Old-growth intact problems of Russian forest policy

by D.F. Efremov

Recently, the draft of Russian Forest Policy has been published on the website of the Federal Forestry Agency – a very urgent and expected document. Based upon its status, it is not yet final version and that, what its final editorial would be, depends on extensive participation of the professional forestry community in the discussion and ordinary citizens of Russia, who are not indifferent about what future will be expected by Russian forest, Who will be, How will do and, in the name of WHAT PURPOSES it will be managed.

This article is dedicated to analysis of only one paragraph which is placed on the page 13 of the document. The quotation is given below:

“In planning and implementation of economic activities in forest, the ecosystem approach is used for the conservation of endangered species and ecosystems, high conservation value forests, including old-growth (intact) forests, key habitats, special protection parcels of forests, mountain forests and forest growing on the permafrost, as well as other vulnerable ecosystems and their elements. Measures should be taken to conserve biodiversity in logging and adverting forest fragmentation.

With the first cursory reading of this paragraph it seems alerting associations don’t arise. However, under careful examination, it becomes apparent; the delayed-action mine with destructive force is covered in it.

Mentioning of the following terms in the first paragraph might cause it: “high conservation value forests”, “old-growth forest,”, “low-disturbed (intact) forest”, which has never been used in the conceptual and terminological apparatus and regulatory framework of the forest sector for three-hundred years history of Russian forest management.

For what purpose and who is trying to put in practice these new-fashioned terms in the future Constitution of theRussianForest?

It’s quite easy to reply to the first part of this question “Who?”, if you look at what organizations and how they respond to the project of the forest policy. The very first and the most joyous comments on the subject of including of this paragraph in the draft Forest Policy have been posted on the sites of international conservation non-governmental organizations, especially the WWF Russia, as well as their former counterparts from Forest Programme WWF Russia, who were “seconded by the party” to work in the structures of the international Forest Stewardship Council (FSC of Russia).

For reference use for not enough trained readers: FSC is an international system of voluntary certification which is headquartered inBonn(Germany). WWF took and is taking an active part in foundation and formation of FSC, in turnRussiaplays first violin, and, in fact,Russiais a trendsetter, i.e. it determines what national standards, and rules will be, and even who is worthy and who is not worthy to get a FSC certificate. But it will be discussed below.

Meanwhile, we give an answer to the second part of the question, “For what purpose?” And here everything is trivial – the purpose is to have a constant opportunity to earn money to go mainly from the foreign donors. Quite sharply? But you ask what about concern of conservation biodiversity (tiger, leopard, rare mosses and lichens), which are petering out because of reduction of the area of these valuable forests? Paradoxically, but it’s just a slogan, a professional marketing approach in order to bring the public concern to the level of public anxiety hysteria, and in order not to thin (fall into decline) the hand, giving money to good cause.

And what is going in reality? We have to appeal to the history to understand it,  when most European countries were being developed at the cost of exploitation of their natural resources, especially forests.Europe’s forests were mercilessly cutting down to build ships and cities with their timber, to help to discover and conquest new lands and then they were enriching themselves by exploiting the resources of the colonies. Later, well-fed and civilized minds of Europeans realized the environmental losses and started to “help” to conserve forests in those countries which, for various reasons, were failed to develop in proper time. Of course, an attitude to their own forests has also been changed. They have been managed more rational and stable how it’s sustainable to say.

Nowadays it’s a great rarity and joy to see centenary trees or natural brushwood for European. It is clear that for them the great age of miraculously preserved timber stand or a single tree is regarded as an object of a environment-oriented value inEurope. But is this nostalgia of Europeans acceptable to the Russian conditions?

Russia, unfortunately, but perhaps fortunately, hasn’t succeeded in the process of cutting down its own forests with the purpose to enrich themselves and enslave others, On the contrary, the first forest decrees by Peter I in the XVIII century have determined the concept of reserved forests, as well as ” illicit for cutting protected trees.” At present, the amount of reserved forests inRussia, excluding the area of reserved forest and national parks is more than 22%. There is no such level of state protection of forests in any other countries in the world. And the reforms in the forestry area haven’t fundamentally changed this correlation. In reserved forests, and under Peter I and nowadays, commercial lumbering is not prescribed and conducted.

But forest is not an icon for which to pray. This is a renewable resource, which is one of the main assets in Russia. It should be used for the benefit of country and society. What kind of wood and how to use it the owner determine and historically the owner has been and still is the state, which is based on its three hundred years experience of forest management and scientifically based norms and guidelines of usage. At the same time the commercial lumbering should only be exploitable and overmaturity stand or, in the language of new-fangled terms – those old-growth forests.

So it was, and so it is all over the world, only the leading forest states at the cost of intensive forest management practice, commercial lumbering and the age of exploitable stands have considerably been reduced.

For example, the last opportunity to cut pine is getting at the age of 60 – 80 years in Sweden, and it’s not rare in Russia when we still cut down overmature stands at the age of 120 and even 300 years old. We are not going to analyze the causes of such difference; moreover it takes a special place in the project of Russian Forest Policy.

In any case, even with a very strong desire, it will be impossible for Russian government to achieve what European countries reached a few centuries ago towards their native forests in the foreseeable future. The huge scale, underpopulation on most part of Siberia and the Russian Far East, it is extremely underdeveloped network of forest roads, insignificant part of domestic market of consumption of forest products, the highest and increasing competition on the world’s forests  market  – these are the real constraints that simply do not give any chances to repeat the European scenario. Coupled with existing forestry and nature protection legislation, these factors ensure the conservation of natural forests for the long term perspective on national scale.

The official statistics of the Federal Forestry Agency confirms this output with a continued growth forest areas inRussia. However, the international NGO headed by WWF, offers another scenario, and most other figures, where the accepted truth is only economically available or promising for the development of forestry area in which with the satellites they are fixing the process of fragmentation of low-disturbed forest territories and the reduction of old-growth forests.

It is appropriate to ask a question, but what is the main difference so-called old-growth forests with marture and overmature stands? Perhaps, according to our forestry canonical they have mastered in the first place, taking into account their share in production forest fund, which is on average more than 60% inRussia. If they are transferred to the category of “old-growth forests” and according to lobbyists fashionable terms – high conservation value forests, automatically they will be removed from the economic turnover. Can you imagine what resource could be taken out of the country’s economy and what kind of damage for its future economic and social development can be discussed!

Area of economic availability – it is a promising area of growth of the forestry sector, is a stumbling block, where the interests of business intersect with the interests of forestry business of “green.” Boreal forests of the north of Krasnoyarsk and Khabarovsk Territories, Irkutsk region, Yakutia and other regions,  neither of them is not interested in it, but they have both old-growth and low-disturbed forests.

Of course, the collection and analysis of data, all kinds of mapping and subsequent full-scale verification of forests in the environment-oriented NGOs area, needed a lot of money. And that means, of course, are provided. In the first place Donors are civilized Europeans, who may have experienced bitterness of the loss of their natural forests, and thus atone for their historical guilt reduction. The Americans and the Canadians do not fall behind. They have still preserved natural forests, therefore a sense of guilt is absent, and a high-yield forestry industry has been formed, is developing dynamically. This industry needs more and more new market outlet. Indeed, it is better to pay for the conservation of the resource in a foreign country not to have any competitors on the world market in the future. And then you can buy these preserved resources from the impoverished state, good money for that will be earned. More than likely, the economic motive, rather than the notorious philanthropy and love to nature prevails in making the decision of foreign donors to invest millions of dollars into the activities of international NGOs and their partners to identify and preserve old-growth and low-disturbed forest = high conservation value forests in Russia .

So, for example the work on mapping and publication of the first atlas of old-growth forest areas was made on the means of IKEA, the Swedish Agency for international Development (SIDA), the American Funds Turner and MacArthur, the American World Resources Institute which is funded by United States Department of State.

The first swallow in the form of “Atlas of theRussia’s Intact Forest Landscapes” appeared 10 years ago. Therefore, leaving the above-quoted paragraph of the Forest Policy unchanged; we can celebrate the anniversary of this successful commercial project, success of which is largely dictated by that government reshuffle and lack of will in the forestry department.

But it was only the beginning. Feeling a profitable commercial talent, the most visionary organizations, including WWF-Russia, started to exploit success. For larger scale of the project and long-term coverage of the marketing category of donors, a new brand of “Intact woodland” (IWL) has been created.

What is meant by the intact forests? There is no clear definition. What is broken?Forestgenerating process?ForestEnvironment? Ecotop? Phytocenosis Component? Or something else? Was it violated by human or natural causes? Are the effects direct or indirect? Are the violations reversible or irreversible? Can we consider a solid clearance with a good renewal of the main species a violation, or stage of the natural decay of overripe forest stands, updated by abundant undergrowth? Those who promote this term do not give and cannot give answers to these and similar questions because in relation to the forest such response may not be in principle. There is only disturbing sound of the word “disturbance”, which is beneficial for political manipulation, and which is used to mislead the general public which is not getting into the details.

IWL is different from the Intact Forest Landscapes (IFL) only by the size of the area. This is a smaller category, which requires the work at the regional level, but not in the scale of allRussia. Therefore it can be done and get paid for a long time: the Kirov Region,KomiRepublic, Primorye,Khabarovskregion,Irkutskregion, Krasnoyarsk Krai … to be continued. However, the essence and the selection tool remain the same – remote exploration of forest areas by satellite, and then field verification in areas that are the most interesting.

What is the most interesting for donors pursuing goals mentioned above? Of course, those forests, that are legally leased for commercial timber preparation. In this case, the more successful and more efficient user of the resource (the company) is and the more competitive its products on world markets are, the more interesting for donors to save, to lead out of service the forest resource within its rental base.

It is perfectly understood by WWF-Russia who places the price for the service to validate the establishment of protected forest areas within the lease on its website. And here is the cash flow starts to flow, so the “green” businessmen and businesswoman can barely cope with the development of money. In order to accomplish the task at any cost and to justify the need to preserve the forests within the lease territory, elite narrow-purpose professionals, botanists, zoologists, mycologists who find a rare or even unknown to science view of the ground or under ground are being attracted. With this approach and with the involvement of the scientific resources it does not matter where this forest land is situated. Even in developed and experienced by the war and deforestation forests of the Leningrad Region mycologists, scientists discover up to 7 species of fungi each year which were previously unknown to science. In this case there is nothing to say about the natural forests of Siberia and theFar East.

Further, these unique findings are integrated into system of justification elaborated and based on the Russian environmental legislation, that these forests are the habitat for rare and endangered species, and therefore cannot be cut down or used for road constructions.

At this point it is time to return to the issue of certification under the FSC system and to receive evidence of how systematic, thoughtful and professional businessmen and businesswomen are working in the WWF Russia.

It is clear that the IFL and IWL maps, and even rare and endangered species found there, are not the reasons for the tenant to fulfill dictated by the WWF will of their foreign donors. There is no legal foundation for this. Government which has given the resources for the use is interested in efficiency in the form of taxes, creation of employment and retention of population in the vast territory of a country, otherwise others will inhabit these territories with great pleasure.

Making the tenant follow this measure voluntarily is only possible with a powerful economic lever, which is the forest certification becoming now. If you want your products to be sold on the world’s markets you need to show a paper called an international certificate.

But, and here everything is not as simple. The principles, criteria and procedures for voluntary forest certification under FSC system are universal. Only the national standards which are in theory should be developed by consensus of all interested parties – business, environmentalists and representatives of social organizations can differ from country to country. This is in theory, but in reality, inRussiathe development was in the hands of the same people who promote the new terms and brands, that is WWF, and its former employees sent to work in the FSC of Russia.

However, and customers (donors) which funded this process were mostly the same.

And as they say, he who pays the piper calls the tune. Therefore, the Russian National FSC standard, which came at the output of the process, according to their ecological requirements exceeded foreign analogues. We would better do well in any electronics or automotive industry! Naturally, all created by the time IFL and IWL cards, as well as approaches and techniques to their selection were included into the standard, but as regulatory requirements, which also contradicts to international procedures of FSC.

The circuit is close. If you want to succeed in the forestry business, to sell products for export – you have to be certified. In order to certify you need to sign the agreement with the WWF that you will not build roads and cut down the forests, where it is possible under the law, but is not by the WWF notions explained by the living in the area of rare mosses and lichens.

By the way, even for Amur tiger the high mosaic of forests, which always occurs in areas with intensive lumbering, is not a limiting population factor. This fact is reflected in the strategy of preserving the Amur tigers in theRussian Federation, which is also available at the WWF web-site. However, it does not make problem for the WWF to continue to assert that lumbering in the IFL and IWL in Primorye and southernKhabarovskterritory is the main threat to the Amur tiger population. Existing distortion of facts and disconnection of figures for the sake of achieving this goal became a feature of the forest program of WWF Russia.

And if you signed an agreement with WWF – you should forget about success – because you will produce and sell as much as you will be allowed. It is not a circle, but a trap. And you will get a thankful letter or be given any high ecological rating that it wouldn’t be not so painful and bitter. But when Greek meets Greeks and a cornered rabbit becomes a dangerous beast.

As it happens, the heads of the Forest Programme of Amur branch of WWF made the cup of requirements for decommissioning of leased forests run over and met with the rebuff of business and scientific community and it was so remarkable that the Federal Forest Service and other competent state bodies paid their attention to this problem.

And indeed, hastily informed and irresponsible creation of new conservation forest areas and forced-voluntary decommissioning of mature and overmature forests which are set at bay by tenants to please a successful business of the WWF, but it is creating new problems for the state and society because it’s made at the account of the budget. Forests must be protected from fire; people have to attach to other industries when they are deprived of legal work in the logging companies not to be poachers. And where to get all this money? And if the massive drying of forest happen? In theArkhangelskregion, Krasnoyarsk Krai andKhabarovskterritory and even inCanada, it has already happened. And if there is forest fire in these dried forests? We will not speak about biodiversity here, it’s more important to save people. Canadians are intensively cutting down dried old-growth forests and taking a share of our market inChina. And what are we doing? Are we writing alien terms in the Russian forest policy at WWF’s command? All professionals who work for WWF understand threat to their established business and they, in fact, have only one chance, one opportunity to “ride a stream” which brings money – to legitimize the new terms at the political level, to fix them in the constitution under the name of Russian Forest policy. A dust which was raised in the Far East and the North-West of Russia will subside sooner or later and only then a new turn of implementation of such concepts as HCVF, IFL, IWL, old-growth forests will begin, but not in the standards of voluntary systems, but in the governmental regulations of theRussian Federation.

A precedent has already been set when the Swedish environmental organization started to conduct the action against the company Swedwood working in Kareliato purvey timber in overmaturity stand. These forests are called by Swedish environmentalists as old-growth forests. They can be named as “Intact” forests; it would depend on someone’s will and a rich purse.

Ironically, Swedwood is a forest asset of the corporation IKEA, which, as we know, contributed millions of donations to let the genie out of the bottle. Now the WWF and its partner, Russian FSC have defended IKEA, because they can imagine how to lay hand on the “sacred cow” which brings gifts. But obviously Swedish NGO has other sources and other customers, so the outcome of the conflict is not clear.

This is just a brief illustration of what can be expected the Russian forest sector, if a paragraph of the draft Forest Policy on page 13 is not changed.

In Soviet literature, in a terminological guide of Forestry and forest science there is a term “virgin forest“, which has a clear biological entity and emphasizes the main, true value of these objects – pristine (savagery).

It’s asked why it should be replaced with blurred innovations in favor of narrow group interests, and moreover to use it in the forest constitution?

It is hoped that the state, as the owner of the forest resources represented by of President, Chairman of the Government and the Federal Forest Service officials, imbued with responsibility for the future development of the forestry sector and for the future of Russian forests. In the future, there is no place for conflicts. Russia must become a great state not only for the forest area, but for the share of forest products on the world markets, as well as the prosperity of the families whose minds, hearts and work devoted to the forest management.


Translated from Russian by Marina Osipova, APIR Center.

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