Jump to Navigation

A note by the Editor of ForestIndustries.EU: We wrote this article a long time ago. Many significant events happened since then and a huge amount of new knowledge has been collected by the global community:

March 2013: Biodiversity in Logged Forests Far Higher Than Once Believed by Fred Pearce:- New research shows that scientists have significantly overestimated the damage that logging in tropical forests has done to biodiversity, a finding that could change the way conservationists think about how best to preserve species in areas disturbed by humans.

September 2013: Heavily logged forests still valuable for tropical wildlife - New research has found rainforests that have been logged several times continue to hold substantial value for biodiversity and could have a role in conservation.

There was a book published back in 2003 and written by David W. Pearce, Francis E. Putz and Jerome K. Vanclay titled with “Sustainable forestry in the tropics : panacea or folly?”. It’s an interesting book coming up with some very clever ideas long before the PLUS-part of REDD has been born. But the thorough reader of my article has still recognized the small but important difference between the heading of this blog article and the title of these three gentlemen book: they are talking about ‘sustainable forestry’ while I am going to talk about ‘sustainable forest management’.

Reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation

I am intending to do so because combating deforestation and forest degradation by pushing the PLUS Part of REDD (REDD+) is also committed to sustainable forest management (besides conservation and carbon enrichment) and because I think it is time to do away with various ridiculous tries in titling some obscure isolated logging and/or silvicultural practices as sustainable forest management (SFM).

When getting into contact with various sustainable forest management systems for tropical rainforests as a young forester I started to wonder about the ‘fatuity’ of these approaches. Later on I begun to understand the underlying core problems of all those tropical SFM systems and revised my opinion. In most of the cases it wasn’t ‘fatuity’ but it was a question of balancing interest and opportunities. Anyhow - some cases still can be named to be ‘fatuity’.

Hollistic approach

When I was introduced to sustainable forest management some 35 years ago I was taught to think about a holistic approach. Of course, all of us who are involved in any kind of forestry are used to think all-encompassing. However, any ‘holistic approach’ depends on the perspective of the beholder. The perspective in turn is influenced by the distance of the beholder to the entity. The perspective makes the difference. Therefore we differ between two types of sustainable forest management systems:

  • the core, purely forests related sustainable forest management system and
  • the extended national sustainable forest management system

While the first one is closely bound to the management of specific forest units no matter of their size, the latter one is related to all forests under the treatment of national sovereignty. Both systems have to been seen as interacting components – with lots of interrelationships and interdependencies. Nevertheless latter one can’t exist without the former and vice versa. Now you can see why combating deforestation and forest degradation is so closely related to a countries legacy and policy framework and reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+) is addressing governance.

Allegory with tree

When explaining objectives, subject matter and extend of sustainable forest management I prefer to use the allegory of a student who is trying to explore the secrets of the life of a tree. Intentionally this student will start in little, will work through all the relevant parts of a tree till he gets an idea on how trees manage their life. So he might start with an optical microscope to explore the cell live of the leaves or needles of the tree – by applying short distance, small angle and getting small perspective.

Selective logging and reduced impact logging

Let us do the same with our ‘holistic approach’ in sustainable forest management. There is for instance the system of ‘reduced impact logging (RIL)’. Reduced impact logging is quite often mentioned in reports about deforestation or REDD+. When starting to explore this practice you will find a lot of different definitions but in general RIL is related to logging procedures. No matter how people are naming it: reduced-, low- or no impact logging, all these systems describe the procedures necessary for specific, selective, planed, controlled and monitored logging activities. Means that is selection, cutting and extraction of trees. No more, no less. And you will find a lot of references calling reduced impact logging a sustainable forest management system. However, RIL includes much more than other selective cutting systems like the TPI  (Tebang Pilih  lndonesia  or Indonesian  Selective  Cutting  System) or the Periodic Block System (Trinidad  and Tobago). Both systems apply selective cutting in contrast to clear cutting systems. The difference between reduced impact logging systems and pure selective cutting systems is seen to be the way on how trees are selected, felled and transported. Reduced impact logging is applying harvesting rules like tee selection after having explored the wood lot. RIL is planning extraction lines prior to any felling activity and it is planning the felling direction of every single tree in consideration of the previously fixed extraction lines.  All this is mostly not realized when applying selective cutting systems. But do you think that a system which is just taking care of selection, felling and extraction of trees on a very, very small scale can be called a sustainable forest management system? We are in the opinion that logging is an important but a very small part of forestry and forest management in general. But a sustainable forest management system must consider a much broader perspective.

Just like our student. When he has learned a lot about photosynthesis, stoma, transpiration and the production of carbs he still misses a lot. Therefore he decided to take one step back and to start to examine all different parts of a tree (roots, stem, bark, …).

Rudimentary sustainable forest management systems for the tropics

We do as well. There must be more than just logging of trees when doing forestry. We take a step back and immediately some new ‘sustainable forest management systems’ will turn up. There are e.g. the Malaysian Uniform System, the TPTI  (Tebang  Pilih  Tanam lndonesia  or  Indonesian  Selective  Cutting  and  Planting  System) or the CELOS Management system (Guyana shield). All of these systems extend the previously described pure logging systems by implementing silviculture practices and the concept felling cycles. Re-vegetation, forest stand treatment and some inchoate felling cycle planning practices are substantial parts of these systems. While considering silviculture practices in addition to logging practices and applying the concept of felling cycle planning is a critical step in the right direction these systems fall short of considering two forests specific features. However, from the perspective of a central European forester, these systems can be seen as an important pre-stage to a holistic sustainable forest management system.

The same befalls our student. Once he has understood how a tree manages its life by recognizing the specific duties of roots, leaves, trunks of the stem and the bark he is still missing a lot of valid information. For instance he needs to know the functionality of all those parts of the tree in context of time scales (what happens at day, at night, at different seasons,…) and how a tree manages its life when interacting with other trees within a forest.

Forests specialities: spatial phenomena and long term time scales

When taking the next step back in considering sustainable forest management systems we have to recognize two distinctive features of forests: period of time for regeneration and regrowth and their spatial extend. Particular attention must be paid to these two features. Only when these two specialties are fully addressed by a forest management system we are used to talk about sustainable forest management.

No sustainable approach without definition of objectives

Definition of objectives, aims and targets are the starting points of any activity for implementation of a sustainable forest management system. This is as integrative parts of forest management planning. Besides fixing of targets it is necessary to carry out recurring comprehensive inventory procedures. Inventory must embrace the biological/ecological assets of the forests as well as the social components of the forest environment. Forest stand inventory for instance must include besides obligatory quantity measures also qualitative information. Qualitative information is necessary for clustering of forest sites into biological units. Site parameters, biodiversity measures and biological reproduction potentials are part of a quantitative inventory. Forest stock, increment and carbon storage are examples of quantitative inventory subject matter.

Inventory and comprehensive planning in the forefront are key

Comprehensive inventory of forests is necessary for the obligatory planning component. This component is named forest management planning, merges objectives with inventory information and produces spatial plans, schedules, infrastructure plans, conservation plans, watershed management plans, hazard risk plans, production plans, border and land tenure cadastral plans and so forth. In terms of schedules, forest management planning will produce long-, medium and short term plans of any unit of scale. Spatial planning will include land tenure, identification and in-field marking of conservation and production units as well as time scale plans for any type of unit.
Infrastructure planning as part of forest management planning takes care of the development of a proper transport network (roads, waterways …). Access to forests, regardless of the fact if forests are under conservation or under economic treatment, is a valid part of any sustainable forest management system. Without access to forests it is not possible to realize a sustainable utilization neither is it possible to ensure proper protection of conservation units. From our point of view, comprehensive forest inventory and forest management planning is a must and form core parts of every sustainable forest management system.

Proper forest administration is key as well

Existence of a proper forest administration body is the next crucial part of a sustainable forest management system. Highly skilled managers, well trained staff and well paid foresters (poorly paid foresters are in some regions of this world the main source of illegal activities like illegal logging) as well as flat organizational structures are key to any SFM system. Administration staff is responsible for on-site supervision, controlling and monitoring of any activity in the forests and acts as a partner to local people. There is quite more than just those things mentioned here –  however, the importance of the people factor within a sustainable forest management system is cruical.

Where are sustainable forest management systems for the tropics up and running?

Our broadened perspective on the objectives of a core sustainable forest management system points out the real mess of currently applied forest management systems in the tropics. Quite sophisticated systems are in place for temperate forests in central Europe, but there are very few in the tropics. Iwokrama Forests in Guyana for instance are applying a sustainable forest management system, but this is the only evidence I am aware of.

If you personally know another one – just send me a notice – I will publish all information we will get from our readers…

Now the things are goint real big and complex

Back to our student – once he has understood how a tree manages its life and how all those interactions between tree and site are influencing the growth of the tree, he might still be interested in understanding the whole ecosystem the tree is a part from. So he has to do the final but big step back –the tree shrinks to a small piece of the whole – and he will see that he stand just at the beginning of his learning.

National legal framework form part of any sustainable forest management system

The whole is more than just a sum of its individual pieces – this is true for our student, but it is true for any sustainable forest management system as well. We make our last step back and observe our sustainable forest management system from a national perspective. As mentioned at the beginning of my article, any core sustainable forest management is embedded into the framework of national legal, cultural and social environment. You might have wondered why I am not seeing indigenous people, local communities or any other type of people living in or at forests as part of the previously described core sustainable forest management system. This is because I only see them as part of the greater management system – they form part of the extended national sustainable forest management system which has to be established at state level.

Rural people must form integrated part of any national SFM system

It is clear responsibility of the state to establish and maintain the basic framework in which a core sustainable forest management system can exist successfully interact. You can study this for instance in central Europe (Austria, Germany and Switzerland). A policy and legal framework which supports existing SFM systems but also enforces the establishment of core sustainable forest management systems must exist on national level. Furthermore, state has to establish appropriate authority structures which are able to deal with the spatial phenomena of forests and do have the power to execute legal constraints. The integration of rural people living in or at forests, natural hazard protection, safe-guarding of ecosystem services and overall land use planning in consideration of conservation needs are duties of the state and will have deep impact to any sustainable forest management system. This is why I am used to differ two sustainable forest management systems.

Of course, end of days, once the various core SFM systems are well integrated with states framework, outsiders will just recognize one generic sustainable forest management system.

REDD+ and sustainable forest management

A final word about reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+). This interesting climate change mitigation program includes sustainable forest management. As you might know, REDD+ is designed to be implemented in a classical top down approach. It starts at governmental level and works down the chain. This makes very much sense in case of implementing sustainable forest management systems. And of course in taking care of the leakage problem.

Hope I could shed some light to these topics – and please – don’t hesitate to contact us in case of looking for some support in implementing a sustainable forest management system…

A last word about REDD+ and Sustainable Forest Management from WWF President Yolanda Kakabadse (18th August, 2010):

KM: So what do you think of REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation)?

YK: REDD needs time to evolve. It's too early to say how successful it will be in stopping or reducing deforestation. I believe that it will work in the short or medium term, but in a few years time, if local capacity has not been built, forest communities might not be satisfied with this modality. Therefore, REDD must ensure that local communities start to build alternative forms of economic development, without threatening native forests - payment for environmental services will not be enough.


Quite outdated and a little bit off-topic but interesting to read anyway:

Financial Costs and Benefits of Reduced-Impact Logging Relative to
Conventional Logging in the Eastern Amazon



Sustainable forest management in the tropics – panacea of folly?


Blog | by Dr. Radut