WWF BECAME AWARE OF THE FOREST OF THE REPUBLIC HAVING BEEN SOLD OUT ILLEGALLY BY THE FOREST ADMINISTRATION OF THE KARACHAY-CHERKESS REPUBLIC
What and where happened?
In the Karachay-Cherkess Republic from 2015 to 2019, the Forest Administration of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic (now it is the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic) was leasing specially protected forest areas under purchase and sale agreements for the citizens' own needs. In four years, the authorities have sold 71 spots with an area of 97.6 hectares of forests and a permitted volume of 3118 cubic meters of wood to be cut.
What is the problem?
According to the Forestry Code of the Russian Federation, selective logging is allowed only in specially protected forest areas for the purpose of cutting down dead and damaged forest vegetation. So, you can't rent a spot and cut trees for firewood or, for example, build your own house in such areas. However, the purchase and sale agreements were just for that purpose. Moreover, there is a scheme in which individuals transfer their rights to companies that are cutting on their behalf for commercial purposes.
Why wasn't this known before?
The fact is that these loggings were carried out under purchase and sale agreements for the citizens' needs. Unfortunately, today the accessibility to this information is not regulated at the Federal level, because the procedure for organizing the conclusion of such contracts is determined by regional authorities. And subjects often do not want to disclose this information, so they do not publish it and do not provide it to anyone. Therefore, the public doesn’t have any mechanisms to control such logging.
Moreover, most often the citizens' need for wood serves as a cover, and the whole process is just a criminal scheme to get valuable wood at a low price. So, last year, WWF-Russia together with the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia of the North Caucasus Federal District already identified such a chain in the Urupskiy Forestry, then criminal cases were opened against Forestry Department employees.
How did this become known?
In the summer, the Autonomous Non-Commercial Organization “Green shield of the Caucasus”, as part of the WWF-Russia grant and during the implementation of the “People for Nature” project, discovered suspicious logging on the territory of the Uchkulanskiy Forestry and wrote a request to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation. In its response, the Ministry referred to logging under purchase and sale agreements and attached the entire register of such agreements in the Karachay-Cherkess Forestry from 2015 to 2019.
Thus, thanks to the responsible work of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation, the partners of WWF-Russia received unique information about all such logging in the forest area, which allowed them to conduct a full analysis of the purpose of logging in restricted areas.
What WWF have done?
WWF-Russia immediately wrote an appeal to:
- Department of Forestry in the Southern Federal District
- Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia of the North Caucasus Federal District
What are the results?
Two months later, the Forestry Department responded that a new forest management system was adopted in 2018 . Therefore, the Department recognized all violations starting from February 3, 2018 - there were 46 spots with an area of 42.9 hectares and a volume of 1538 cubic meters – detected signs of violation of 2 articles of the Forestry Code and instructed the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Karachayevo-Cherkess Republic to investigate this issue and find the responsible ones.
Does the fact that a new forest management system was adopted in 2018 mean that there weren’t any protected areas from 2015 to 2018? No, absolutely not. It is possible that before 2018 there were the same protected areas. The Department did not provide any documents confirming the lack of protected areas status in these territories.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia of the North Caucasus Federal District forwarded the appeal personally to the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republic. "We have information that the police sent materials to the Investigative Committee of the Republic, - says Elena Cherkasova, Senior Coordinator of Russian Caucasus Ecoregional Office WWF-Russia. - WWF-Russia hopes that, after careful study of the documents, the Investigative Committee of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic will make a fair and correct decision on the violations committed in the Republic."
Presumably, the damage, in this case, may amount to tens of millions of rubles.
What if the number of forest cutting is higher?
It should be understood that WWF-Russia received information only on one Forestry Department of the Republic, and there are 5 of them in total. We can only guess what happened and will continue to happen in other forest districts.
How to solve the problem?
To avoid such situations, WWF-Russia calls on the authorities of the Russian Federation subjects to disclose information about purchase and sale agreements by publishing it on official websites. This will strengthen public control and prevent the recurrence of such crimes against the Nature of each region in the future.
The People for Nature project is implemented by WWF Russia and is funded by the EU. It aims at engaging a wider audience in environmental protection. The Project will run in 2019 – 2022. Its goals are to protect the forests through preventing degradation and illegal use of forests, and to reduce environmental impact caused by industrial processes through reducing air and water pollution and increasing the environmental responsibility of business.
Photo in preview: © Mikhail Klimenko / WWF-Russia