Unsustainable use of Russian forests

Elena Kulikova, Forest Director at WWF in Russia, presents her view on the development.

In recent years the public and authorities have been drawing their attention to issues of the Russian forestry sector development. The forest is recognized to be one of major economic advantages of Russia. It is an environmental shield not only for the country but for the entire planet as well. At the same time issues of unsustainable use of Russian forests and a need to develop domestic processing of harvested timber are being raised. Issues regarding quality of forest use, including issues related to improvement of quality characteristics of forests are being discussed more widely. The issue of illegal logging is now openly debated, and relevant losses of the national budget have been estimated.

The New Forest Code are in many cases imperfect

Awareness of this situation has created preconditions for making the decision to reform the Russian forestry sector. After a few years with the new Forest Code, which came into effect January 2007, application revealed flaws of this law.  Regulatory and legal acts of the forestry sector developed in accordance with the new Forest Code are in many cases imperfect and need substantial reworking. There are many major issues of the new forest legislation that require urgent solution such as:

  • A lack of incentives to carry out more intensive silviculture in already managed forests;
  • A lack of mechanisms for participation of local communities in forests management and the process of making decisions relevant for the community;
  • A lack of possibilities for a majority of residents of forest villages and settlements to use non-timber and forest food products as a livelihood; creation of additional administrative barriers for firewood provision;
  • Provisions that create preferred conditions for development of large forest enterprises and transnational corporations, and suppress development of small and medium enterprises that in a majority of cases ensure economic and social well-being of forest villages and settlements;
  • A lack of the legal framework for protection of forests against illegal logging, for operations of the state forest guard and clear determination of what logging and what sources of timber origin are deemed to be illegal, etc.

Illegal logging has reached up to 30-40%

Over the last ten years, issues of illegal logging in Russia have been in the focus of the public and NGOs, including WWF. WWF has been conducting extensive activities in many areas starting with preparation of analytical studies of this issue at the international, federal and regional levels. Estimates with the use of the method that compares timber logging with timber consumption have shown that in some regions illegal logging has reached up to 30-40% of total logging. The situation is becoming especially problematic in border areas. Over recent years the situation has been exacerbated along the border with China, due to a rapid increase in export of Russian round wood to the country. After pressure from part of the society and environmental NGOs, the Federal Forestry Agency and state bodies changed positions. The issue is now being officially recognized, including at the level of the country’s leadership.

The plan of new legislative initiatives prepared by the Federal Forestry Agency includes a draft federal law on making changes in the Forest Code. The main task is to combat illegal logging and to preserve and to protect forests. In accordance with the proposed draft law, it is planned to include the term ‘illegal logging’ into the Forest Code, define it and formalize such terms and definitions as ‘protection of forests against illegal logging and other violations of forest legislation’, ‘illegally harvested timber’. It is planned to put in place a mandatory system of tracking harvested timber removed from the logging sites, and provide weapons for forest officers.

Unfortunately, we have to admit that the process of reforms in the forest sector and development of the new Forest Code proceeded without proper consideration of generally accepted reforms´ practice of forest relations, in the absence of mechanisms of openness and transparency, and was characterized by inconsistent discussions and adoption at the state level.

Large companies are becoming increasingly aware

At the same time, there are certain groups such as federal and regional bodies of state, NGOs and associations representing forest companies in Russia, which present interests of the parties concerned about sustainable development of the forest sector. In parallel to the initiatives undertaken by the public sector and NGOs, the private sector, i.e. Russian and western forestry enterprises operating in Russia, has been intensively developing its own initiatives. Large companies are becoming increasingly aware of their social and environmental responsibility and are rather active in undertaking actions in line with the spirit of the ENA-FLEG. For instance, such actions include:

  • Certification – in March 2011 the area of the FSC-certified forests are around 26 million ha.
  • Greening of forest use – establishment and development of the Association of Environmentally Responsible Producers of Forest Products of Russia (FTN Russia), which is a part of the Global Forest Trade Network (GFTN). The GFTN is a WWF initiative aimed to suppress illegal logging and improve the system of forestry sector management in valuable and endangered forests. The Russian Association that includes 40 companies was set up with the WWF Russia assistance in 1999.
  • Improvement of corporate chain-of-custody systems. Over recent years both domestic and western companies operating in Russian forests have developed and introduced their own approaches.

The FLEG process implementation

Although there are also a number of flaws that can hinder achievement and/or distort original objectives and priorities of the FLEG process implementation in Russia, namely:

  • Imperfect regulatory and legal framework of the forestry and closely related sectors (the Interior Ministry, the customs, etc.);
  • Inadequate interagency cooperation;
  • Weak regulatory and legal framework regarding the need to confirm the legality of timber origin for forestry enterprises;
  • Inadequate attention to the issues of planning and monitoring of FLEG actions, especially, at the regional level;
  • A lack of control and coordination in establishment of forest management agencies as well as forest guard in the regions;
  • A lack of adequate measures of social protection for the forestry sector workers in the course of the forest reform;
  • Inadequate attention to deep-rooted problems that cause wide-spread violations and crimes in the forestry sector: unemployment, poverty, social degradation of rural and forest areas;
  • Presence of barriers for legal use of forests by local population and small enterprises;
  • Predominance of punitive measures in controlling illegal logging with inadequate focus on preventive activities and detection activities;
  • A lack of adequate information on FLEG issues at the local, regional and national levels.

Taking into account the described situation, WWF in Russia is implementing a variety of activities to overcome existing problems in the area of illegal logging and trade elimination. In on-going projects WWF is involved into deep work on forest policy and legislation improvement, work on responsible business development ensuring legality of wood and wood products and promoting FSC certification in Russia, work on awareness raising, education and training.

Elena Kulikova

Photo: Ola Jennersten.