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In Russia private forests could appear on abandoned agricultural lands

25 september 2020
A new Decree of the Government of the Russian Federation allows forestry on abandoned agricultural lands, including timber harvesting. The document drastically changes the forest management system in Russia, making private forest management possible – for the first time in Russia’s history.

In early 2020, Vladimir Putin instructed the Russian Government to resolve the problem with the forests on abandoned agricultural lands, the legal status of which WWF-Russia and other environmental organizations had been asking to clarify for several years. In pursuance of this instruction, Decree of the Government of the Russian Federation No. 1509 of September 21, 2020 "On specifics of use, protection, safeguarding, and reproduction of forests located on agricultural lands" was approved and officially published. It will introduce the first private forests in Russia.

According to experts, the forests on abandoned agricultural lands cover at least 60 million hectares. This is about 10% of all Russian forests. Usually they are located on lands that are not suitable for farming, but with the most favorable conditions for growing forests.

"We can say that this is a small revolution in the forest sector of the country. The most important in the new Decree is that it legalizes almost all types of forest management on agricultural lands, including timber harvesting. Previously, those lands, overgrown with forest, were abandoned, ownerless, and deprived of rights: now everything will change. This will help solve the acute crisis with the available resources: in many regions of the country, all forests with good transport accessibility have long been depleted, and timber companies are increasingly delving into the intact taiga, irrevocably destroying its ecosystems. Growing forests on agricultural lands will create thousands of new jobs, it is not only economically beneficial for the forest business and the country's economy as a whole; it will help fight forest fires and, very importantly, due to the additional volume of timber grown and harvested, it will help reduce the impact on the intact forests, habitats to many rare species of animals and plants, and protect them from harvesting." says Andrey Shchegolev, WWF-Russia's Forest Program Director.

Forests on abandoned agricultural lands
(c) Anastasia Gulbe

According to the draft state program for effective involvement in the turnover of agricultural lands and the development of the reclamation complex of the Russian Federation, the Ministry of Agriculture plans to involve at least 12 million hectares of agricultural lands in the turnover by the end of 2030. The experts believe that these estimates are too optimistic. The practice shows that even if agricultural lands overgrown with forest are withdrawn fr om owners, or owners are forced to clear the forest, such territories remain unused.

In any case, out of 60, there are still about 50 million hectares of lands being overgrown with forest that will not be involved in agriculture. However, for forestry, including plantation reforestation, forest farming, agroforestry, such sites are quite suitable, since it requires significantly less investment of effort and money. The involvement of abandoned agricultural lands that in sustainable reforestation (creation of forest plantations, forest farming, agroforestry, protective afforestation, etc.) in the long term can ensure the annual cultivation of up to 300 million cubic meters of wood, and the creation of up to 100,000 new jobs in rural areas of the country.

If earlier companies were hindered by gaps in the legislation, since these forests did not have a clear legal status, now the new decree makes this possible. Moreover, if the protection of forests on abandoned agricultural lands from fires, pests, diseases and forest violations was not previously provided for by legislation (which aggravated the catastrophic forest fire situation in recent years), now these issues will be given due attention.

At the same time, WWF-Russia experts say that the Decree has a number of flaws: there are still a number of contradictions with the Land Code of the Russian Federation, which may cause some uncertainty when working with the forests on agricultural lands; the part governing procedures for the use, protection, and reproduction of forests in these lands is not properly developed; the amounts of allowed logging and control over wood supply legality are not clearly regulated, etc.

"Any innovations always require adjustments in the process of their implementation, so the presence of flaws in the new Decree is natural. They do not detract from the importance of this landmark event. For the country, this is a fundamentally new reality, wh ere forest can grow on agricultural (out of forest fund due to Russian law) lands and can be private. In addition, recognizing the existence of such forests and establishing their legal status will make a significant contribution to the implementation of the goals of the Paris Agreement, comparable to other measures in terms of forest management. Within 100 years, such forests can absorb an average of about 580 million tons of CO2 annually," says Andrey Shchegolev, WWF-Russia's Forest Program Director.

Timeline:

2013: on September 1, 2013, the President of the Russian Federation instructed the Government as per PR-2039, item 1.b: to ensure that the legislation of the Russian Federation is amended to establish the features of the use, protection, safeguarding, and reproduction of forests located on agricultural lands and other lands that do not belong to the forest fund. However, over the past five years, there have been no significant changes.

2018: in early December 2018, WWF-Russia and Greenpeace sent a joint position on forests on abandoned agricultural lands and a formal 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 Presidential Order No. PR-2039, item 1.b, Article 123 appeared in the Forest Code, which creates a legal opportunity for the subsequent competent management and use of forests on agricultural lands.

2019: Article 123 of the Forest Code came into force on July 1, 2019. However, it still contradicts the other existing regulations; therefore, the environmental organizations had to appeal to the Government of the Russian Federation again in November 2019.

2020: as a result, the President drew attention to the fate of forests on agricultural lands, instructing the Government to take measures by April 30, 2020 "To establish the specifics of use, protection, safeguarding, and reproduction of forests on agricultural lands, providing for the possibility of implementing all types of forest management in land of this category without the need to change the form of ownership of land plots and change the category of land".

On September 23, 2020, Decree of the Government of the Russian Federation No. 1509 of September 21, 2020 "On the specifics of use, protection, safeguard, and reproduction of forests on agricultural lands" was officially published. It enables forest management, including timber harvesting, on agricultural lands.


Preview and headline photos: (c) Anastasia Gulbe.

For additional information please contact
Forest Program communication projects coordinator
High Conservation Value Forest Projects Coordinator