According to a new Russian forestry development plan, harvest should more than double on a national basis over the next ten years. Most of the increase is supposed to take place in European Russia, involving western companies and probably selling most of the forest products on the export market. If implemented, the plan will put tremendous pressure on the remaining old-growth forests of Karelia and other parts of European Russia, says Alexei Grigoriev of the Socio-Ecological Union analysing the development plan and the present situation in Russian forestry.
An area of special concern is the old growth forest belt at the border between Finland and Russia (Karelia republic and Murmansk oblast). This "green belt" is clearly visible on satellite images. It is nearly 1000 km long and 2-80 km across, the average width being 20-30 km.
On the Finnish side of the border, most of the old growth forest has been clear-cut and transformed into young coniferous plantations. The Karelian and Murmansk timber industries has been operating in the same way, but the forests along the border have been protected by security regulations. During the communist era all kinds of activities and even entrance of civilians into the border zone was restricted. Since the boarder troops was under KGB control, the restrictions were rather strong.
Outside of the border belt, the activities of the Russian timber industry has been a brutal massacre of forests, especially in Karelia. The last remains of old growth forest have survived close to rivers, roads, lakes and cities, where they are protected as "first group forest" according to the Russian Forestry Act. Large areas of unfragmented old growth forests presently can be found only in the border zone and in the north-western part of Karelia.
Presently, easily accessible parts of the Karelian "green belt" is under pressure from both sides of the border. The timber could either be delivered directly to Finnish plants, or processed in Karelia. Even in this case however, it is most likely that the timber or the products will end up on the European export market.
The Finnish timber industry promotes the implementation of the Scandinavian forestry model in Russia. In their forestry master plan for European Russia, the international Finnish consultant company Jaakko Poyry Ltd. strongly attacks the protection of "group 1 forests" in Russia, suggesting that this classifications system should be abandoned. The Master Plan was made on behalf of the Russian Ministry of Economy, a successor of the former Gosplan (the powerful central planning authority), the organiser of the Karelian forest destruction. In a way the forestry master plan can be seen as a western envelope, covering the plans to complete this process.
Alexei Grigoriev, Socio-Ecological Union, Russia If present trends remain, influence of Russian environments will most likely decrease in the future, while the importance of pressure from abroad will grow. This is because a main principle behind the ongoing reconstruction of Russian economy is to increase the export of raw materials. .