Environmental NGOs demand to clarify the legal status of forests on agricultural land
WWF-Russia, Greenpeace, and FSC Russia are concerned about the fate of forests growing on agricultural lands, which, according to various estimates, occupy at least 60 million hectares. This is more than 7% of all forests in Russia. Usually these forests are located on lands that are not suitable for agriculture, but with the most favorable conditions for growing forests. These areas, especially in the non-blackearth zone, are suitable for sustainable intensive forestry.
According to the experts, these forests account for 25-30% of the total growth of wood in forests suitable for intensive forestry. However, the management of forestry on agricultural lands is counteracted by gaps in the current legislation. Now there is no clear legal status of these forests, there is no opportunity to legally conduct productive forestry in them, and the legislation does not provide for their protection fr om fires, pests, diseases and forest damage.
"In the long term, the effective use of forested agricultural lands for forestry can provide an annual volume of timber exceeding the current level of logging, and contribute to the creation of new jobs in rural areas of the country. Moreover, reforestation on these lands will help reduce the burden on still undeveloped intact forests, wh ere many species of rare plants and animals live", says Andrey Shchegolev, WWF-Russia’s Forest Program Director.
In early December 2018, WWF-Russia and Greenpeace already sent a joint position on this issue and an official appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Government of the Russian Federation. At the end of December 2018 within execution of the instruction of the President No. PR-2039, item 1.b, article 123 appeared in the Forest Code, creating a legal opportunity for the subsequent competent management and use of forests on agricultural lands.
Article 123 of the Forest Code came into force on July 1, 2019. However, some other existing regulations still contradict it. Moreover, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation developed a draft decree "On approval of peculiarities of use, protection, and reproduction of forests on agricultural lands", which was supposed to establish the rules of forest use on the agricultural lands, actually proposes to maintain the previously existing situation when the owner of agricultural land either is forced to destroy the forest, or to transfer land to the Forest Fund, i.e. state property.
WWF-Russia, Greenpeace, and FSC Russia consider the adoption of the draft developed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation in the current version unacceptable. Therefore, the environmental organizations again officially appealed to the Government, proposing a number of measures to adjust the legislation to solve the problem of forests on agricultural lands.
"The current legal status leads to the situation when land plots related to agricultural lands and overgrown with forest are practically not used for productive forest growth or for agriculture. The threat of seizure of land plots and fines motivates owners to destroy such forests, for instance by burning them. As a result, fires often move to neighboring territories, and this is one of the main causes of annual forest fire disasters," says Alexey Yaroshenko, Head of the Forest Department of Greenpeace.
"Many owners of agricultural lands in Russia are in a stalemate and are forced to either give up ownership of land, or destroy the grown forest, for example through arson. At the same time, forest farming and plantation reforestation have already proven to be effective in many countries of the world, including the United States, China and India. Private forestry would solve many problems of the forest sector of our country and would significantly expand the areas suitable for forest use without the need to develop valuable forests, including those important for maintaining a favorable climate," says Nikolay Shmatkov, Director of FSC Russia.
WWF-Russia, Greenpeace and FSC Russia offer:
- amend the Land Code and relevant by-laws to allow the use of agricultural lands for forestry (including forest farming, agroforestry and plantation forestry);
- not to approve the draft decree of "On approval of peculiarities of use, protection, reproduction of forests on agricultural lands" in the wording proposed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation, and to develop a new project allowing forest management in these forests.
Preview and headline photos: (c) Anastasia Gulbe