WWF asked the Ministry of Natural Resources not to deprive the Russians of the opportunity to grow forest on agricultural lands
WWF-Russia is concerned that if the amendments developed by the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia are approved, the new law adopted by the Government of the Russian Federation as instructed by Vladimir Putin will be effectively annulled and the President's order will not be executed. WWF-Russia and other environmental organizations have been advocating for the legal opportunity to grow forest on agricultural lands, including for the purpose of wood harvesting, since 2013. WWF-Russia has already sent an official appeal to the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia with a request to withdraw the amendments for revision, which are under public discussion until March 2.
"The developed amendments directly contradict the President's Order Pr-2039, paragraph 1.b and Article 123 of the Forest Code of the Russian Federation, since they actually cancel the possibility of using abandoned agricultural lands for the production of forest products. They not only do not help the development of forestry on agricultural lands, the creation of new jobs and the development of new industries, but actually put an end to the entire initiative with private forests and create additional corruption risks. Setting the limit of 10 years for the land use for forest regeneration and the demand to destroy the forest at the end of it will inevitably lead to a sharp increase in fire danger both on agricultural lands and in adjacent state forests, because the cheapest way to destroy the forest is fire. In addition, it will lead to an increase in conflicts with the local communities, as many perceive the overgrown agricultural land as a forest and collect mushrooms and berries there. At the same time, the return to the agricultural turnover of previously released land will not occur due to objective socio-economic reasons. This means that the land where the forest is to be destroyed will later be overgrown with it again. At the same time, residents of rural areas will lose the income they could get due to the development of forestry in such territories," says Andrey Shegolev, WWF-Russia's Forest Program Director.
What is the essence of the amendments?
It is proposed to make the forestry on agricultural lands so bureaucratized that it would become virtually impossible. It will be extremely difficult for new forest farmers to get the necessary permits and documents for the forest. In addition to the new complicated application form and the need to provide photos and videos fr om the site on CD/DVD or a memory card, there is an extensive list of grounds for refusal. The decision will be made by a Rosselkhoznadzor commission, the forest management authority and the regional agribusiness management authority. During the ownership of the land, the owner will have to draw up a forest development plan (even more complicated than the one for the forest fund), fill out a forest declaration and draft many reports, wh ere even Russian spelling will be checked.
At the same time, the owner of the land can apply for forest management in his site only until October 1, 2022. Those who have already managed to do this immediately after the adoption of the law last September will have to go through the entire procedure again and under the new rules.
Even if the owner has the stamina and patience to overcome all the bureaucratic obstacles, it will be possible to use agricultural land for forest cultivation only for 10 years. After this period, he will be obliged to destroy the forest and return the land to agricultural circulation, otherwise he will be issued a fine of up to 700,000 rubles, after which the land will be withdrawn.
"Such a short period of time, which is allocated for forest cultivation, makes forestry on agricultural lands meaningless, which, coupled with a bureaucratic procedure, will negate the number of people who want to join the ranks of forest farmers," says Andrey Shchegolev.
WWF-Russia calls on the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia:
- to withdraw for revision the draft amendments to the Decree of the Government of the Russian Federation of 21.09.2020 No. 1509 "On the peculiarities of the use, protection, safeguard, reproduction of forests on agricultural lands»;
- when finalizing the draft amendments, include provisions that facilitate, rather than hinder, the management of forestry on agricultural lands, including forest farming, plantation forestry and agroforestry.
Why is forestry on agricultural lands important?
- In the long term, forestry on agricultural lands can produce up to 300 million cubic meters of wood per year (this will solve the acute crisis with available forest resources in many regions) and create up to 100,000 new jobs in rural areas of the country.
- The additional volume of harvested wood will help reduce the impact and prevent industrial development of intact forests, where many rare species of animals and plants live.
- This innovation will help fight forest fires.
- The law also makes a significant contribution to the implementation of the Paris Agreement goals, comparable to other measures in terms of forest management, because over 100 years, these forests can absorb an average of about 580 million tons of CO2 annually.
According to experts, forests on agricultural lands occupy at least 60 million hectares. This is about 7% of all forests in Russia. Usually they are located in the land that is almost unsuitable for farming, but with the most favorable conditions for forestry.
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.
2021: On February 9, amendments to the Decree prepared by the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia that actually cancel the possibility of forest reproduction on agricultural lands were proposed for public discussion until March 2.
Headline and preview photos: (c) Konstantin Kobyakov / WWF-Russia.