Logging Conservation Practices

While logging can be a major cause of forest loss and degradation, improved logging practices and forest management can be used to help promote sustainable timber extraction and long-term ecosystem health.  Three examples of improved sustainability logging practices include Reduced Impact Logging (RIL) in the tropics, Best Management Practices (BMPs) in the United States, and Finland’s Forest Act and associated timber harvest standards. Logging conservation practices must take into account broad ecosystem impacts from timber harvesting, such as such as soil compaction, erosion, sedimentation of water bodies, damage to residual trees, and numerous impacts surrounding roads and skid trails (erosion, increased access for illegal activity, increased exposure to invasives, etc.) While Reduced Impact Logging, Best Management Practices in the US, and Finland’s Forest Act are not the only examples of logging conservation practices, they offer insights into techniques and methods that are used to improve the ecological sustainability of logging in some forest regions.

Reduced Impact Logging (RIL) refers to methods used to improve sustainability of logging in the tropics, using a suite of technologies and practices. The concept of RIL emerged in the early 1990’s under increasing concern that mechanization of logging practices in the tropics posed a threat to the long-term sustainability of forest resources. The practices introduced in RIL were not strictly “new,” as many of the technologies were already common practice in temperate forest regions, but novel in their application and adaptation for tropical forests.

Tropical forests differ from temperate forests in several ways, which impacts how logging affects sustainability and forest regeneration. Despite having significantly higher biomass per unit area, volumes of merchantable timber are generally lower in tropical forests than in temperate forests. As a result, relatively low volumes of timber are harvested per hectare, resulting in greater disturbance from logging roads and skid trails used to access and extract logs. Additionally, tropical forests are more likely to be inhabited, with local people relying on forest resources for their livelihoods.

Broadly speaking, RIL techniques aim to reduce impacts on forest stands and soils in areas where timber is harvested. RIL methods focus largely on planning and assessment of logging activities, implementation and design of roads and skid trails, and minimizing wood waste from the trees that are felled. Specific measures include: pre-harvest inventory and mapping, appropriate planning and techniques for logging roads, skid trails, and log landings, appropriate felling techniques and cutting to minimize wood waste from the trees felled for extraction. Studies on RIL in Para, Brazil showed RIL to minimize forest damage compared to conventional logging, but adoption remains a challenge, due to initial costs and the need for adequate training of loggers, supervisors, and planners. 

Best Management Practices (BMPs) focus on mitigating negative impacts from soil erosion on watersheds, due to forestry or other activities in the United States. Under the Clean Water Act, enacted in 1972, objectives were set to limit pollutants and sediment entering waterways, of which forestry and logging practices are a non-point source. Under this act, states were delegated to define and develop either voluntary or regulatory Best Management Practices for forestry operations. BMPs are sets of preventative measures, ranging from strict regulatory performance-based standards to more passive voluntary standards. BMPs address all aspects of timber harvest processes, including riparian zones, stream crossings, logging roads, wetland management, as well as reforestation practices. Overall BMPs for timber harvest generally direct  managers and planners to “Use the logging system that best fits the topography, soil types, and season, while minimizing soil disturbance and road densities and that economically achieves silvicultural objectives,” with a strong emphasis on road planning and measures to minimize impacts on riparian areas, water bodies and soils. Best management practices may also recommend specific timing for certain operations in temperate or boreal forests, such as during winter freezes to help minimize soil impacts. Some of the measures emphasized in RIL in the tropics are less likely to be detailed in BMPs, because they are already common practice (such as measures to improve efficiency of wood cut to wood extracted), or due to differences in forest ecology in temperate and boreal versus tropical forests.

Finland’s Forest Act of 1996 is an example of a national-level approach towards sustainable forestry and timber harvesting in the boreal region. Finland’s Forest Act has a combined focus on biodiversity preservation, multiple forest uses and sustainable economic returns. The majority of forestland (64%) in Finland is privately owned and often made up of small parcels, with an average holding size of 36 hectares. As this also means that the majority of logging and forest management activities take place on privately owned forestland, forest management plans, forest use declarations, extension services and economic incentives for forest owners are important parts of Finland’s approach to incentivizing sustainable forestry practices.

In general, Finland’s Forest Act stipulates similar “best practices” as state-defined BMPs in the United States. The Forest Act requires that logging activities leave sufficient potential for stand regeneration and growth, but also necessitates the replanting of stands if natural regeneration is insufficient. (Regeneration is considered “sufficient” if an inspection of the site 10-25 years post-harvest shows seedlings to be present, well established, evenly dispersed, an average of 0.5 meters in height, and not threatened by other vegetation.) The Forest Act also requires that logging activities avoid damage to remaining trees, soils, and sensitive habitats such as water bodies, sandy soils and bluffs, as well as “luxuriant herb-rich forest patches.” Application of these practices is ensured by forest management plans, which detail forest conditions, maps, proposed harvest activities, operational notes, and land-owner recommendations. While forest management plans are not required, they are encouraged by economic incentives that help finance forest activities for land owners that have management plans. “Forest use declarations” on the other hand, are mandatory for land owners, and must be presented to the Finnish Forest Centre (a state funded organization) at least 10 days prior to any logging activity. Forest use declarations contain information such as location, key characteristics of the felling, purpose and methods of timber harvest, considerations or methods for regeneration and known habitats of importance. The Finnish Forest Centre then uses the information provided in forest use declarations to assess the quality and implementation of timber harvest and other forest management operations.

Beyond these examples, logging operations in different regions around the world may utilize similar techniques in order to minimize damage, prevent pollution, and promote long-term forest sustainability. Logging conservation practices may be undertaken voluntarily, to achieve certification, or due to specific forest policies and regulations surrounding timber harvesting practices. Learn more about logging conservation practices by exploring the links below:



Borealforests.org (n.d.) Finland – Forests and Forestry. Retrieved from: http://www.borealforest.org/world/world_finland.htm

Dykstra, D.P. (2001) Reduced Impact Logging: concepts and issues. In: FAO, Applying reduced impact logging to advance sustainable forest management. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/ac805e/ac805e04.htm#bm04

FSC. (2004). Stakeholder consultation of the FSC Centralized National Risk Assessment. Forest Stewardship Council.

Grace, J.M. III. (2002). Overview of Best Management Practices related to Forest Roads: The Southern States. ASAE Annual International Meeting / CIGR  XVth World Congress Presentation.

Hirakuri„ S.R. (2003). Can Law Save the Forest? Lessons from Finland and Brazil.  CIFOR, Jarkarta Indonesia.

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Finland. (2014). Forest Act (1093/1996; amendments up to 567/2014 included). Retrieved from: http://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/1996/en19961093.pdf

Munsell, J.F. (n.d.) What are Forestry Best Management Practices? SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry. Retrieved from: http://www.esf.edu/pubprog/forestmanage/

Pereira Jr, R., Zweede, J., Asner, G. P., & Keller, M. (2002). Forest canopy damage and recovery in reduced-impact and conventional selective logging in eastern Para, Brazil. Forest Ecology and Management168(1), 77-89.

ITTO. (n.d.) Reduced Impact Logging. Retrieved from: http://www.itto.int/feature15/

USDA Forest Service. (2002). National Best Management Practices for Water Quality Management on National Forest System Lands. Volume 1: National Core BMP Technical Guide.