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

07 december 2018
WWF-Russia and Greenpeace call to establishing the legal status of forests on agricultural lands.

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, therefore, they are more suitable for intensive forest management than others. 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.

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.

The lack of legal capacity to conduct proper forestry in these forests is one of the most important obstacles to the social and economic development of rural areas, especially in the European Russia. Threats of fines and seizure of agricultural land due to the presence of forests - which cannot legally exist - forces the owners to destroy these forests, often using fire as an easy and cheap way to go, fires then escape into natural forests. 

(c) Anastasia Gulbe

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 - fines up to 700k RUB, and forced seizure of land”, says Alexey Yaroshenko, Head of Forest Department, OMNNO Greenpeace Council.

Abandoned lands with no trees and fires significantly reduce the ability of natural areas to absorb carbon dioxide and stock carbon. Due to the lack of the legal status of the forests growing on agricultural land, our country is losing one of the most important resources for rural development, for improving the quality of the environment, and countering anthropogenic climate change. The promising areas of rural development, such as forest farming and agroforestry are blocked due to the lack of legal capacity to use forests on agricultural land.

Most often, these forests are close to settlements, a relatively developed transport infrastructure, and in many cases directly border communities. For many residents of rural settlements and small towns such forests form a favorable environment. Intensive forestry on these lands will create additional jobs and opportunities for social and economic development of rural areas, as well as decrease the impact on intact forests landscapes that we have to conserve for future generations”, says Nikolay Shmatkov, WWF-Russia Forest Program Director.

Five years ago, 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.

In this regard, WWF-Russia and Greenpeace 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.

WWF-Russia and Greenpeace official joint statement will be sent to the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and to the Government of the Russian Federation.

Preview and headline photos: (c) Anastasia Gulbe

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