Commercial Logging Fails in Russian Parliament

MOSCOW, Russia, November 26, 2003 (ENS) - Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, today decided not to pass amendments to the Russian Forest Code that would have allowed widespread logging by private companies throughout the country.

Russia has nearly a fourth of all the world's forest resources, but investments in forestry and timber development are now small. Currently, according to the Forest Code of the Russian Federation (1997), all forests of the country are owned by the state.

The amendments sponsored by the State Duma, parliament's lower house, were written to streamline logging approvals and regulate the development of forest concessions by private companies.

Sergei Openyshev, deputy head of the Council's agribiz committee told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti that the Forest Code amendments would have presented unlimited opportunities for the commercial development of Russia's forests.

Openyshev represents Altai Krai in southwestern Siberia, where wood processing is an important industry in the capital Barnaul. He said the amendments would give companies a free hand to develop forests into industrial, agricultural or residential lands.


Road into Russian old growth forest (Photo courtesy Boreal Forest)
The senator said the proposed Forest Code changes might trigger an unlimited and uncontrolled extermination of forests even in nature preserves.

Currently, private timber companies can lease some forest land from the Russian government for up to 49 years, and its use is regulated. The amended code would give any private company the opportunity to buy the forested land outright, or use it for up to 99 years and then buy it.

The Federation Council voted down the Duma sponsored bill and resolved to set up a conciliatory commission with the lower house to resolve the controversial sections.

President Vladimir Putin regards development of the timber industry as a priority for his government. The Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted Putin as telling a meeting of timber industry representatives in Petrozavodsk in August, "Russia has all opportunities to become a major exporter of high quality timber, while the forest industry is capable of bringing impressive profits to the national economy."

Illegal logging and forest fires threaten Russia's forested lands, which are inhabited by such rare animals as the Siberian tiger, bears, flying squirrels and the endangered eagle owl.

In October 2001 Lars Laestadius of the World Resources Institute’s Global Forest Watch and Dmitry Aksenov of the Socio-Ecological Union International on behalf of Greenpeace Russia published the results of a five year research project that shows Russian forests are already fragmented.


Clearcut in northern Russia (Photo courtesy Global Forest Watch)
Using satellite images and fieldwork, Laestadius and Aksenov created new maps of the Europe’s last remaining wilderness forests. They show that Northern European Russia is not an unbroken stretch of forest wilderness. Few forest areas remain undisturbed and all are in the remote far north.

Only 14 percent or 32 million hectares of the boreal or northern forests of European Russia remain in relatively undisturbed large blocks of at least 50,000 hectares each, the maps show.

The researchers say that the main threat is fragmentation by logging roads, geological survey lines, and fires that usually follow them.

“The significance of this work goes far beyond Russian forestry,” Dr. Alexander Isaev said at the time the maps were released. This member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a forest minister of the former Soviet Union, who reviewed the report, said, “These are the last big forest wilderness areas of Europe and an important part of our common European heritage. We need to keep them wild and protected by law.”