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News Alert

February 2004
Protected forests in Russia now vulnerable with passing of new Forest Code

Recently, the Russian government has instigated changes that could acutely and irretrievably fragment and destroy the nature reserves and severely weaken forest protection. The new Forest Code and changes within management structures favor exploitation of resources, particularly forests, protected in zapovedniks and parks.
The following is a chronology of events of the past few months:

  • In December (Order Number 1107, December 15, 2003) directors of zapovedniks were ordered to create the new post of “Deputy Director for Forestry.” This move is egregious on several fronts, primarily because any commercial forestry activities are prohibited in zapovedniks. Essentially the regulation allows the Forest Service to have its own representative inside areas where no timber harvesting should be occurring.
  • In February (Order No. 77, of Feb 2, 2004) the Minister transferred the Department of the State Service for Environmental Protection into the Forest Service. This move appears to open the door for legalized timber harvesting on the territories of protected areas. Also significant is the fact that this reorganization will offer another opportunity for the Ministry to divest itself of “inexpedient” staff, in full accordance with the Russian Labor Code.
  • President Putin signed amendments to the Forest Code into law on December 10, 2003, allowing the status of Group I (protected) forests to be changed, essentially opening them up to the possibility of harvesting and utilization. The amendments also make regional-level protected areas accessible to development.
  • The Ministry of Trade and Economic Development is now preparing an entirely new version of the Federal Forest Code. If passed, this version would create significant setbacks for protection and management of forests and forested ecosystems in Russia. Specifically, the proposed version of the code would: (i) allow for privatization of regional protected areas; (ii) limit public access to forests; (iii) permit privatization of Group III forests, a category of forest reserved for future use, as well as privatization of protected lands such as forest belts along highways and railroads, urban forests, and others; (iv) not encourage accountability for reforestation activities; and (v) create a highly fragmented governmental structure for forest management (three federal agencies and one in each of the regions).
  • Currently motions are underway to change the Federal Land Code as well.

Russia has a long history of forest protection, beginning in the 18th century with the protection of the finest oak trees to supply Peter the Great’s new navy with sturdy masts. Throughout the 20th century, Russia set aside approximately 22 percent of its forested lands as Group I Forests – forest ecosystems with special protected status because they harbor old growth forests or cover sensitive areas such as riparian zones and steep slopes. Yet, recent changes threaten to derail two centuries of conservation. At stake in Russia are the planet’s largest system of strictly protected areas – zapovedniks, an expansive network of national parks, and large tracts of protected forests.

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