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Federal Research Center 
"Krasnoyarsk Science Center of the Siberian
Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences"

 Федеральный исследовательский центр «Красноярский научный центр Сибирского отделения Российской академии наук»

Federal Research Center 
"Krasnoyarsk Science Center of the Siberian
Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences"

The human factor: how to minimize harm

23 December 2019 г.

Человеческий фактор: как минимизировать вред
There are increasingly fewer virgin forest areas. The timber harvesting makes its way further and further into the depths of the taiga, taking away another green area from nature. A doctor of Biological Sciences, professor, and Director (since 2007) of the V.N.Sukachev Institute of Forest  Alexander Onuchin tells about how the forest ecosystem is changing under the influence of anthropogenic factors and how to protect nature from barbaric human activities to the the online edition of the Forest Complex.

- Alexander Alexandrovich, how is the Russian forest changing under the influence of humans?

- In Russia, there are fewer coniferous forests: after cutting, they are replaced by deciduous species or low-value tree shrubs. Forest areas occupied by valuable mature coniferous forests are declining. If you look at the dynamics of the forest fund in the United States, there timber resources are increasing, because the forestry is based on the principles of expanded reproduction: they grow more trees than they cut down.

- But we also began to open tree-nurseries. Judging by the reports, reforestation is widely under way.

- Yes, now there is a tendency to breed crops, plant trees, and so on, but, eventually, this does not give much in the end. Most of these crops die, burn out, and have to be planted several times in the same place.

To prevent this, it is necessary to establish a system of sustainable forest management. What does this mean? The same amount of ripe and overripe stands which is cut down should come from the category of ripening trees. It is necessary to make the second period of forestry accounting. Nowadays we consider only 8 or 10 years, but it takes 40-50 years for the trees to grow, and only then the forest stand can be taken into balance.

In my opinion, at present the estimated cutting area is considered incorrectly - without taking into account economic and transport accessibility. For example, in the Krasnoyarsk Region, the total forest fund area is 150 million hectares while the stock amounts to 11 billion cubic meters. The estimated cutting area is equal to 93 million cubic meters. Due to the estimated cutting area being exaggerated, there is a hidden cutting, resulting in a shortage of high-quality wood, and this trend will continue. With this approach we would fully use all wood reserves in 100 years, not to mention high-quality timber, which is in deficit already. What awaits us then?

- Since July 1, clear sanitary cuttings have been allowed in the water protection zone. Probably this also indicates that there are not so many forests left?

- Deforestation of water protection lines is, of course, over the top. I agree that all this is done for a reason.

Perhaps the size of the water protection lines should be reviewed so that it is not attached to the length of the river. It should depend on the conditions on the adjacent slopes. If this is an extended slope for a good drain to form, then the protection zone should be wider. Here, a reasonable approach is needed. The role of water protection lines is to reduce the amount of incoming suspended particles etc. If we cut down forests in water protection zones, there will be serious problems in 15 years.
- Can logging be considered one of the main anthropogenic factors?
- Yes, logging along with forest fires due to humans are the most dangerous anthropogenic factors affecting the ecosystem. These also include climate change associated with human activities.
It was Vernadsky who said that man is becoming a powerful geological factor – a disastrous factor. He is dominant in our nature, and his activity seriously affects all ecosystems, so man can be attributed to environment-forming or environment-destroying factors.
- Mostly environment-destroying factor?
- Yes. Man transforms his habitat, and this is a problem. Where the forest is thoughtlessly cut down, animals migrate and vegetation changes.
To change the situation for the better, a different approach is needed. A transition to a model of intensive use and reproduction of forests is necessary. Intensive reforestation should be performed in the best forest growing conditions. If the average annual growth in Russia and Siberia is 1.3–1.5 cubic meters per hectare, then under the best forest growing conditions it is an order of magnitude higher. Take, for example, the test plot of the Institute of Forest, where the growth is 10-15 cubic meters per hectare. In fertilized areas, the result is even better. Given this, it is possible to reduce the growing period of the stand by 20-30 years.
It is necessary to create "gardens" in the forest and then "harvest the crops". So, in the southern taiga, ripe wood can be obtained as early as after 70–80 years instead of 100, which is a big difference. While in the North, under natural conditions, pine grows for 250 years. There is no point in creating plantations there.
- Suppose we create forest plantations in the best forest growing conditions, and the new forests will grow much faster, but this is still not tomorrow. Russian business is accustomed to quick profit. Who will wait for 70 years?
- Yes, as a rule, forest harvesters say that it is easier for them to build roads to Evenkia and to get back their investments in 7 years, and even to make a profit.
- Is it because our forests cannot be made private - at least to some extent?
- I think this is not a solution. Suppose an entrepreneur has a privately owned forest. First, he will cut down the forest, and then he will sell the land for the construction of houses or something else.
In the United States, for example, the state buys some forest land from the owners in order to implement the conservation and protection of plantings. A private owner does not always carry out all the necessary activities, and, for example, pests can spread to neighboring forests.
- If not private property, then what is necessary for the forest industry to develop?
- Here, a lot depends on local authorities. Participation in state programs also depends on the capabilities of the regional budget, and its replenishment depends on how the local authorities defend the interests of the region in front of the federal center.
Each constituent of the Russian Federation sees the development strategy of the forest complex in its own way. A good example of this is the amount of cutting fees. Somewhere it is 100 roubles, while in another area it can amount to only 1 rouble. Miserable price! And how much should  the state invest in order to grow a cubic meter of wood in 100 years? If you add up all the costs, you’ll have, at least, 170 roubles necessary for growing a cubic meter of wood. Where does this money come from? It would be logical to take it from the cutting fees, but they are too small.
Now the fees are paid to the budget. How much of this amount goes for growing forests, I do not know. The funds allocated to forestries is used not only for growing forests, but also for building and maintaining roads and other needs.
- But after all, timber merchants also spend a lot of money on reforestation.
- There are forest users who are conscientious: they care competently about their forest areas, provide a system of sustainable forest management: they are worthy of respect. And there are those who cut down everything in the area and start shouting: “Our company has been producing wood for 70 years, and is the city-forming one on the Angara river, we cut down everything, give us more forest areas!”. And here, a question arises: where is the forest which you should have restored during these 70 years? It should already have grown up ...
“Russian forests are an ecological “product” going abroad without duties, and the whole world makes use of it. We must be able to trade carbon quotas for export.”
- In your opinion, is it ever possible for Russia to switch to sustainable forest management?
- This could have happened at the time when, in the late 1980s, the Forest Committee was headed by Alexander Sergeyevich Isaev, a former director of the Institute of Forest. He started a systematic work, and attracted good specialists from different regions. But, unfortunately, after three years the Soviet Union collapsed, and this work didn’t continue.
I think that a true professional should be at the head of Rosleskhoz - a strong-willed person, more or less independent so that he could conduct an independent policy, rather than in the interests of certain groups. Forest is money and there must be a master in the forest who understands it, loves it, and knows how to grow trees.
Experienced forestries must be created in order to put various methods and approaches into practice. Somewhere, it makes sense to give forests in rent, somewhere not. In many countries, forest areas cannot be rented. It is foresters who look after the forest, and guard it. When they see that the forest stand is ripe for harvesting, they put it up for auction and sell it to the person who offered the highest price. After cutting, the foresters themselves perform reforestation - they know how to do it.
Here, forestry should work. In our country, the state delegated regional authorities or forest land tenants to take care about that. But they have neither good specialists nor equipment.
- Now there are a lot of discussions about changing the Forest Code? Is this a chance to improve the situation?
- It is necessary to amend the Forest Code. To begin with, there is currently no concept of forestry as such. As my colleague, academician Alexander Sergeyevich Isaev, correctly noted in his article, " forest is torn off the ground." Although in no case can it be considered separately from the natural environment where it grows.
But changing the main forest law will not solve all the problems. It’s like in the army: the charter is the same everywhere, but the order in the army units is different.
Science is ready to help. We still have specialists like Vladimir Alekseyevich Sokolov who know how to amend the Forest Code in order to avoid contradictions, erroneous actions deteriorating the forest ecosystem and destroying forestry.
The intended use of forests can be different, but forests primarily perform an environment-forming function. They reduce wind speed, trap dust, transform rainfall, regulate water run-off. In certain areas forests will fulfill resource functions for wood production. In other cases, for example, urban forests will perform recreational, sanitary and hygienic, or aesthetic functions.

Northern forests are primarily home to indigenous peoples and the habitat of wild animals, which make up an important sector in the economy of the local population, which makes its living by hunting and fishing. There, the main task of forests is to ensure biodiversity.

The biosphere functions of forests are very important for the whole world. Oxygen, which is produced by Russian forests, is an ecological “product” flowing without duties across the border.

- As we are talking about such global things, please could you clarify how forests affect climate change?
- The issue of climate change is controversial. Some scientists associate it with cosmic factors, while others consider the greenhouse theory. There are no reliable models, although a direct increase in temperatures is clearly associated with an increase in emissions. Whether the temperature increase will continue if emissions are stopped, we do not know - no one has conducted such experiments. Maybe, in spite of the emissions, we should expect global cooling due to cosmic factors and changes in the solar activity.
If we take into account the greenhouse theory, then the destruction of forests will negatively affect the climate, contributing to global warming. If to ignore it, on the contrary, it is climate change that will affect the forest. Trees and plants which do not have enough time to adapt to new conditions will die, and those adapted will have to grow in new conditions. Now, for example, due to climatic changes, Siberian fir is drying up. Due to warming, the bark beetle Polygraphus proximus has expanded its range from the Far East to Siberia, while fir has not developed yet mechanisms of defense against this pest.
To minimize harm, it is necessary to take a competent approach to sustainable forest management.
- Thank you for the interview. I hope that the attitude towards forests in Russia will nevertheless become more rational.

Source: forestcomplex.ru