17 October, 2014
Russia Is Running Out of Forest
Only 3 percent of replanted forests in Russia are maintained,
said Kobyakov of WWF Russia. As a result, up to 60 percent of their
trees wither and die, he said.
It seems unfeasible that Russia, which holds a fifth of the planet's forests, could run out of wood.
And yet it is happening, at least with commercially usable forests, environmental analysts say.
logging industry will face lack of harvestable timber in 10 to 20
years, a short time by the standards of an industry naturally tied
to slow tree growth cycles, according to their consensus.
already past the point of no return," Konstantin Kobyakov, who oversees
the protection of high conservation value forest at WWF Russia, told
The Moscow Times.
To keep the logging industry on the rails,
Russia needs to go from extensive to intensive forest management — i.e.
from clearing forests once and moving to new territories to replanting
them, industry players and officials agree.
But the process
requires massive reform and multibillion-dollar investment that would
take decades to recoup — neither of which is likely to materialize
anytime soon, given Russia's flagging economy and dismally unstable
"No one needs a crisis, but it looks like
that is the only way we'll learn," Kobyakov said in a telephone
interview earlier this month.
Too Far for Business
had about 8.8 million square kilometers of forests as of 2010,
according to a 2012 study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization,
This is 20 percent of the world's total and more than any
other country. Brazil is second with some 5.1 million square
But Russia only accounted for some 4 percent of the global logging output, the FAO study said.
accessible forests in Russia are shrinking rapidly, said Artyom Savko,
a spokesman for Ilim Group, Russia's biggest papermaker with an annual
output of 2.6 million tons.
The Russian logging industry was
thriving from the 1940s through the 1970s, mainly on forest reserves
in the central European part of the country.
But those reserves
are long depleted. In the northwestern Republic of Karelia, a former
hotbed of the industry that housed more than a hundred logging
settlements, only two such villages survive.
Russia's main sources of timber now are in Siberia, the Far East and the country's European North.
the cost of shipping timber across hundreds and thousands of kilometers
of roadless terrain can be too high to render logging profitable
in large parts of those regions, said Savko, whose company's business is
centered in the Arkhangelsk and Leningrad regions of northern European
Russia and the Irkutsk region of eastern Siberia.
about 10 percent of its remaining virgin forest in 2000-13, according
to a study by Moscow-based NGO Transparent World.
cleared between 1940 and 1970 have actually regrown enough to be cleared
again, said WWF's Kobyakov. But those offer mostly aspen or birch —
which, despite being considered the archetypal national tree in Russia,
is subpar timber compared with many conifers, which are in increasingly
short supply, experts said.
"A sharp drop in output is inevitable
in a decade or two," Kobyakov said. "How serious it will be depends
on whether we start acting now."
Replant and Maintain
logging industry still follows mid-20th-century templates of extensive
management, when loggers clear a forest and move on.
practice is intensive forest management, where trees are replanted
and only partially harvested, allowing forests to recuperate.
forest management has the added benefit of yielding more timber — up
to five to seven cubic meters of timber per hectare per harvesting
session, compared with Russia's current average of 1.5 cubic meters,
said Vladimir Dmitriyev, a spokesman for the Federal Forestry Agency.
"Everyone agrees we need to move on to intensive management," Dmitriyev said by telephone.
in fact replants a lot — 8,700 square kilometers last year, an area
roughly the size of Puerto Rico, according to official figures. But
the replanted forests get almost no maintenance, which is crucial
for producing commercially viable timber, said Dmitry Yaroshenko, head
of the forest program at Greenpeace Russia.
Only 3 percent
of replanted forests in Russia are maintained, said Kobyakov of WWF
Russia. As a result, up to 60 percent of their trees wither and die, he
"Without maintenance, you're just burying the replanting money," he said.
of the state forest agency admitted the lack of maintenance, saying
the country simply does not have the budget for it.
Some of the
agency's funds could be reallotted for maintenance, but that would make
the forest authorities vulnerable to criticism, Yaroshenko said. If
money is shifted to maintenance, it would mean a sharp drop
in replanting figures in official reports with little immediate result
to show for it.
And a state agency's effectiveness is evaluated
on the strength of its annual figures — meaning that investing in the
long-term process of maintenance would likely get officials who try it
fired long before the strategy bears fruit, Yaroshenko said.
Funds, Equipment and Other Problems
to intensive forest management is a massive and costly undertaking.
Greenpeace estimates the cost for Russia at 100 billion to 120 billion
rubles ($2.6 billion to $3.1 billion).
Not even Canada — Russia's
closest comparison by type of forest — has completed the switch
to intensive management yet, though it can better afford to delay
because it has bigger reserves of commercially available forests than
Russia, Yaroshenko said.
Regions where intensive foreign
management prevails provided 21 million cubic meters of timber last
year, of 11 percent of Russia's total output, according to WWF data.
logging industry also operates on obsolete equipment dating back
to Soviet times that requires a revamp — another costly enterprise,
given that the cost of a single paper mill is about $1 billion.
of qualified personnel is yet another problem, especially since
the Kremlin pushed through a new Forestry Code in 2006 that disbanded
most of Russia's 80,000-strong state forester corps.
is running its own education program in the Arkhangelsk region, but
experts consulted for the story agreed the effort was not enough
to supply personnel for the industry nationwide.
At least illegal
logging is not the serious problem it is often believed to be, experts
said. Despite widespread stereotypes, only about 1 percent of Russia's
timber output is illegal produce, which has a minor impact on the
industry, WWF's Kobyakov said.
Bad Climate for Forests
While nobody disputes that Russia must switch to intensive forest management, debate rages about who should foot the bill.
Savko said in e-mailed comments that the industry needs incentives
from the government, but Kobyakov said private enterprises must chip
in as well.
"They want expenditures nationalized and revenues privatized," he said.
of the Federal Forestry Agency said the state is trying to find
a middle ground between environmentalists' and loggers' concerns, but
gave little detail.
However, neither business nor the state look
capable of funding any serious reform, given the economic situation:
Russia has teetered on the brink of recession since the start of the
year, and state revenue is shrinking.
The draft state budget
for 2015 allots 32.9 billion rubles ($850 million) to the Federal
Forestry Agency, a 3.5 percent increase from this year — not enough
to even offset inflation, already at 7.7 percent since the start of this
year, according to the Central Bank.
Moreover, the business
climate in Russia is Arctic cold, thanks to a war of sanctions between
Russia and the West over Moscow's meddling in Ukraine and the arrest
this month of Vladimir Yevtushenkov, the billionaire owner
of oil-to-telecoms conglomerate Sistema.
The arrest has been
widely seen as a Kremlin-endorsed attempt to strip the billionaire
of assets, highlighting the lack of guarantees for investors in the
country. In a sign of plummeting confidence, capital outflow is
officially forecast this year at between $90 billion and $120 billion,
up from $63 billion this year.
All of which means that
the already flagging logging industry — which employs 800,000 people
nationwide — has little to look forward to, said Yaroshenko
"Companies are either scraping by to survive
another year or pretending that everything is rosy in hopes of finding
a sucker to sell their business to," he said.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source : www.themoscowtimes.com