Russia plans timber tracking to control illegal logging

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Source: Environment News Service (ENS)

By 2011 there will be a unified information system in operation in Russia for controlling timber circulation that may help the government combat illegal logging, according to a report in 'Russian Forestry Review' magazine. The new system was announced by Valery Roshchupkin, head of the Russian Ministry of Natural Resource's Federal Agency for Forestry, or Rosleskhoz, at a meeting of the Interdepartmental Commission on Prevention of Illegal Timber Circulation.

The system is intended to facilitate reduction in illegal logging in the country. The unified information system will track the transfer of timber from the moment it is harvested to its processing and transfer to export.

The second program developed by the commission is the introduction of compulsory accounting of timber at entry and exit of wood processing plants.

Semyon Levi, deputy head of the Ministry of Natural Resources, said 10 percent of all timber harvested in Russia is illegal. In total, 180 million cubic meters of lumber is felled in Russia each year.

Forests cover about 45 percent of the land area of Russia, and the most recent Rosleskhoz report, issued March 12, shows 82 billion cubic meters of 'growing stock.'

Allowable annual forest cuts equal 635 million cubic meters, the report shows.

The report, issued by Roshchupkin, indicates that the country has put in place a 'new national forest policy, the liberalization of access to forest resources, the guarantees of federal and regional governments towards implementation of investment projects and preferential packages for businesses, and a tough customs policy.'

With these factors in place, the report concludes that 'Russia has established proper conditions for forest resources development, implementation of priority projects and attraction of investments towards wood-processing industry modernization.'

The Russian NGOs Forest Club, an informal working group of representatives from the largest NGOs working for Russian forest conservation, says that illegal logging falls into three categories.

There are pure criminal activities such as logging without official permission, timber theft, falsification of documents, financial crimes, use of violence against local peoples, law violations by authorities, and corruption.

Then there is illegal activity in forests by poor people seeking to satisfy their basic needs for food and fuel. They will engage in forest encroachment and forest land conversion for agriculture usage, and poach trees.

And there is the lack of law enforcement, the NGOs say.

In addition, government authorized thinnings that are done in middle-aged, premature or mature forests, allow thinnings to be a source of commercial wood.

'According to existing Russian practice,' says Alexey Yaroshenko of Greenpeace Russia, 'almost 100 percent of such commercial thinnings actually are represented by high-grading (creaming) of stands, that leaves degraded, unhealthy and often unstable stands.'

These 'thinnings' are one of the major sources of unregistered and unpaid (illegal) wood, especially of most valuable hardwoods and high grades of softwood logs,' he said.

Time alone will tell whether Russia's new unified information tracking system will be able to control any or all of these forms of illegal logging.

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