On April 30 Douglas Sheil, professor in Forest Ecology, and Gert-Jan Nabuurs, professor European forest resources, published a letter in Science magazine in which they urge the international forest science community to engage constructively with Russia as the country develops and applies new forest policies.
Russia is home to one-fifth of the world’s forest lands, about 90% of which comprise fragile boreal areas. These forests sustain unique human cultures, valuable wilderness, and biodiversity. They also play a crucial role in the flows of atmospheric moisture on which millions of people depend and sequester a substantial, though uncertain, quantity of greenhouse gases. Despite their importance, Russian forests have suffered from wasteful over-harvesting of accessible timber, inadequate protection, fire, pests, and new challenges—such as forests on melting permafrost—are emerging. The previous forest code, and a long history of extraction without investment, have been widely blamed for exacerbating these problems. The Forest Council of the Russian Academy of Science has initiated work on a new national forest code. The future of Russia’s vast forests depends on the implementation of effective policy.
Initial drafts of the new code offer a step forward. They establish sustainable policies that are based on science, institutional reforms, and good governance, and they give conservation and climate concerns nearly as much emphasis as timber revenues. However, to achieve its goals, the finalized code must be passed as law and attract ample financial and political support.
The international community can help Russia develop and support an effective forest code and the institutions required to protect its forest lands. Globally, there is valuable experience and expertise that can guide best practice. This will be essential to guide the transition to a market economy, with payment for ecosystem services and the effective implementation of conservation and sustainable management in a fast-changing world. For example, international communities could augment the knowledge of Russians with local experience in conservation planning and effectiveness, the financial mechanisms to fund and incentivize forest conservation and restoration, and the development and implementation of the “climate-smart” strategies and practices required to sustain forests and forestry under climate change.
We urge the international forest science community to engage constructively with Russia as the country develops and applies new forest policies. Broad collaborations can help Russia develop and implement forest protection and sustainable management through an open exchange of ideas among local and international institutions. Russia’s forests are the country’s sovereign concern, but the fate of those forests has global consequences. International attention, collaboration, and support can help ensure that they continue to thrive.