WWF: the new legislative initiative on obligatory reforestation should be improved
The draft federal law “On Amending the Forest Code of the Russian Federation to Improve Forest Reforestation” has been developed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of Russia according to the Order of the President of Russia on Use, Protection, Conservation and Reforestation of Forests and Trade on Timber Products. The new law will be focused on issues, including reforestation on lands used for development, reconstruction and exploitation of infrastructure and facilities. It will require users of forest lands (according to Articles 43–46 of the Forest Code), to regenerate forests in the region proportionally to a logged area. According to the Government of Russia opinion, ‘adoption of this draft law will help to ensure conservation of forests, improve quality of forest regeneration and create additional jobs in reforestation and afforestation’.
In many cases development of infrastructure changes fire dynamics drastically. According to WWF-Russia’s research in Siberia and in the Russian Far East, probability of a forest fire close to newly developed roads in intact areas is at least 2 times higher compared to roadless areas. Moreover, due to changes in wind, temperature and water regimes in wide belts of forests along new roads and pipelines probability of windfalls and insects outbreaks is much higher.
WWF-Russia suggests to improve the draft law and introduce measures to identify and protect the core areas of intact forest landscapes in addition to new reforestation requirements. This could be achieved through introduction of the National Forest Heritage, which has to be developed according to the Russian Forest Policy (approved in 2013) but never implemented.
In addition to that, environmentalists have doubts that the law under its current version would help to ensure quality of reforestation but rather continue to help the authorities to imitate forest regeneration.
“It is clear that forests are lost through infrastructure development and implementation of mining projects. However, it is not clear where exactly new forest will be planted to ‘compensate’ the loss. It makes no sense to plant forests on burnt or logged areas without further thinning – forests of low quality will eventually come in these areas without artificial regeneration anyways. Other ‘empty’ areas are not available for afforestation in the taiga zone. Moreover, the Federal Forest Agency has reported on 800 000 ha of regenerated forests last year. However, most of these forests are regenerated on paper only. Have our forests become more abundant and better quality? Would it make any difference if some more forests would be regenerated on paper?” asks Nikolay Shmatkov.
Most probably this law is focused mostly on creating opportunities to fund local forest management authorities through oil, gas and energy companies. However, this creates an additional risk of corruption when regional authorities will decide who would get money to grow ‘paper forests’.
“In general, funding forest management using oil and gas money is a very good idea, but only if this money used in something that makes sense, but not to imitate reforestation: planting trees without subsequent tending and thinning. Exactly this has been done in large areas across the country for dozens of years – apparently without any effect on forests. When reforestation is done properly, it should be followed by consumption of grown in secondary forests timber, it is useless otherwise,” notes Nikolay Shmatkov.
WWF-Russia notes that the situation in the forest sector has already been rather critical because of an ineffective legislation. Most importantly, shortage of readily accessible timber resources required by the industry threatens the most ecologically valuable intact forest landscapes and their inhabitants, these territories are already under intensive exploitation by many forest companies because of lack of other available timber sources. Effective reforestation is one of opportunities to overcome the challenge. In long term it may help to provide companies with the required timber and save high conservation value forests from logging.
Environmentalists note that the new draft law has a good potential to make a difference for regions of Russia with low density of forests where even relatively small forest loss due to infrastructure development and mining is critical. “However, even in these areas, as everywhere in Russia, forest would grow naturally everywhere it may physically grow. But planting forest on abandoned agricultural lands is forbidden. That is why a dialogue between the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture to overcome this bureaucratic barrier would make much more sense and if a legal opportunity to plant forests on abandoned agricultural lands is created that would be a real breakthrough in afforestation in Russia. The new legislative initiative is not the case,” says Nikolay Shmatkov.
Headline photo: (с) Nikolay Stashkevich / WWF-Russia