in the event of fire.

Since its inception, CIFOR has given priority to research to quantify environmental effects of reduced-impact logging (RIL). As part of a broad programme on Sustainable Forest Management, CIFOR has been engaged in RIL studies in Malaysia, Brazil, Indonesia, Cameroon, Bolivia, Tanzania and Zambia. The results are aiding the development of guidelines and tools (such as software) for managing timber production so as to minimise damaging ecological side effects. Because acceptance of RIL methods entails the support of the logging industry and government, CIFOR is committed to collaboration with state and private logging enterprises in carrying out this work.

Previous research by CIFOR and others has demonstrated that environmental damage can be minimised through the use of site-sensitive harvesting techniques. Among the findings, it has been shown that RIL methods can reduce impacts to the soil from heavy logging machinery by 25 percent, and lead to a gain of as much as 50 percent in the "carbon storehouse" benefits from the remaining vegetation. In some RIL experiments in lowland tropical forests, the amount of damage to the soil and to advanced regeneration was reduced by about 50 percent relative to conventional logging.

Encouraging findings such as these led the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) to adopt the goal of widespread implementation of reduced-impact logging by the year 2000. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recently published a Model Code of Forest Harvesting Practices, and other institutions have issued similar guidelines. While guidelines such as these offer a general basis for reduced-impact logging practices, they must be interpreted at a site-specific level.

RIL studies are a central focus of CIFOR research in Bulungan Research Forest in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. A primary goal of this work is to aid the development of policy incentives that promote the adoption of reduced-impact logging by timber concessionaires.

In many industrialised countries, reduced-impact techniques for timber extraction in natural forests have been in use for many decades. Yet similar practices have not been widely adopted for timber harvesting in tropical forests. In a paper titled "Why Poor Logging Practices Persist in the Tropics," Drs. Jack Putz and Dennis Dykstra of CIFOR looked at excuses commonly given by commercial loggers when asked why they did not use improved timber harvesting practices. The authors challenge these perceptions in arguing the merits of reduced-impact logging.

The economics of reduced-impact logging is the focus of CIFOR-supported studies underway since 1996 at two sites in Brazil: Tapajós National Forest, near Santarem, and Curua-Una, an experimental forest downstream from Santarem. In a new research thrust in Brazil, CIFOR scientists in Belém co-sponsored a workshop in December with EMBRAPA to discuss guidelines for RIL field experiments in production forests of Eastern Amazon. The work is part of a joint project to develop a sustainable management plan for the region.

Meanwhile, in Tanzania and Zambia, CIFOR is participating in two coordinated field studies of reduced-impact logging under a long-term programme, funded by the European Union, to achieve sustainable management of the important and ecologically threatened miombo woodlands of East, Central and Southern Africa.