Russian timber companies really started to realize the importance of biodiversity in the early 1990s. This occurred at the Russian-Finnish border. In the Soviet times, areas along the border remained virtually inaccessible for national security reasons. As a heritage of the Cold War, a strip of old-growth forests along the Russian-Finish border under guard by troops for the last 50 years enjoyed nearly natural conditions. From the Finnish side, the forest was clearcut to the border line and on the Russian side, clearcuts started 30-40 km from the border.
After 1991, border restrictions were lifted and timber companies from both sides of the border anticipated the opportunity of harvesting in this unique strip of the old growth forests (the so-called Green Belt of Karelia), one of the largest in whole Europe.
Thanks to the Taiga Rescue Network, Greenpeace, WWF and other organizations, a strong awareness campaign directed at the leading consumers of Russian timber coming from the border forest started. As a result of this public pressure, Finnish companies ENSO and then UPM-Kymmene committed not to purchase timber from such forests. Many other foreign and Russian timber companies subsequently joined the Old growth forests logging moratorium for Republic of Karelia and Murmansk Oblast. To be able to follow these commitments large Finnish importers established a system to control sources of Russian wood.
Environmental activists developed a methodology, which allowed them to quickly produce maps of old growth forests. The first maps covered areas near the Finnish - Russian border, later ones covered the whole Northern European Russia. In 1999, the map The Last of the Last. Old Growth Forests of Northern Europe was published as part of the awareness campaign.
Early conflicts between environmental activists and timber companies had thus gradually evolved into more constructive relations. Systematic information on old growth forest in other parts of the country was lacking. In the early 2000s, IKEA, the MacArthur Foundation, and the World Resources Institute (WRI) and others funded the preparation of the Atlas of Russia’s Intact Forest Landscapes, a project implemented by a large consortium of Russian environmental NGOs and scientists. This was published in 2002 in Russian and English. IKEA started to use the Atlas to manage its supply chain in Russia and many other companies followed this example. This also marked the shift of the focus from old growth forests to a more general concept of high conservation value forests (HCVF).
Changes in the timber industry’s attitude toward environmental issues, especially timber procurement, reflected a growing public awareness of forest destruction and degradation. Many consumers were concerned that their purchases of wood and other forest products not contribute to this destruction but rather help to secure forest resources for the future. Certification programmes held the promise of responding to these emerging demands. In this context, forest certification was to cover not only the issue of conservation of valuable forests, but also to minimize the environmental impact of harvesting methods and to consider social issues (local community rights, health and safety regulations for forest workers, etc.). Forest certification should also be supported by all stakeholders: NGOs, local communities and business community.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was chosen as a model because it promotes environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests, by establishing a worldwide standard of recognized and respected Principles of Forest Stewardship. A National FSC Working Group was established in 2000 in order to start a national standard setting process. The Working Group plays an important role in initiating a nation wide discussion on ‘good’ and ‘bad’ forestry practices and shortcomings in legislation and law-enforcement. It also helped to bring to light the limitations of existing environmental policies of many export-oriented timber companies.
All this triggered a fast growing interest from companies in FSC certification. In early 2008, there were around 18 million hectares of FSC certified forests in Russia. This places Russia on the second position globally by the area of FSC certified forests. All major timber industries (e.g. Ilim Group, StoraEnso, UPM-Kymmene, Mondi Business Paper Syktyvkar, IKEA etc.) operating in various regions of Russia are now involved in FSC certification.
As part of their preparation for certification these companies invested hundreds of thousands US dollars in introducing biodiversity protection measures, environmentally sound harvesting techniques, improving workers health and safety standards, communicating with local and indigenous communities and setting aside forest for nature conservation. Local communities nearby certified forests as well as forest workers witnessed a tangible improvement in their life standards, and the possibility to raise their concerns. Certified companies were able to significantly improve their environmental reputation, to make their operations more efficient and to strengthen their presence on environmentally sensitive markets in Western Europe, Japan and North America.
Dr. Mikhail Karpachevskiy is the Forest Programme Coordinator at the Biodiversity Conservation Centre and currently the Chair of the Russian National FSC Initiative
and Alexei Grigoriev
is expert, IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature
, Representative Office for Russia.
See also:Biodiversity Conservation Center