Russia's First National Forest Heritage Site May Appear in Irkutsk Region
The agreement was signed between Ilim Group JSC, WWF-Russia, NGO Transparent World, and Greenpeace Council, with the active participation of FSC Russia, with the aim of conserving the most valuable areas of intact forests (IFLs) in the country. We are talking about large areas of forest that have not been subject to significant anthropogenic disturbances, which are home to many rare species of flora and fauna.
"Until the official status of a National Forest Heritage is granted, a moratorium on any economic activities related to the development of forests will be in force in this territory, except for the prevention and suppression of forest fires. Additionally, as guarantees of the implementation of the intentions, we have allocated within the limits of the lease area another quite a large forest site to be under temporary logging ban until the National Forest Heritage is created," said Ilya Verveyko, head of Forestry Policy of Ilim Group JSC.
Currently, there is only one such large area of intact forest with such a high conservation value within the forests leased by Ilim Group JSC. After assigning it the official protection status of the National Forest Heritage, this area will be officially protected from industrial logging, but will remain open to local residents for hunting and fishing, picking mushrooms and berries. At the same time, the company will not only take care of the country's forest heritage and biodiversity conservation, but will also be able to withdraw from its obligations for further lease payments for this territory.
Environmentally responsible forest companies have repeatedly introduced voluntary moratoria on logging in the HCVFs in their lease. However, until this spring, when a legal mechanism was put in place to allow for the allocation of National Forest Heritage sites, they could not quickly assign such areas a formal protective status and exclude them from the AAC because of lengthy bureaucratic procedures, and many companies did not take advantage of this opportunity and were forced to continue to pay for the lease.
"This environmentally responsible behavior has not been previously encouraged from an economic point of view. With the appearance, thanks to the active position of the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia, of the relevant legal mechanisms, the situation has changed. However, there is still a lack of clarity on the procedure for assigning forests the National Forest Heritage status and the criteria for classifying sites as IFL, and so far only one company has expressed a desire to allocate it in its lease. However, the total area of the voluntary moratorium on logging is about 1.8 million hectares. These sites are the most obvious contenders for the National Forest Heritage status. We welcome the initiative of Ilim Group JSC and encourage other Russian forest companies to follow this example," says Nikolai Shmatkov, WWF-Russia Forest Program Director.
The National Forest Heritage sites are supposed to
include forests of scientific, historical, cultural or religious significance,
and intact forest landscapes. In the forests of the National Forest Heritage it
is not required to impose painful for the interests of the local communities
restrictions on hunting, fishing, ecotourism, the use of non-timber and food
resources as the ban is only imposed on industrial logging.
"It is great that such a term as Intact Forest Landscapes has finally appeared in the Russian legislation. However, for the full use of all the possibilities of allocation of such territories and assigning them the status of protected forest areas in the Forest Management Instruction, it is necessary to additionally specify according to what criteria the areas can be classified as a National Forest Heritage," noted Ilya Verveiko.
WWF-Russia calls on forest companies to come up with their own initiative to create areas of National Forest Heritage within the boundaries of their leased forests. This economically beneficial for the forest business and environmentally responsible step will help conserve the most valuable intact forests of our country in the least expensive, and fastest, and most efficient way.
The National Forest Heritage concept, for which WWF-Russia has been fighting since 2012, was included in the Framework of the State Forest Policy in 2013 and then has been repeatedly discussed at the meetings of the Public Council Of Rosleskhoz (Federal Forest Agency). However, the legal mechanism for the allocation of this type of protective areas as objects of National Forest Heritage appeared in Russia only this spring as it was legislated in the new edition of the Forest Management Instruction, which entered into force on May 4, 2018.
The establishment of such a category of forests as National Forest Heritage is an additional and less costly option than the creation of traditional protected areas. This option can be used by logging companies, non-governmental organizations and forest management bodies to formalize the protection status of valuable forests, for example through FSC (Forest Stewardship Council®) voluntary forest certification. This legal status is optimal for many forest areas in the country as WWF-Russia has already carried out the selection of suitable forest areas in the Northwestern Russia and the Russian Caucasus.
WWF-Russia emphasizes that it is the IFL that do need to have the protected status of the National Forest Heritage, as they have an outstanding conservation value as they preserve the entire complex of species of plants and animals living in such forests with all natural connections between them, and also have sufficient stability to maintain forest biological diversity for a long time. According to the WWF-Russia studies, the number of such intact forests is decreasing catastrophically fast and the rate of loss is constantly growing. In a zone suitable for logging such IFLs can be irretrievably lost in the coming decades.
Headline photo: (c) Alexander Plekhanov / WWF-Russia