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Forest Fires

30th of April, 2020

WWF-Russia Position on Forest Fires

Fires are one of the most significant threats to forests and their biological diversity. According to space survey data, over the past 20 years, on average, 10 million hectares of forests are burned in Russia annually, and in some years it is up to 18 million hectares (in 2019 – 16.5 million hectares). Every year, at least 3 million hectares of forests are completely destroyed due to fires, which is 3 times more than the area of forests used annually for logging. 

WWF-Russia draws attention to the fact that in addition to the threat to human life and direct economic losses, forest fires cause huge damage to biodiversity and habitats of valuable and rare species of animals and plants, many of which are concentrated in pristine, or so-called intact, forests. Forest fires also have a negative impact on climate change, increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere due to the loss of carbon stocked in biomass and soil.

Forest fires have a devastating impact on all elements of biodiversity. Fires kill many animals and plants, including rare, threatened, and endangered ones. However, even more devastating is the destruction of habitats, which can take hundreds of years to restore, and which threatens the survival of many species.

Anthropogenic fires are one of the main reasons for reducing the area of intact forests [1]. It is the fires caused by human fault that account for 60% of the total area of intact forest loss. Research [2][3] confirms that industrial logging, road and other infrastructure construction in intact forests lead to an increase in the number of fires. At the same time, Russia is one of the three world leaders in the speed and area of intact forest loss [4].

WWF-Russia believes that due to an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, including long periods of heat and drought, the risks of forest fires in Russia will increase [5], and insufficient funding for fire prevention and inefficient use of available budget funds will not allow to cope with this problem. Therefore, the number and area of forest fires will increase.

WWF-Russia advocates for:

  • complete exclusion of fire fr om the practice of environmental management and for the transition to alternative technologies;
  • extinguishing all forest fires that occur, regardless of their origin and location, but WWF recognizes that this goal is only achievable in the long term due to economic reasons.

In this regard, WWF-Russia considers it necessary to take a number of measures that will help improve the effectiveness of firefighting and prevent fire occurrence.

  • Introduce a complete ban on burning dry vegetation for any purpose, including prescribed burning and fire clearing of logging residues. Fire fr om grass fires or burning felling residues at logging sites often spreads to the forest. Currently permitted prescribed burning, which in practice does not differ fr om conventional arson, is the cause of a significant part of forest fires, especially in spring.
  • Significantly increase fines for arson and careless handling of fire, and improve the effectiveness of detecting such violations. Despite a large number of arson attacks, only isolated cases of bringing violators to justice are known. It is necessary to strengthen the work of the state bodies to identify violations and bring such cases to the collection of fines and damages, and to increase the fines themselves, since their current size does not encourage people to comply with the law.
  • Increase the existing amount of the government funding for forest fire suppression at least twice and ensure that appropriate use of allocated funds is monitored. Currently, the number of fire-fighting units and their equipment does not meet the standards, the salaries of forest firefighters remain very low, and the National Project "Ecology" does not have enough funds for the purchase of additional fire-fighting equipment.
  • Change the approach to allocating "forest fire control zones" (areas where you can decide NOT to put out fires). The current state of the fire-fighting forces is such that they cannot extinguish all fires that occur. Until this situation changes, the existence of "control zones" is justified. However, these zones now include industrial forests, large infrastructure facilities, and even settlements wh ere fires can cause significant damage. Therefore, it is necessary to exclude from the "control zones" any territories wh ere it is necessary and technically possible to extinguish fires.
  • Stop development of intact forests, and in general any support for the extensive model of forest management. The logging of intact forests and the construction of infrastructure in them lead to an increase in the frequency of fires, since their main source of fire is a man. Roads increase the effectiveness of fire suppression by providing access to equipment, but this advantage does not compensate for the significant increase in fire danger due to the very presence of the road. As a result, the combined damage from fires and logging leads to the rapid degradation of intact forests in the country.
  • Develop forestry on agricultural lands [6]. Forests on such lands occupy huge areas, but their maintenance is prohibited by the current legislation, which is why owners sometimes set fire to these forests. The possibility of forestry on agricultural lands encourages owners to protect them from fires.
  • Implement innovative and efficient methods to inform the public about the need for careful handling of fire. It is necessary to actively use modern efficient communication channels and formats to achieve the maximum audience coverage.
  • Create economic incentives for forest fund lessees to extinguish and prevent forest fires. Many timber companies voluntarily invest heavily in fire prevention and extinguishing and usually do not receive any compensation. For them, lease or tax payments should be reduced in proportion to the funds invested in forest protection. 
  • Perform an operational recalculation of the annual allowable cut, taking into account the area of forests affected by fires, in order to avoid their depletion. It is necessary to immediately reduce the volume of wood harvesting after determining the consequences of a fire (death or damage to forests), but not later than 3 years after the fire, and not once every 25 years during the next forest inventory, as is customary in practice at present.
  • Grant state forest inspectors, and hunting experts of hunting supervision services, and Protected Areas directorates the right to draw up reports for violation of fire safety rules in all natural territories. Provide their training in the rules for detecting and fixing violations of fire safety regulations.
  • Take measures to develop the voluntary fire-fighting movement, including providing fire-fighting equipment and training in fire-fighting techniques. Volunteers can significantly help state fire-fighting forces, especially during periods of high load and wh ere there is uncertainty with the authorities responsible for extinguishing fires (undistributed lands, agricultural lands, etc.). In addition, voluntary squads set a significant example of responsible behavior for the population.
  • Formulate an indicator of the National Project "Ecology", taking into account the provision of an annual reduction in the fires’ area. The indicators should not be linked to monetary damage from fires, but to the area covered by the fire. Now, if the investigative authorities are working poorly and the culprit is not found, the damage is reduced on paper; as a result, fire statistics does not reflect the real situation.
  • Develop and implement programs to restore natural forest and non-forest ecosystems that are more resistant to fire, including restoring mixed forests and flooding drained swamps. Reforestation in Russia is almost entirely focused on the reproduction of economically valuable forests intended for logging. However, in protective forests, it is necessary to focus on recreating natural forests that are more resistant to fire. It is also promising to create fire-fighting strips of more fire-resistant plantings, and in the case of non-forest territories to water drained swamps.
  • Create a mechanism for full disclosure of all information about forests obtained at public expense, including data on forest fires, in a format that is convenient for use and processing. In recent years, the amount of distorted or hidden information about fires and their damage has decreased significantly, but this problem has not yet been fully resolved. In addition, access to some of the fire data in government information systems is difficult or completely blocked.

WWF-Russia believes that the problem of forest fires in Russia requires a systematic solution, simultaneous adoption of appropriate measures at the federal and regional levels, as well as joint actions of authorities, business, environmental organizations and civil society.

In order to protect the most valuable forests and their biological diversity from forest fires WWF-Russia is and will continue to work in the priority eco-regions [7] in the following areas:

  1. preparation of proposals for the state authorities to improve the legal regulation in the field of forest fire protection. Thanks to WWF's work, the number of forest guards has been increased, and additional funds have been allocated for forest fire fighting equipment within the framework of the National Project "Ecology";
  2. introduction of innovative technologies for rapid monitoring and fire suppression, including distant monitoring, drones, mobile applications and fire surveillance systems using video cameras. The drones provided by WWF are already being used to clarify the position of the fire front and coordinate the work of fire-fighting groups. WWF also provides training in fire monitoring, extinguishing and prevention;
  3. involvement of responsible businesses in the implementation of joint projects to prevent fires. For example, logging ban agreements between WWF-Russia and timber companies for the protection of valuable forests include, among other things, the obligations of companies to protect these forests from fires;
  4. support for forest fire prevention activities and fire protection groups themselves, including local environmental movements that protect the most valuable forests from fire. So, by 2020, WWF has transferred a total of about 200 units of fire-fighting equipment to voluntary and state fire brigades working in priority eco-regions;
  5. development and implementation of measures for the conservation of intact forests and the development of forestry in industrial forests. Only over the past three years, due to WWF's involvement, 7.24 million hectares of intact forests were withdrawn from development.


[1]   Intact forest landscapes in Russia: current condition and losses over the last 13 years / Poster, A1. M.: WWF-Russia, 2015. https://wwf.ru/en/resources/publications/booklets/intact-forest-landscapes-in-russia-current-condition-and-losses-over-the-last-13-years/

[2] Vladimirova N., Krylov A., Milakovsky B., Purehovsky A. Influence of roads and logging on forest destruction from fires in the South of the Russian Far East // Sustainable forest management, no. 2 (50), 2017, pp. 5-9. https://wwf.ru/upload/iblock/36c/02.pdf

[3] E.Pavlichenko Influence of roads and logging on the fire situation in the forests of Siberia // Sustainable forest management, no. 2 (50), 2017, pp. 10-13. https://wwf.ru/upload/iblock/390/03.pdf

[5] The decrease in forest area is predicted due to the direct impact of weather anomalies, pests and diseases, but most of all – due to fires. According to the second assessment report of Roshydromet on climate change and its consequences in the territory of the Russian Federation, in the southern part of Siberia by the end of the XXI century, the fire season will be 20-50 days longer, which will significantly increase the number of fires. http://downloads.igce.ru/publications/OD_2_2014/v2014/pdf/resume_ob_eng.pdf

[6] Joint statement of WWF-Russia and Greenpeace "Call for a Clear Legal Status for Forests on Abandoned Agricultural Lands», https://wwf.ru/en/about/positions/lesa-rastushchie-na-zemlyakh-selskokhozyaystvennogo-naznacheniya/

[7]  Regions with the highest level of biodiversity and unique ecosystems that are home to endangered animal species. A map of these regions is available at https://wwf.ru/en/regions/