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Forests – Russia

Causes of deforestation

Deforestation in Russia is occurring at approximately 2 million hectares per year (20,000 km2) due to the clearing of land for agriculture and logging. Foreign investment, demand for resources, exportation of wood products and the significant income from forest exports stimulates logging, both legal and illegal.

A matter of concern is that illegal logging is estimated to exceed 20-30% of the annual legal logging quota and 50-70% of the total Russian timber export. Illegal logging costs the government millions of dollars in lost revenues.

The Soviet period severely damaged land and water resources in areas like the Kuznetsk Basin and the lower Volga River. Under communism, central planning led to directives as to where to cut and how much to cut. This inefficient process resulted in enormous waste. Additionally, contamination by nuclear waste due to the production of nuclear weapons caused permanent damage in Southern Siberia and the Ural Mountains. When combined, the three major incidents of nuclear waste contamination in 1949, 1957, and 1967 in the Ural Mountains released more than ten times the radiation of the world's worst known reactor disaster near Chernobyl.

Airborne pollutants such as sulphur also affected vegetation in many areas of Russia. These pollutants have also accumulated in lakes, rivers, and oceans damaging the water and killing the animals.

The switch over to a new market economy has led to new pressures. Poor enforcement of laws and regulations has led to high levels of criminal activity and corruption in the bureaucracy. This criminal activity manifests itself in the logging industry in the form of illegal logging.

The government bureaucracy is unable to regulate the logging. Almost 90% of Forest Management Plans, which includes logging plans, do not have an Environmental Impact Assessment or are years out of date or give a wrong estimate of the “allowable annual cut level” and do not comply with the demands of new laws adopted in the last decade. There is an obvious violation of the Russian Nature Protection Law.

Disorder in the forest management system worsened after Federal Forest Service of Russia was dissolved in 2000. All responsibilities regarding forests were passed to the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia. This new system is still not completely operational as bureaucrats are still unclear about what the responsibilities are and where they lie.

Apart from illegal logging, there is also the problem of mass public illegal activity, which is carried out by the poor local people as a means of survival. Activities such as poaching, illegal cutting and forest land conversion allow them to obtain food, fuel, and land for agriculture. This type of illegal activity cannot be stopped until poverty in Russia is eradicated.

Direct buyers of Russia wood are often uninterested in whether the wood is legal or illegal, justifying their actions with the excuse that once bought, the wood becomes “legally clean”. Consumers of Russian wood products are thereafter often completely unaware of the environmental price they are paying for the products, and how they are further stimulating more legal and illegal logging.

The widespread development of roads, rail and infrastructure with no ecological management plans results in fragmentation of Russian forests. The nature of the fauna in Russian forests means that they require large-scale regions of protected wilderness and wildlife habitat in order to remain viable. This fragmentation also makes the forests more susceptible to natural forest fires. Fires in 1998 burned 5.7 million hectares of forests.

Russia has been economically unstable for many years, and Russian research organizations have suffered from a lack of funding to build an academic community, employ staff or replace aging equipment and technology.

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