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WWF recommends how to avoid a repeat of last year's fire disaster

28 april 2022
The fire season has already begun in many regions of Russia. As of the end of April, 2.9 mln ha were covered by fire. For comparison, the area of forest fires in the first four months last year was 3.1 mln ha.

Due to the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, including prolonged periods of heat and drought, the risks of forest fires, and the rapid spread of fire to nearby territories are growing every year. 2022 may set another fire record of the century. According to WWF-Russia, a complete rejection of grass burning and burning of wood residues after logging will help avoid the fire disaster that happened last year. After all, such practices, as well as careless handling of fire, are the main causes of forest fires.

"As a result, fires rapidly destroy not only the industrial forests, which could bring profit for the businesses and the state, but also ecologically valuable intact forests, and such fires come fr om the logging sites. They also threaten the lives of the local people. Forest fires cause enormous damage to biodiversity and habitats of valuable and rare species of animals and plants the restoration of which can take hundreds of years. Fires also have a negative impact on the climate change increasing the CO2 emission into the atmosphere due to the loss of carbon accumulated in biomass and soil," says Konstantin Kobyakov, WWF-Russia's Forest Program expert on HCVs.

WWF-Russia's research also confirms that forests wh ere logging is underway or has already been carried out are more at risk of fires and the very probability of fires increases near infrastructure facilities. The burning of so-called "felling residues" is now permitted by law: logging companies conduct them directly in the forest sites. Such waste is burned in autumn, winter or spring, when a fire cannot occur, or it is crushed and left for rotting and feeding animals.

According to the law, it is prohibited to burn felling residues during the fire-hazardous period. However, the field inspections initiated by WWF showed that the loggers often violate that and the other fire safety requirements. According to the rules, logging sites should be surrounded by mineralized strips made to prevent the transition of fire to the surrounding forest in case of a fire. During the field inspections of the forest sites, many abandoned piles of felling residues and stacks of old wood were found, while duly made mineralized strips around the harvest areas were often absent.

(c) Anatoly Alekseev

WWF-Russia draws attention to the fact that the application of fire methods in a fire-hazardous period in combination with dry wood on the logging sites and the absence of a reliable barrier between the felling residues and the forest leads to the dangerous development of fires and the transition of fire from the logging sites to the surrounding forests. In years with unfavorable weather conditions, the consequences of such a fire spreading pattern to nearby forests can be catastrophic. WWF-Russia stands for the complete exclusion of the methods with the application of fire from the practice of nature management and the transition to alternative technologies.

"The best of all methods of clearing logging sites in most cases is mulching. It not only reduces the fire hazard, but also helps increase soil fertility, since the organic matter is not carried outside forest sites, and improves conditions for reforestation. In order make this proposal legitimate, the existing legal acts could be slightly amended," says Konstantin Kobyakov, WWF-Russia's Forest Program expert on HCVs.

In addition, it is necessary to strengthen the responsibility of the forest companies for fires in the lease areas by changing the approach to calculating the AAC: promptly, within no more than 1-2 years after the fire reduce the volume of the AAC within the lease area in proportion to the volume of the forest destroyed by fires. It is also necessary to strengthen the governmental supervision over the fire condition in the logging sites: to promptly respond to any violations by forest companies of the fire safety regulations in forests and investigate the causes of all fires in the leased forests. These low-cost actions on the part of the logging companies and the state could significantly improve the situation with fires in the country and protect the valuable Russian forests from fire.

Fires in Russia

The fire statistics in Russia in recent years continues to confidently beat all anti-records. At least 3 mln ha of forests are completely destroyed every year as a result of fires. This is three times more than the area of the forests used every year for logging. The area of the forests affected by fires is even larger: the average annual figure previously fluctuated around 10 mln ha. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, it has grown significantly to 16 mln ha. And in the past 2021, according to ISDM-Rosleskhoz, it reached a historical maximum of 18.79 mln ha. A significant part of these damaged, but not completely destroyed by fire forests will weaken within a few years, will be damaged by pests and will die.

Preview & headline photos: (с) Michel Gunther.

For additional information please contact
Forest Program communication coordinator
Project coordinator of High Conservation Value Forests