Current practices and efficiency gaps in logging operations from European mountain forests
Timber production is an important ecosystem service of European mountain forests. This paper aimed to assess the current practices in logging operations and to identify the efficiency gaps in timber production. The study was located in seven case study areas from representative European mountain ranges, where 632 logging operations were analysed. The focus was on road infrastructure, transport systems, harvesting methods and extraction technologies. Often inappropriate technology was used in steep terrain; there was no correlation between the average slope and the selection of harvesting systems. Skidding was the most common extraction method (75%), while cable yarding and forwarding had shares of 15% and 8%. The mean road density was 18.5 m ha-1. The mean extraction distance was 501 m. The mean harvesting and extraction productivity were 9.0 m³ h-1 and 10.2 m³ h-1; the mean costs were 11.1 € m-³ and 11.7 € m-³, respectively. Non-mechanized and obsolete harvesting systems reported the lowest efficiency and the highest environmental footprint, while fully mechanized systems reported the highest efficiency, the lowest number of accidents and the lowest stand damage. Cable yarders are the appropriate extraction technology in steep terrain, but they require a well-developed road network. Higher mechanization degree, improved quality of the road networks, knowledge transfer to practice and training of forest workers are some of the necessary measures to overcome the efficiency gaps in timber production in European mountain forests.