THE PRESIDENT HEARD ENVIRONMENTALISTS: 60 MLN HECTARES OF FORESTS ON AGRICULTURAL LANDS CAN ‘BE LEGALIZED’
In February, the President approved a list of instructions following the December meeting of the Council for Civil Society Development and Human Rights. This includes the issue of forests on abandoned agricultural lands, which will now have a chance to gain legal status (PR-126, item 3 b).
Earlier, WWF-Russia, Greenpeace and FSC Russia asked the Russian Government to create legal conditions for forest management on these lands. WWF-Russia notes that growing commercial forest in these abandoned territories will help reduce the impact on intact forests that have not yet been affected by people, and which are home to many species of rare plants and animals.
According to experts, forests on agricultural lands occupy at least 60 million hectares. This is more than 7 % of all Russian forests. Usually they are located on land that is not suitable for farming, but with the most favorable conditions for growing forests.
Experts note that these forests account for 25-30 % of the total growth of wood in forests suitable for sustainable enhanced forestry. However, companies are hampered by gaps in the current legislation, because there is no clear legal status for these forests, so 60 million hectares are left abandoned. As a result, with a lack of available resources, forest companies are increasingly delving into the pristine taiga, irrevocably destroying its ecosystems. Moreover, the legislation does not provide protection of forests in agricultural lands from fires, pests, diseases, and forest damage, and all that only aggravates the catastrophic fire situation in the recent years.
"Until April 30, the Government has a chance to correctly resolve the issue of those forests ‘that are deprived of rights’. In the future, this decision will have a positive impact on the budget of the forest industry and will provide about 100,000 jobs in the forest sector alone, as well as help reduce the risks of logging in pristine forests and contribute to the fight against forest fires. We hope that the President's Order will be fulfilled on time, and the experts' recommendations previously sent to the Government will be taken into account," says Andrey Shchegolev, WWF-Russia Forest Program Director.
For the first time in Russia, the practice of forest cultivation in agricultural lands will be implemented on sites in Arkhangelsk Region within the framework of Agreement on sustainable forest management signed on February, 1 between WWF-Russia and ULK Group of companies. As early as this year, the first examples should appear in Ustyansky district to demonstrate the best approaches to conducting forest care in agricultural lands.
In early December 2018, WWF-Russia and Greenpeace sent a joint position on forests in agricultural lands and an official appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Government of the Russian Federation. At the end of December 2018, as part of the execution of President's Order no. PR-2039, item 1.b, Article 123 appeared in the Forest code, which creates a legal opportunity for further competent management and use of forests in agricultural lands.
Article 123 of the Forest Code entered into force on 1 July 2019. However, it was still contradicted by some other existing regulations, so the environmental organizations had to appeal to the Government of the Russian Federation again in November 2019. As a result, the President paid attention to the fate of forests in agricultural lands, and instructed the Government "to take measures before 30 April 2020 aimed at establishing the features of the use, protection and reproduction of forests located in agricultural lands, providing for the possibility of implementing all types of forest use in land of this category without the need to change the form of ownership of land plots and change the category of land."
Preview and headline photos: (c) Anastasia Gulbe