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Yurii Gagarin: Russia needs switching from extensive to intensive forest management 15.07.2013, 17:23

Yurii Gagarin: Russia needs switching from extensive to intensive forest management

Long-term forest management will come to our life if forest leasers see the future

The all-Russian Advanced Training Institute for Forestry Managers and Experts in Pushkino hosted a discussion seminar “Forestry under the Conditions of Forest Lease: Interests of the Government and Business”. The event took place in the framework of the training forum “Forest Universities”. 

According to Professor Anatolii Petrov, that controversial topic was the focus at the discussion in the “Forest Capital” of Russia.

Over 50 participants were invited, and many officials from the regions were to arrive. Therefore, a three-day-long program was prepared, but some higher forces interfered, and it turned out that two more large-scale forest-related activities were held at the same time. The number of empty seats at the lecture room of the Institute showed that forest lease was not the priority.

The first reports proved the same. They were well prepared, but had just a slight relation to the topic announced. Then the rector of the Institute decided to set the style and make the subject matter clear, i.e. what mechanism was necessary for developing forest lease relations? Do the forest owner (the government) and private business (leaser) get along well? What hinders their good relations?

 Some regions had something to share. The Minister of Natural Resources and Forest Industry of Archangelsk region Sergei Shevelev was rather concise. He told that Russian sawmilling sector had been losing resources, and if 60 years ago up to 93 percent of the wood was conifers, now this figure is only 76.

There is a huge lack of raw material for saw logs, i.e. for the basis of the forest industry. Among all other things, this factor creates social problems. In order to prevent people from abandoning villages, to build roads, to maintain the infrastructure and to do reforestation, the region gives all support to leasing forests out.  However, this is not easy. As soon as some progress was gained, the governor was changed, and mutual understanding was achieved not in one day. Now everything is fine, 7 lease agreements were concluded in 2011, 4 in 2012 and 5 this year. An experiment has been planned for 2014, and forestry will be maintained on an economic basis. It means that forest leasers will get compensation for proper reforestation.

The program needs support from researchers, and Sergey Shevelev pointed at the director of the Northern Forestry Research Institute, who was sitting in the audience. Sergei Yaroslavtsev promised to support the other Sergei; by the way, they came from the same region.

Vladimir region ran the first leasing tenders as early as in 2002 – 2003. The key principles have not changed much after the new Forest Code was adopted. The key type of lease is wood harvesting. There are no complaints about the absolute majority of forest leasers, said the First Deputy Director of Vladimir region Forestry Directorate Evgenii Malyshev. They showed their best side: they do reforestation, take care about forest seedlings and prepare soil for future plantations. 

Vladimir sees quite a lot of positive things from those forest leasers, i.e. the share of forestry in the regional GDP increases, jobs are created, budgets of all levels gain revenues, and the risk of swindlers entering forest business has shrunk to the minimum.

Evnegii Malyshev is concerned about “leasing forests out on the grounds of tenders, but not auctions. Money cannot be the decisive factor!” Besides, lack of forest survey data is a big hindrance (the existing papers cover only 40 percent of the forests). One phenomenon is comical: former collective and Soviet farms that are entitled to get forests free of charge according to the new law, consider it as compensation for underproduction of milk and meat.

Republic of Komi is rich in forests, but only one and a half million hectares of forests are leased. According to the employee of the Republican Forest Committee Andrei Navalikhin, this is the core of the regional forest management. He believes it unfair to burden forest leasers with reforestation without reimbursement. The government should pay for that. And if a leaser refuses from doing reforestation for some reason, the job should be done by some special organization.

“What we have now is military communism, and people get paid with canned meat. We offer forest to the leasers for some unknown money, and impose a lot of duties on them: do this, do that, help some school. Is this the market? Is this economy? The situation cannot last any longer”. All officials taking the floor were worried about vagueness of lease conditions and short terms of the lease, “nobody will make investments without future prospects”.

Those who intend leasing forests have the same concerns.

“What can you say about the quality of relations with governmental authorities? How is your life”, asked Anatolii Petrov a representative from Vladimir region Segei Trukhanov, and the answer was, “only patriots work in forestry”, and relations with the Forestry Directorate were good.

Sergei looks so young that it is hard to believe that he has been working in the forest since 2001. However, he started not with forest lease but with a chainsaw. He was involved in forest lease in 2009 and got voluntary certification. He complains that timber is of low quality and two thirds are aspen.

- Are you forced to do reforestation? – asked Professor Petrov.
- Of course. We include the expenditure in the prime cost.
- What would you expect from the government?
- Long-term relations. Not 10 years but 49. Who would invest, if some new official can terminate the contract? Forestry cannot do without trust.

- Are you ready to buy and own forests?
- Yes.

 There was not a single person at the meeting who would doubt an obvious thing – Russia needs to switch from extensive forest management to the intensive model. Researchers from St. Petersburg Forest Research Institute presented a figure, which can make one cry: forestry effectiveness in the Russian Federation is 30 times lower than in Sweden or Finland. The tide can be changed, and the evil tradition of “nomadic logging companies” can be overcome, and everybody knows how. “Companies will start investing, if they have clear understanding of the result of their business. Otherwise, it will be one-day-long forest management”, wrapped up the conclusion a St. Petersburg scholar Sergei Shinkevich.

 Seminar participants will see the mechanisms of government-to-business interaction during their trip to Kovrov sawmill. See the report in the next issue.



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