Just before the completion of FLEG II, forestry experts gathered for one of the final meetings, on the initiative of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation.
The roundtable "The practice of law enforcement and forest management improvement in Russia", organized by the Committee on Nature Use and Ecology of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Russia, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Federal Forestry Agency and FLEG II, gathered representatives of government agencies, forest business community, scientific and educational institutions, non-governmental environmental and other public organizations.
Yuri Shuvaev (Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Russia) raised one of the most pressing issues for Russian forests – local forest management. "Forest Code transferred all forest management functions to the regional level. And it was the right thing to do. But now we have to ask ourselves - how are the regions implementing these functions? For the 85 regions of Russia, there are 85 approaches to this issue", said Shuvaev. Now the Federal Forestry Agency is revising regional forest plans, and a lot will have to be done to improve them. "Another very important issue is why forest investment projects in the regions are stalling: only two dozens are being implemented out of the 100 that have been developed". Shuvaev also raised the problem of professional forestry education in the continuously evolving conditions, such as the growing role of small and medium businesses. He cited the experience of the Voronezh region as a successful example of training professionals for average and high managing positions in the forestry.
Ivan Sovetnikov (Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of Russia) focused on the fundamental changes that had occurred in the forest legislation. He pointed out the establishment of mechanisms to prevent illegal or unjustified sanitary measures, in particular, those that can be abused for forest logging. "On October 1, 2016, a new law came into force, which substantially changed the approach to the protection of forests from pests and diseases; Forest Pathology Examinations Act became a public document; the public got access to the information about the condition of forests and can control the sanitary activities”, said Sovetnikov. “In addition, if such activities are assigned incorrectly, the Federal Forestry Agency now has the right to cancel them".
The plans of the Ministry include developing new mechanisms for assigning forest areas. Along with the purchase and sale contracts for small business, leases for medium-sized businesses, and auctions for big business, the Ministry is introducing contests, where the main criteria will not be the price but other factors: the depth of wood processing, the amount of taxes paid, the provided employment, etc. The Ministry will also soon present a draft law on the protective forests.
Marina Smetanina (World Bank) focused her speech on the FLEG II implementation: "Russia has done a great job of improving forest and forest-related laws. The inter-agency cooperation is strengthening; plans and strategies to address the causes of illegal logging are being developed. However, as the meetings we organized over the past few months in all pilot FLEG regions have shown, all these issues remain relevant and require that we continue to join our efforts".
Professional forestry and forestry education experts noted the high level of information posted on the Internet resources of FLEG II. Analytical, methodological and educational materials and publications are in particularly high demand.
Nikolay Kharchenko (Voronezh State University of Forestry and Technologies) believes that "the FLEG II program has allowed to analyze and propose ways to enhance the role of forests in the climate change adaptation and mitigation, in the conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity, and sustainable livelihood and income generation of the local communities”.
Kharchenko also stressed the need to continue efforts to create a balanced management system for protective forests and to use them efficiently in the economy. He suggested creating a protective forest zone in the forest-steppe and steppe climatic areas of Russia, where forest use for timber would be of secondary importance, and introduce payments for forest ecosystem services to make forest use more sustainable in the protective forests of central Russia.
Mikhail Kopeikin (Northern Arctic Federal University) drew attention to the "bottlenecks" in the legislation, which are not justified from forestry or ecological points of view but increase the production costs.
The roundtable participants raised many other problems, such as unsatisfactory condition of forests in many Russian regions (anthropogenic and technogenic pollution, fires, overall sanitary condition), low accountability and weak law enforcement related to the compensation for forest damage caused by tenants and forest users, unclear pricing rules for wood damaged by fires and pests, acute shortage of highly qualified forestry specialists and professionals.
The participants unanimously agreed that the forest legislation is improving, and the involvement of the Russian forest industry, small and medium enterprises in the conservation, protection, and reproduction of forests is growing.
As a result of the discussion, the experts drafted a resolution with recommendations to the Federation Council and the State Duma, the Russian Government, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Federal Forestry Agency, the regional governments, the local Chambers of Commerce and Industry, public and other interested organizations.