On January 27, 2017 Arkhangelsk deputies held a round table on the establishment of a regional reserve "Verhneyulovsky" in the central part of the interfluve between the rivers of the Northern Dvina and Pinega (the intact forest landscape known as Dvinsky forest). Final resolution of the round table is not yet available, but the draft document explicitly states that the deputies of the region and regional authorities consider it inappropriate to establish this reserve on the area (489 000 hectares), as it is stated in the Forest Plan of the Arkhangelsk region.
Statements of district and regional deputies and heads of districts have already been published in some regional media. These statements emphasize the impossibility of establishing the reserve. Among the arguments the following are listed: the area of the projected reserve is in a long-term lease, the creation of the reserve may result in the loss of jobs and huge part of annual allowable cut, preserving this forest has no sense as it is over-mature, it needs to be clear cut and engaged in reforestation.
Media also report that the establishment of the protected area is forced by the environmental organizations such as Greenpeace and WWF, while municipalities are strongly against the creation of the reserve.
These arguments have a fair share of guile and some are simply erroneous.
First, it is true that Greenpeace and WWF insist on the creation of this protected area, but they are not alone. The justification of the reserve has been prepared by a large group of scientists from the Arkhangelsk and other regions; the Forest plan of Arkhangelsk region, which includes the reserve, has been approved by the Governor, and the Year of Protected Areas in the Russian Federation, which involves the development of PA system, has been established by the President of Russian Federation.
Second, spruce forests that dominates in planned protected area are not very productive. Even if these forests are cut without any limitations, they will not provide the volumes that officials expect.
Third, clear cutting already completely dominates in the Northern Dvina-Pinega interfluve, and there are already wast areas available for reforestation. But in practice no effective reforestation is provided, cleared areas are invaded with birch and aspen (tree species that have very limited demand from industry) and are virtually forever excluded from economic use.
Fourth, the existing “wood mining” system, absolutely dominant in this area and in the whole region (clear cutting without subsequent reforestation and forest growing), creates approximately three times fewer jobs than a good forestry on developed forest lands would create.
But the position of regional deputies and municipal authorities is quite clear: they do not need the reserve, they want to consume the unique wild forest with clear cutting entirely, or almost entirely. At the current rate of logging, it may take not too much time, especially given the collapse of the ruble in 2014-2015 which made the export of forest products extremely profitable. As a result of the collapse of the ruble, the rate of logging and fragmentation of IFL has now considerably accelerated, and the loss of these forests in 2016 for the first time exceeded five percent per year. Here is the data on the IFL in the area between the Dvina and Pinega area loss in the last sixteen years (the loss calculated "summer to summer"), and the trend:
Here are the examples of how the logging in IFL looks like. Red lines indicate the boundaries of the intact forest landscape in 2000, the yellow ones - in 2016):
Since the chronically poor management of forests around the preserved wild zone increases the deficit of accessible resources each year, and the lack of costs on silviculture makes logging a very profitable business, the loss of valuable forest without establishment of protected raea will grow each year. If current trends continue, and if further developments will be based on the position of deputies and heads of districts, the most important parts of the Dvinsky forest may be lost in the next decade.During the past decades and still the forest management system (“wood mining”) in the Arkhangelsk region is a system of conversion of commercially valuable coniferous taiga forests into large areas of birch and aspen forests, which are of very little value for the Russian forest industry and therefore excluded from economic use for a very long time. Progressive deficit of valuable softwood in developed exploitable forests is compensated by continuous carving up of the last areas of wilderness, and involving of high conservation value forests into industrial logging.
What is dangerous about this position of the deputies, heads of districts, forest management officials and forest industries supporting the current approach to forest management?
First, the unique natural area will be destroyed - one of the last large remnants of natural middle-taiga forests, protecting at least ten percent of salmon-spawning rivers of the Arkhangelsk region. This area preserves viable populations of many rare and protected plant and animal species, including the golden eagle, eagle owl, forest reindeer, lady's slipper, and many others will be lost. It is the habitat of one of the three isolated populations of the forest reindeer which is now close to complete disappearance in the region, and this habitat may be lost.
Second, the idea of voluntary forest certification will be completely discredited, in particular, FSC system, for which the area between the Northern Dvina and Pinega river is also a “key habitat”. This unique natural area is clearly a high conservation value forest, falling into the most important categories of HCVF, adressed by special recent decision of the FSC General Assembly (Motion 65).
The loss of this area after sixteen years of the development of FSC in the Dvina-Pinega interflive will be a catastrophic failure for the FSC system. Even the risk of such a loss (explicit refusal of the authorities of the planned creation of the reserve) will be a resounding failure of worldwide importance.
For the Arkhangelsk region FSC is the main key that opens the eco-sensitive markets and creates environmentally friendly image of its forest products. Therefore, the consequences of this failure could be disastrous for regional forest industries. Alternative certification system PEFC, which is only at the beginning of rapid growth in the region, will most likely follow FSC, or at least get one of the biggest failures in it's history.
Third, the long-term development of the forest sector of several districts will practically collapse. Current forest management system in the area means treating forests as a natural deposit of logs, without an effective reproduction of commercially valuable forest resources. If this will continue with no limits, this will grant logging companies few more years of happy life, with no motivation for development of forestry. This means, that the window of opportunity – currently high incomes of forest industries - will not be used for providing transition from wood mining practces to real forestry, and later, most possibly, there will be simply no funds for forestry development.
Fourth, the regional government will gain a reputation of being unable to fulfill even their own decisions in the field of nature protection. For environmentalists and scientists, the government will inevitably cease to be a partner with whom you can negotiate about something serious and the effective operation of which can be counted on. This will be a great loss to the region, which some ten years ago had a reputation of "a reserve of decent officials". Forestry in the region is now in a state of severe disruption, and to exit from this chaos friendly cooperation of all parties is needed.
Thus, the consequences of failing to create the reserve in the interfluve between the Northern Dvina and Pinega in the borders close to those provided by the regional Forest plan, can result in disastrous consequences for the unique natural area, for FSC forest certification system (and most likely PEFC), for forest industries working in the area, and for socio-economic development of a very large part of the region. Everybody involved should try to avoid such developments, although chance is little.