New legislative initiative in Russia will contribute to IFLs conservation | WWF
New legislative initiative in Russia will contribute to IFLs conservation

Posted on 22 October 2020

A new Russian government decree* will allow forestry, including timber harvesting, on abandoned agricultural lands. The decree drastically changes the forest management system in Russia, making private ownership on growing forest and private forest management possible, and creates a new potential resource base to mitigate impact on intact forest landscapes (IFLs).
“This is a small revolution in Russian forestry. Though we can’t expect an immediate effect, this is a very significant and positive change in the Russian forest sector, which WWF-Russia and other environmental NGOs have been advocating for since 2013,”says Andrey Shchegolev, WWF-Russia's Forest Programme Director. “Growing forests on agricultural lands is not only economically beneficial for the forest business and the country's economy as a whole – it will create up to 100,000 of new jobs – it is beneficial for forests as well. It will help fight forest fires and most importantly, due to the additional volume of timber grown, it will help reduce impact on intact forests, which are home to many rare species of animals and plants. Now it’s very important to ensure protected status for most valuable parts of IFLs to conserve them until the new additional amount of timber can grow on abandoned agricultural lands."

Forests on abandoned agricultural lands cover at least 60 million hectares in Russia, about 10% of total forests, according to experts. They are usually located on lands that are not suitable for farming, but with the most favorable conditions for growing forests. In the long term, the volume of annual cut on agricultural lands could reach 300 million cubic meter of wood and overgrow volume of the current annual cut on the forested lands (200 million cubic meters). This new amount of timber could meet the requirements of the whole Russian industry, creating no need in further IFLs exploitation.

Previously, these lands, overgrown with forest, were abandoned and had no clear legal status. The new decree legalizes almost all types of forest management on agricultural lands, including timber harvesting. These lands are suitable for sustainable forestry (creation of well-managed plantations, forest farming, agroforestry, protective afforestation, etc.) – it will require significantly less investment of efforts and money than to turn them into agricultural use.

The new legislative initiative will help to solve the acute crisis with the available resources in many regions of the country. All industrial forests with good transport accessibility have been depleted, and timber companies are increasingly delving into the intact taiga, irrevocably destroying its ecosystems. Moreover, if the protection of forests on abandoned agricultural lands from fires, pests, diseases and forest violations was not previously provided for by legislation (which aggravated the catastrophic forest fire situation in recent years), now these issues will be given due attention.

At the same time, WWF-Russia experts say that the Decree has a number of flaws: there are still a number of contradictions with the Land Code of the Russian Federation, which may cause some uncertainty; the amounts of allowed logging and control over wood supply legality are not clearly regulated, etc.

"Any innovations always require adjustments in the process of their implementation, so the presence of flaws in the new decree is natural. They do not detract from the importance of this landmark event. For the country, this is a fundamentally new reality, where forest can grow on agricultural lands (out of borders of state forest fund), and can be private. In addition, recognizing the existence of such forests and establishing their legal status will make a significant contribution to the implementation of the goals of the Paris Agreement, comparable to other measures in terms of forest management. Within 100 years, such forests can absorb an average of about 580 million tons of CO2 annually," adds Shchegolev.
 
* Decree of the Government of the Russian Federation No. 1509 of September 21, 2020 "On specifics of use, protection, safeguarding, and reproduction of forests located on agricultural lands".

 
Example of abandoned agricultural land in Russia with naturally grown forest
© Konstantin Kobyakov \ WWF-Russia