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WWF: the new law on protected forests threatens the future of 50 million hectares of forests and valuable fish species
Премия рунета 2017

WWF: the new law on protected forests threatens the future of 50 million hectares of forests and valuable fish species

19 december 2018
WWF-Russia is concerned about the new law on protected forests, adopted by the State Duma of the Russian Federation on 19thof December. The new amendments can lead to the degradation of more than 50 million hectares of once protected forests and jeopardize the future of valuable species of fishes, including salmon and sturgeon.
The new law reduces the actual area of protected forests on the banks of spawning grounds from 1 km to 50-200 meters, that will entail the possibility of legal tenfold reduction of the area of protected forests on the banks of spawning grounds. Thus, the territory of at least 50 million hectares of previously protected forests can be subject to clear cuts. Given the lack of available wood resources in many regions of the country, these forests are likely to be logged in the near future, which will cause irreparable damage not only to forest ecosystems, but will also lead to a deterioration in water quality and a possible fivefold reduction in spawning grounds and populations of valuable fish species.

"In the Northwestern Russia and in some other regions, economically accessible forest resources have remained practically only in protected forest areas as this is the result of mismanagement of the forest in the past decades. Obviously, in the near future, we expect new legislative initiatives that will weaken the regime of forest protected areas, and a critical reduction in the area of spawning forest zones is just the first example. Thus, the solution to the problem of forest supply by removing the protected status from spawning forest zones is, on the one hand, a forced solution, and on the other hand, it is absolutely ineffective. Yes, several billion cubic meters of timber can be harvested in the protected areas, but the long-term damage caused by the degradation of spawning grounds of salmon and sturgeon, will many times exceed the one-time income from the removal of restrictions on the economic use of forests along fishing ponds. It is time for the State Duma to finally understand that money cannot be eaten and that without forests we will lose not only fish, but also clean water and air," says Nikolay Shmatkov, WWF-Russia Forest Program Director.
(c) Alexey Veselov
(c) Gennady Alexandrov / WWF-Russia

Scientific research indicates the critical importance of forests along river banks for spawning of many fish species. Clear cuttings will lead to shallowing, water turbidity, siltation and long-term degradation of spawning areas.  The experience of foreign countries involved in the rehabilitation of spawning grounds damaged by similar logging shows that the cost of such restoration is much higher than the possible benefit from the sale of timber harvested in these forests.

Protected forests are the most valuable forests in Russia. Now the legislation has 17 categories of protected forests with a total area of 283 million hectares, which include spawning forest zones. These forests are most important for maintaining the natural balance, biodiversity and habitat conservation, as well as human health. In most categories of protected forest areas, clear cutting is prohibited, but selective and sanitary logging is allowed, which in some cases can also cause critical damage to ecosystems.

Therefore, back in 2013, President Vladimir Putin instructed the Government of the Russian Federation (№ PR-1037 of May 7, 2013, paragraph 8 of sub-paragraph "в" item 1) to improve the legal protection of these forests, and exclude them from areas where industrial logging can be carried out. As a result, the current law was developed to implement the President's instruction. However, the law itself will in fact only help reduce the area of protected forests and weaken the regime of their protection.  Thus, the requirements of the President's instructions were almost completely ignored in the law. The law provides for additional restrictions on logging only for nut-bearing zones, but for water protection zones, the possibilities of continuous logging are expanded.

Ecologists draw attention to the fact that with the reduction of the area of spawning forest zones, the spawning grounds of Pacific salmon, Atlantic salmon, Sturgeon, Whitefish and other valuable fish species are threatened with degradation, which is a direct threat to the food security of the country and the conservation of aquatic biological resources in general. The decision to reduce spawning forest zones also did not consider or assess the direct economic losses of the fisheries sector as a result of the reduction of stocks of valuable fish species and, as a consequence, the reduction of their catches.

WWF-Russia states that in order to minimize the negative consequences of this law, it is necessary to abolish the provisions aimed at changing the criteria for classifying forests as spawning forest zones, and to provide for appropriate amendments to the legislation on the conservation of aquatic biological resources; for example, in the form of assigning all currently existing spawning forest zones the status of fishery protected areas or fish protection zones. At the same time, before such a decision is taken, it is necessary to introduce a moratorium on the reduction of the area of the spawning forest zones that have such status at the present time.

Numerous appeals of WWF-Russia to the deputies of the State Duma and the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia with the requirement to discuss the draft law with scientists, public environmental organizations and the Public Council under the Federal Agency for Fisheries were ignored.  Now WWF-Russia calls on the Federation Council and personally Russian President Vladimir Putin to immediately reject the law and return it for revision to the State Duma.

Preview photo: (c) Alexey Veselov. Headline photo: (c) Gennady Alexandrov / WWF-Russia

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