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  Russia’s Sustainable Forestry Revolution
Publicado - Published: 07/07/2007

By Julia Cass

Russia has the world’s largest remaining tracts of old growth forests. But continuous logging — dating back from the days of Peter the Great to the extensive clear cutting and illegal logging of today — have gradually reduced the extent and ecological significance of these forests.

When the post-Soviet Russian government began privatizing its timber industry in the early 1990s, WWF, the global conservation organization, jumped on the opportunity to help shape the emerging free market Russian forestry sector into a more environmentally responsible model. Through its Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN), WWF started working with the new Russia forestry companies and their buyers, primarily in Europe, to eliminate illegally logged and traded forest products, and to improve the overall quality of forest management.

Guided by its philosophy of using market mechanisms to drive improvements in forestry, the GFTN has helped organize the growing demand in Europe for “green wood” by establishing groups of companies committed to buying wood products certified as being responsibly produced.

“We want to eliminate illegal logging and improve the management of valuable and threatened forests in Russia,” said Duncan Pollard, Director of WWF’s Global Forests Programme.

“By facilitating trade links between companies committed to achieving and supporting responsible forestry, the GFTN creates market conditions that help conserve the forests while providing economic and social benefits for the businesses and people that depend on them.”

The results have so far been impressive. Forest areas certified under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an independent group that sets standards for sustainable forestry, jumped exponentially from 350,000 hectares in 2003 to 7.36 million hectares by the end of 2005, including 1.6 million hectares in Siberia. By November 2006, the certified area had grown to 12.8 million hectares. It is estimated that by the end of 2007, 25 million hectares will be certified to FSC standards in Russia.

Stimulating European demand…

Responding to growing public concern that imported lumber was being sourced from old growth forests and responsible for habitat destruction, many European wood retailers, importers and distributors took action by joining newly formed national forest & trade networks (FTNs).

To be part of the network, purchasing-oriented participants agree to analyze their wood sources and increase the amount they buy from legal and certified suppliers, while production-oriented participants agree to manage forests and production facilities legally and eventually attain certification.

“We’ve managed to get the important actors in the key sectors talking about certification,” said George White, GFTN’s coordinator for responsible purchasing.

“We have achieved critical mass throughout Europe, especially in the do-it-yourself markets and their supply chains. Selling FSC is becoming the normal way to do business.”

Today, European FTN members include some of the largest companies, such as the Swedish international retail furniture giant, IKEA, and British suppliers St Gobain and Travis Perkins. Membership in Germany includes major do-it-yourself chains Hornbach & Bahr Baumarkt.

…and Russian Supply

By the late 1990s, European demand for certified lumber reached Russia, but most of the newly privatized companies there were not yet in a position to supply it.

“No one really understood what certified lumber or FSC was,” explained Elena Kulikova, WWF-Russia’s Forestry Programme Coordinator.

To help companies understand, WWF-Russia founded the Russian Forest & Trade Network in 1999 to promote sustainable forest management and voluntary forest certification. Companies that join the network make a public commitment to responsible forestry and credible forest certification. By doing so, they exclude the use of wood from unknown, illegal and uncontrolled sources, while phasing in the use of wood from known reliable sources. WWF certification centres have also been set up in several Russian cities, providing FTN member companies with consulting services and forest auditing training to achieve their goals. Another initiative to assist members is a model FSC certified forest, located south of St Petersburg.

According to Kulikova, Russian loggers traditionally clear-cut forests employing inefficient harvesting methods and pay little attention to reforestation. The model forest, on the other hand, uses Scandinavian methods that are more cost-effective and sustainable, taking steps to conserve biodiversity, preserve standing deadwood as nests for birds and identify “high conservation value” areas that require special protection.

“The model forest is a fantastic showcase on how to do FSC certified forestry in Russia,” said Darius Sarshar, GFTN’s Responsible Forestry Coordinator. “We are trying to demonstrate that modern, sustainable practices work better than traditional ones.”

Impressed by a visit to the model forest in 2004, the manager of Cherepovetsles, one of the largest timber companies in north-west Russia, joined the Russian FTN. Since then the company has been actively introducing modern forestry methods on its 580,000ha of forest concessions, all of which are now FSC certified.

“FSC certification is important for us because it is recognized by our business partners in Sweden and the Netherlands,” said Anastasia Djakovskaya, the company’s spokeswoman.

Russian suppliers for IKEA are also coming on board. Furniture factory Swedwood Tikhvin, for example, joined the Russia FTN in 2004, with 51,000ha of its forest concessions now certified. Three additional IKEA suppliers also are members.

“North-west Russia and Siberia are very important sources of pine and birch for the Swedish company,” said Alexey Naumov, a forestry manager for IKEA Russia. “Our long term goal is to source all wood from well-managed forests, and at the moment this means FSC certified. Being in the WWF group means our suppliers can get support in preparing for FSC certification.”

Looking east

The GFTN is now focusing its attention on the Russian Far East and the mixed coniferous-deciduous forests of the Amur-Heilong river basin — identified by WWF as one of the world’s most biologically important forests and the heartland of the endangered Siberian tiger and Amur leopard. These wild cats face serious threats from illegal and unsustainable logging, which is destroying their once pristine habitat.

“Illegal and unsustainable logging is a real problem here,” said Dr Darron Collins, Director of WWF’s Amur-Heilong programme. “There is huge pressure to harvest these forests.”

An estimated 70 per cent of the timber trade heads to neighbouring China, where demand is high. In fact, several large Chinese factories using substantial quantities of wood are located just across the border with Russia in the Amur-Heilong region.

“At present, timber companies in this region have little market incentive to harvest wood in an environmentally sensitive manner,” added GFTN’s George White. “The Chinese are so hungry for wood they’re not asking questions. They, as well as most of the Japanese and Korean companies that trade in the Russian Far East, are not interested in certification. Few put any premium on it at all.”

The GFTN is taking hold in Russia’s Far East in much the same way as it did in Europe and north-west Russia ten years ago — by working with timber companies to understand and ultimately achieve FSC certification, and by developing demand for responsibly harvested wood in Japan and China.

The GFTN recently established buyer-oriented FTNs in Japan and China in an effort to improve consumer awareness in Asia.

“Most of the Chinese members are locked into export markets in Europe and North America where there are strong signals for legal wood and good demand for FSC,” White said. “The Japanese market is a consumer market in itself, and there are signs of an increase in demand for legal and certified products.”

One company at a time

In 2002, Terneyles, the leading timber exporter in the Russian Far East, came under attack by international environmental organizations for logging a virgin forest that is home to endangered tigers.

Sensitive to the NGO attacks and pressure from its Japanese trading partner, Sumitomo, which wanted environmentally sourced wood, Terneyles turned to WWF for help. As part of its commitment to FSC certification, the company altered its logging practices to minimize impact in tiger areas. It also agreed to a moratorium on harvesting trees in areas of high conservation value, and made an agreement with the local Udege people to respect their hunting and fishing areas.

Today, Terneyles is a member of the Russia FTN, with millions of hectares of its concessions now FSC certified. With Terneyles on board and an active campaign to get others to join the process, many are optimistic about seeing a tipping point in responsible forestry in the Russian Far East.

“The Russian Far East is a big challenge,” said WWF’s Duncan Pollard. “But we expect to make serious inroads in the coming years, just as we did when we began in north-west Russia a decade ago.”

* Julia Cass is a freelance journalist based in the United States where she works as a writing consultant for the Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN).

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