163 THOUSANDS OF RUSSIANS ASKED THE PRESIDENT TO SAVE SPAWNING FOREST ZONES
On June 26, 2019, representatives of WWF-Russia and Greenpeace Russia handed over to the presidential administration 163,098 signatures of citizens concerned about the fate of forests and rivers. On July 1, amendments to the Forest Code of the Russian Federation will come into force, which will deprive forests along spawning water bodies of their protective status.
"Unfortunately, the draft law, developed in pursuance of the President's Instructions, not only fails to strengthen the protection of forests along rivers, but puts them at risk of destruction. The entry into force of the Law will have irreversible consequences: reduction in the populations of wild animals inhabiting river bank forests and particularly valuable species of fish, including salmon, the spawning grounds of which those forests protect. Logging in the spawning river zones has a negative impact on people,” says WWF-Russia’s coordinator of HCVs projects Konstantin Kobyakov. – “It will affect some amateur fishermen, representatives of the fishing business and ordinary buyers who will have to pay more for the usual products. Together with Greenpeace Russia, we have repeatedly appealed to the authorities to amend the new law, but so far, we have found support only from the Russian citizens. We thank everyone who has contributed, because we can save nature only by joining forces."
Spawning forest zones protect water bodies from soil washing-off into the water, excessive spring flooding, shallowing of rivers in summer, and siltation of spawning grounds.
"The fact that almost two hundred thousand citizens of Russia signed an appeal to the President, says that people care about the fate of the forests,” said Alexey Yaroshenko, head of the Forest Department of Greenpeace Russia. – “The Russians do not consider it right to sacrifice the forest future of our country for the sake of a quick and relatively small profit from the logging of spawning forest zones. It means that it is time for the legislators to change their attitude to the forest: to consider it not as a source of logs, but as the basis of a favorable environment in our country. Of course, people need wood as well, but it should not be logged in intact forests, but be grown in the long cultivated and highly converted lands. With properly organized forestry in our country, you can grow several times more wood than now, without destroying the remnants of HCVs and intact forests."
Forests, a significant part of which has never been logged, will lose their protected status in a few days and, starting from July 1st, can be logged legally. In many regions, it is almost the only category of forests that protects the remains of wildlife outside protected areas.
"Spawning forest zones are important not only for valuable fish species, but also for many rare, threatened, and endangered animals listed in the Red Data Book. For example, the conservation of such forests in the South of the Russian Far East is critical for the survival of the fish owl, one of the largest owls. It is in the forests along spawning rivers that osprey and white-tailed eagles mainly nest. Logging in spawning forest zones will lead to the destruction of their habitat, which means a significant reduction in their number. We must not allow that to happen," insists Mikhail Kreindlin, an expert on protected areas of Greenpeace Russia.
Under the new law, the width of protected forest zones along spawning ponds is reduced from 1,000 meters (in some cases 3,000 meters and 500 meters) to 50-200 meters. As a result, the total area of the spawning forest zones will be reduced by at least 5 times, which will endanger the spawning grounds of Pacific salmon, Atlantic salmon, sturgeon, whitefish, and other valuable fish species.
"The soil structure of the bottom of a water reservoir is extremely important for fish spawning. Its change as a result of sand washing-off, inevitable when forests are logged around, will lead to the disappearance of spawning grounds. The annual reproduction of fish stocks is critical to fisheries as it is often the main source of food and income for the local communities. It is very disappointing to sacrifice the interests of the people for one-time benefits for the forest industry,” says Head of WWF-Russia’s Sustainable Marine Fisheries Program Myron Borgulev. – “It is impossible to cancel the entry into force of the law, and the previous appeals of the environmental organizations were ignored by the authorities. Nevertheless, there is still a chance to preserve a significant part of the natural areas."
The most important spawning rivers are only still preserved due to spawning forest zones designated in 1958 as a separate category of protected areas, as well as significant areas of biologically valuable forests along them, and much of farming and hunting acreage of importance for the local communities of the taiga regions, often located along the rivers, in particular.
"Of course, the adoption of a law allowing the development of forest along river banks will have a detrimental impact on Indigenous peoples and local communities. The basis of their life is the connection with nature, and the main activities are hunting, fishing, and natural crafts. Logging of forests along spawning rivers will deprive Indigenous peoples of their power source and lead to devastating floods and droughts. Already now, widespread deforestation near spawning zones undermines the safety of water bodies. And from July 1st, the scale of the disaster will be simply enormous. It is painful to see that the federal laws are passed without addressing risks for people and nature. Such initiatives of the legislators must be monitored," says Rodion Sulyandziga, a representative of the Indigenous people of the Udege, Director of the Russian Indigenous Training Center and Chairman of the Board of the Center for Assistance to Indigenous Peoples of the North.
The Federal Agency for Fishery (Rosrybolovstvo), concerned about the threat to spawning forest zones, began work on alternative legal mechanisms of its protection. The Ministry plans to set up regional working groups to define the boundaries of the fish conservation protected areas, created instead of spawning forest zones. WWF-Russia offered its expert assistance.
The adoption of all procedures for all spawning rivers in Russia will take about a year. In order to protect forests during this transition period and to prevent their destruction, it is necessary to impose a moratorium on logging in spawning forest areas until the establishment of fishery conservation areas in their place is completed.
"The reduction of spawning forest zones will undermine the population of wild salmon, which is an extremely important component of the entire ecosystem of the Amur basin, part of the traditional way of life of the Indigenous peoples, and a strategic resource of the Russian Far East. In the South of the Russian Far East, these forests not only protect water resources. Lowland forest is an important element of the econet, their loss is detrimental to many species," explains Olga Cheblukova, a coordinator of projects on protected areas of the Amur branch of WWF-Russia, a coordinator of the Year of Salmon in the Amur Ecoregion.
* Federal Law No. 538-FZ of 27 December 2018 "On Amendments to the Forest Code of the Russian Federation and Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation to Improve Legal Regulation of Acts on Conservation of Forests on Lands of the Forest Fund and Lands of other Categories", signed by the President of the Russian Federation on 27.12.2018, directly contradicts his own Order (No. PR-1037 of 7.05.2013), pursuant to which it was developed.