Forest management in Russia
Forests cover about 50% of the land in Russian Federation according to the data of the World Bank. The report issued by Lesprom, the market research agency in Russia, indicated the timber industry added 1.12% to the total GDP of Russian Federation in 2014. In the Russian Far East about 80% of all cut timber is intended for export, and 92% of the export is to China.
The Forest Stewardship Council currently certifies about 40.59 million hectares of forest in Russia or about 23% of all forests intended for harvesting. Research in the US has demonstrated environmental and economical benefits of certification. One of the main motivations for the US companies to obtain the FSC certification is to gain market access to large retail stores such as Home Depot that minimize the purchase of non-certified lumber. Additionally, state-level regulations enacted to ensure the sustainable use of the forestland requires that the wood products sold on the territory of the United States do not contain illegally sourced timber. Thus, for the companies operating outside of the US and interested in entering the US market, it is also necessary to obtain a certification.
However, it is not yet clear how much of the total volume of timber harvested in the Russian Far East is intended for the final sale in the US and European markets. It is also not evident if the Russian retailers have any obligations to sell sustainably harvested timber from the Russian Federation or if the retailers in China, the primary-importer of the Russian timber from the Russian Far East region, have similar requirements.
Forest certification, motivated by a commercial interest in maintaining supply, might help to ensure sustainable management practices. The market pressures might also motivate good forest governance that safeguards critical resources and protects forest values. There has been a steady growth in the forested area certified by FSC in the Russian Far East, starting from 2000. However, it is still not clear whether this growth is associated with any real ecological benefit for the ecosystems where the timber companies are operating. It is suspected that certified companies are still employing the widely criticized extensive forest management system instead of moving to intensive system, where the resource consumption does not exceed its replenishment. It is also suggested that there is no difference in how certified and non-certified companies are addressing the issue of reforesting the harvested areas and that their harvesting practices do not differ.
One of the problems that timber companies are facing in Russia is the fact that they are not the owners of the land where they operate. All forested land belongs to the government that leases the land to the commercial enterprises, and the cost of the lease is determined by how much timber is available on that land. The maximum allowed lease length is 49 years, with the right to renew the lease. However, many lease agreements are only signed for 10 to 20 years, suggesting that the control over the land might be passed on to a new leaseholder after the agreement expires.
My project will involve two parts:
1) To analyze the underlying motivations to pursue FSC certification, I am planning to conduct a series of interviews with the certificate holders to answer the following questions:
a) What was the main motivation to become certified?
b) Was that an economically beneficial decision?
c) Does the company-certificate holder have plans to continue its association with FSC in the next year?
2) My research will also focus on finding if the certificate holders are meeting one of the main criteria of FSC, the requirement to conduct timely reforestation of the harvested areas.
For answering this question I am planning to compare the land management practices on the territories of the certified and non-certified companies. Criteria for comparison are as follows:
a) The prevalent harvesting methods on the leased territory
b) The areas where a company performed any activity to facilitate natural forest regeneration
c) The areas where any planting had been done
d) The harvest volumes in relationship to the area of land that a company lease
e) The types of harvest and types of retention in relation to lease length