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RIL and Certification


Reduced Impact Logging and Sustainable Forest Management

The connection between the implementation of Reduced Impact Logging (RIL) strategies and the achievement of SFM is quite straightforward. It starts with the recognition that under most tropical forest jurisdictions, the regulatory and/or enforcement capabilities have been inadequate in ensuring that forests are left in a good enough condition to ensure the maintenance of all forest values.

In Indonesia, natural forests are managed under a 35 year cutting cycle. Harvesting is regulated using a minimum diameter limit of 50 centimeters (60 centimeters for steeper areas).  

It is assumed that each hectare will have at least 25 trees between the diameters of 20 – 49 centimeters prior to felling and it is further assumed that sufficient numbers of these trees will be retained to form the next cutting cycle of equal or greater volume. Assumptions on growth rate are reasonable and expressed in terms of an anticipated annual increment of one cubic meter per hectare per year as well as an anticipated increment of one centimeter to the diameters of trees in the 20-49 centimeter range.

Most researchers agree that these are reasonable and safe assumptions, which can guarantee sustainable production of equal or better volumes during subsequent cutting cycles. However, there is one additional assumption and that is that the forest is left in a good enough condition to ensure an equal harvest by the time of the next cutting cycle.

In the regulatory framework of the Indonesian silvicultural system, there is no clear and enforceable criteria which adequately defines the level of “acceptable” impact. It could well be argued that regulations of this nature are almost impossible to formulate and even more difficult to enforce.

The failure of the Indonesian silvicultural system, indeed, the failure of the Saba or Sarawak systems to ensure that the forests are left in a condition where they can fully recover within the target rotation cycle, lies not in the lack of regulations, but rather in the failure to enforce existing regulations.

This is where RIL enters the picture. As the realization that existing forest administration systems have failed to deliver on the promise of physical sustainability of the productive functions of the forest, foresters began to explore the reasons why, and to define the corrective actions needed to get back on the “sustainability” track, hence, the development of a concept which we now refer to as “Reduced Impact Logging”.

The contribution of RIL to the achievement of sustainable forest management is primarily focused on the achievement of sustainability of the productive functions of the forest. Most commonly this is seen as the maintenance of age class distributions, natural species mix, and minimization of impact on a number of physical attributes of the forest.

However, RIL’s contribution goes well beyond the achievement of the purely productive commercial functions of the forest. Environmental standards are essential for good planning. Such standards must address the maintenance of hydrological function and water quality by such measures as restricting machine movements in riparian zones and establishing stream buffer zones. This implicitly deals with the issue of erosion.

Steep slopes are another contentious issue and need to be addressed in an RIL system. Proper planning is the cornerstone of an RIL system. Environmental issues as well as productivity concerns are addressed at the planning stage and then incorporated into all aspects of the production activities.

The result is forest planning and operational activities, which take into account environmental concerns while at the same time seeking to improve the efficiency of the productive functions.

While a properly implemented RIL system can ensure that the silvicultural and production objectives of sustainable forest management are met, RIL does not guarantee sustainable forest management as defined under a forest certification system. In this context, sustainable forest management takes on a much broader meaning that embraces concepts such as social equity, maintenance of biodiversity, etc. As an introduction to the topic of RIL and certification, it could be stated that certification is not possible without the adoption of RIL but RIL adoption alone does not guarantee the achievement of certification.

Reduced Impact Logging and Forest Certification

The FSC principles and criteria set out a basic framework against which any forest management unit can be evaluated. The nine FSC principles and the accompanying 47 criteria pertaining to natural forest management, are a generic guide and, as such, can present interpretation problems for forest managers who’s perceptions are more attuned to the practicalities of day-to-day operations. Even though Regional clarifications and guidelines for these criteria have in many cases, been developed by accredited certifiers, the challenge for the forest manager remains one of understanding what changes need to be made in planning and operational activities to satisfy the FSC criteria.

Reduced impact logging is not specifically mentioned in the FSC guidelines or criteria although it is acknowledged as a necessity for forest certification by certifiers who operate in the polycyclical management regimes commonly applied to forest harvesting in the humid tropics.

The role of RIL in achieving compliance with the FSC principles and criteria is generally poorly understood and warrants clarification. How much and where an RIL activity potentially contributes to FSC certification, depends to a certain extent on what is included in the activity definition of RIL.

There are a number of areas where RIL interfaces with the FSC principles and criteria. These interactions are widely acknowledged by FSC and LEI certifiers working within the Indonesian context and are frequently referred to in certification scopings and assessments of forest management units.  

RIL has very strong relevance for this principle. This applicability is probably best detailed in the context of the individual criteria.

Criteria 5.1 Forest management should strive toward economic viability, while taking into account the full environmental, social, and operational costs of production, and, ensuring the investments necessary to maintain the ecological productivity of the forest.

There is a significant contribution which RIL can make to this criterion. Many of the RIL studies and demonstrations carried out to date, show significant financial and economic benefits can be expected through improvements in production efficiencies and better recovery of felled trees by applying systematic planning and improved supervision as required under a RIL system.

Criteria 5.3 Forest management should minimize waste associated with harvesting and on-site processing operations and avoid damage to other forest resources.

RIL emphasizes the development of falling and bucking guidelines and the adoption of a comprehensive system of standard operating procedures (SOPs). This is in recognition that utilization of felled trees under a conventional, relatively unplanned operation, results in very high inefficiencies in bucking utilization and in a high incidence of felled trees “forgotten” during the skidding operation.

Very few studies have actually looked at felling and bucking utilization, however, the few which have been carried out, have found common ground in the quantification of a potential for 20-30% improvements in high-quality wood recovery from the felled trees achievable through improvements in bucking standards and supervision. A thorough discussion of issues concerning the minimization of high quality logging waste has been presented in a paper titled, “Reduced Impact Logging: A Cost Effective Way to Reduce Utilization Waste in the Natural Forest Management Unit”.

The role of RIL in reducing damage to soils, residual stems, regeneration, and forest streams, is much better studied and documented. It would be safe to say that no researcher has failed to find a significant correlation between the adoption of a RIL system and major reduction in impacts for all or most of the common parameters used to evaluate forest harvesting impact. A significant body of research related to the benefits of RIL has now been published as the proceedings of an “International Conference on the Application of RIL to Advance Sustainable Forest Management, held in Kuching, Sarawak, from 26th February to 1 March, 2001.

Criteria 5.5 Forest management operators shall recognize, maintain, and, where appropriate, enhance the value of forest services and resources such as watersheds and fisheries.

One of the biggest environmental (and social impacts) of harvesting in an uncontrolled manner, is the impact on the forest hydrology. Heavy sedimentation of streams and rivers are common sights throughout many of the logging concessions in Indonesia and Malaysia. Such sedimentation, apart from being a clear indicator of productive soil loss, also has a profound effect on stream ecology resulting in sharp declines in fish populations and degradation of domestic water supplies.

Concession managers are becoming increasing aware of this issue as local communities in or downstream from their concessions, are becoming increasing vocal in their objection to industrial harvesting upstream of their water supply and on the detrimental effect this activity is having on the availability of fish.

Through the use of detailed and appropriately scaled maps and the incorporation of guidelines related to the treatment of riparian zones, steep slopes, and by deactivating skid trails, a comprehensive RIL strategy can result in logging which significantly reduces or eliminates the degradation of forest streams.


As with the previous Principle, RIL has very strong applicability for issues concerned with Environmental Impact.

Criteria 6.1 Assessment of environmental impacts shall be completed – appropriate to the scale, intensity of forest management and the uniqueness of the affected resources – and adequately integrated into management systems. Assessments shall include landscape level considerations as well as the impacts of on-site processing facilities. Environmental impacts shall be assessed prior to commencement of site-disturbing operations.

Although much of the emphasis of this criteria is focused on the landscape, it also has clear applicability to activities such as road construction and logging.

One of the requirements under an RIL system is the need for monitoring and evaluation. This requirement is widely acknowledged as being necessary to ensure successful implementation of RIL by providing Management with immediate feed-back and by providing a process for recommending mitigating measures. There is no one, simple methodology that could be applied to the adoption of a monitoring and evaluation function. What is clear, however, is that the methodology should be appropriate to the operation in terms of evaluating the key indicators of impact and in providing feed-back in a way that can be easily interpreted and acted on.

The monitoring and evaluation function should result in a simple block report with an attached map. This information could form part of the block dossier, which would be available for audit review such as that undertaken by a certification assessment. Information on logging history, including a monitoring and evaluation block report, could become a very powerful indicator that the forest manager is aware of and is effectively addressing issues related to logging impact and sustainable forest management.

Criteria 6.2 Safeguards shall exist which protect rare, threatened and endangered species and their habitats (eg. Nesting and feeding areas). Conservation zones and protection areas shall be established, appropriate to the scale and intensity of forest management and the uniqueness of the affected resources.

This criteria is often interpreted in the context of broad-based safeguards, but it is easy to incorporate many of these safeguards into a comprehensive RIL system. The 100% inventory under an RIL system, should capture more information than just tree data. With very little additional effort, tees of special value to cavity dwellers or fruit producing trees can be identified, recorded, and mapped. Planning and operational guidelines which are necessary under an RIL system, will subsequently give guidance to the management activities as they pertain to the preservation of such ecological values. The operational inventory can also be used as a baseline information gathering tool for information related to biodiversity issues.

Criteria 6.3 Ecological functions and values shall be maintained intact, enhanced, or restored, including: (a) forest regeneration and succession, (b) Genetic, species, and ecosystem diversity, (c) Natural cycles that affect the productivity of the forest ecosystem

This criteria relates most strongly to the need to minimize site disturbance and damage to forest regeneration, a key issue in an RIL system. This criteria is, therefore, influenced by the adoption of RIL practices which seek to minimize such disturbances through proper planning and operational control. As in previous discussions, research and demonstration have clearly demonstrated the improvements that an RIL system can bring to the reduction of site disturbance. Such disturbance is frequently quantified by the number of square meters of skid trail per hectare which is a parameter easy to measure and evaluate.

Criteria 6.5 Written guidelines shall be prepared and implemented to: control erosion; minimize forest damage during harvesting, road construction, and all other mechanical disturbances; and , protect water resources.

This relates directly to another fundamental aspect of RIL, namely the need for detailed guidelines, often referred to as a set of Standard Operating Procedures(SOP) in which scope and objectives of the various activities are clearly stated and their implementation instructions are described in a “how-to-do” format. TFF is in the process of developing such a SOP system for RIL and expects to publish the results in the form of a booklet during the next year.

Criteria # 7.1 The management plan and supporting documents shall provide: a) . . . . h) Maps describing the forest resource base including protected areas, planned management activities and land ownership. i) . . . .

In RIL, one activity stands out as having particular relevance to this principle and that is the creation and use of maps.

Mapping of tree positions is the only mapping requirement under the Indonesian TPTI - Tebang Pilih Tanaman Indonesia (Indonesian Selective Cutting and Planting Silvicultural System) silvicultural and administrative system. However, in the undulating to hummocky terrain which is typical of much of Sumatra and Kalimantan, topography usually plays a more important role in logging planning than tree positions. RIL prescriptions, therefore, call for the creation of contour maps which, when combined with tree positions and planimetric detail, provide an extremely powerful planning tool which permits optimization of road and skid trail planning and, the planning for minimal stream crossings, avoiding steep slopes and, generally integrating operational and environmental constraints into the planning process.

The same maps can also be used by the production personnel to guide and control harvesting activities. Finally, these maps can also be the basis for post-harvesting evaluation and can be used to create a permanent record of management activities on a block by block basis.


The relevance of RIL to Principle 8, relates primarily to the emphasis which RIL places on accurate tree identification and mapping. This is the first step in a chain-of-custody system without which, the benefits of a certified management unit cannot be transferred to the final product and the market place.

Various tree marking systems have been developed but the most common one is probably the 3-part, ‘tear-off’, plastic tag which provides a means for the original tree number from the forest inventory, to be kept with the tree during skidding while at the same time retaining the identification of the tree stump.

Mapping of tree positions is a time-consuming activity probably only possible in a low labor cost environment such as those found in Indonesia. Tree positions are recorded on tally sheets during systematic surveys of the forest and either recorded graphically on a note sheet or, recorded in relationship to a sampling grid using an “x” and “y” coordinate system. Processing options vary from manual plotting to a sophisticated integration of various computer software systems.

Similarly, RIL places emphasis on reliable tracking systems and records and is therefore, in full support of chain-of-custody certification.

These represent the main connections between and RIL system and forest certification, although numerous other connections can be made within the overall Principles and Criteria which make up a forest certification system.