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Премия рунета 2017

Forests on Abandoned Agricultural Lands

Call for a Clear Legal Status for Forests on Abandoned Agricultural Lands

Joint statement, WWF-Russia and Greenpeace

Forests growing on abandoned agricultural lands are important in Russia in many respects. As a rule, they are located on productive lands in areas with the most favorable climate (these lands in the past were cleaned from forests for agricultural purposes); therefore, they are more suitable for intensive forest management than others. Most often, these forests are close to settlements, a relatively developed transport infrastructure, and in many cases directly border communities. Intensive forestry on these lands will create additional jobs and opportunities for social and economic development of rural areas. For many residents of villages and small towns such forests form a favorable environment. Most of these forests require special attention in terms of fire safety since the main source of fire in the forests is anthropogenic activity, and in the closest forests the risk of fires is the highest. However, the current Russian legislation does not recognize the right for these forests to exist. They are not mentioned in laws, so no one is responsible for their protection, including fire protection, and the landholders for the very existence of such forests on their lands can be subjected to large fines and forced seizure of land.

Forests growing on abandoned agricultural lands are important in Russia in many respects. As a rule, they are located on productive lands in areas with the most favorable climate (these lands in the past were cleaned from forests for agricultural purposes); therefore, they are more suitable for intensive forest management than others. Most often, these forests are close to settlements, a relatively developed transport infrastructure, and in many cases directly border communities. Intensive forestry on these lands will create additional jobs and opportunities for social and economic development of rural areas. For many residents of villages and small towns such forests form a favorable environment. Most of these forests require special attention in terms of fire safety since the main source of fire in the forests is anthropogenic activity, and in the closest forests the risk of fires is the highest. However, the current Russian legislation does not recognize the right for these forests to exist. They are not mentioned in laws, so no one is responsible for their protection, including fire protection, and the landholders for the very existence of such forests on their lands can be subjected to large fines and forced seizure of land.

The area of such forests is very large, and in total make up about one hundred million hectares, or about 10% of all forests in Russia. At the same time, such forests account for up to 25% of the total wood growth in forests suitable for intensive forestry.

On September 1, 2013, the President of the Russian Federation instructed the Government of the Russian Federation to ensure amendments to the legislation providing use, protection and regeneration of forests located on agricultural land and other lands not related to forest lands (Order PR-2039, item 1.b) and set a deadline of 1 January, 2014. To date, this instruction has not been implemented.

On July 20, 2018, the Government of the Russian Federation instructed the Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia to submit proposals to amend the legislation by October 10, 2018, providing for a simplified procedure for transferring agricultural lands covered with forest vegetation to forest lands, the further use of which is impractical for agriculture (Resolution no.DM-P9-31pr). The information on the implementation of this order is not yet available in open sources.

As of December 2018, the problem of forests on abandoned agricultural lands remains unresolved, there is no clear legal status for these forests, there is no possibility to legally maintain productive forestry in them; and no protection from fires, pests, diseases and illegal logging is provided by the legislation.

In this regard, we consider it necessary:

1. To amend the current legislation establishing the legal status of forests on agricultural lands (on use, protection and regeneration of these forests), and allowing to use abandoned fields for forest management, including forest farming and forest plantations.

2. Develop and approve a simplified order of transferring the lands to the lands of forest fund, but to apply it only if such sites do not have any legal owners.

We consider unacceptable the substitution of the execution of the presidential order (dated September 1, 2013 PR-2039, item 1.b) with just the development of a simplified procedure for the transfer of these forests into the lands of the forest fund. Even the simplest procedure for such transfer in most cases will inevitably require complex and expensive steps related to cadastral registration of forest-covered areas and change of ownership. If the transfer to the lands of the forest fund remains the only way to clarify the legal status of forests on agricultural land, the solution to the problem of these forests may last for decades.

Nikolay Shmatkov, Forest Program Director, WWF-Russia
Alexey Yaroshenko, Head of Forest Department, OMNNO Greenpeace Council
December 10, 2018.