Russia chokes from Forest code

Feature story - 9 August, 2010
The climate change that caused a terrible heat wave and drought in Russia is important but not the only reason for the devastating wildfires in the Central Russia regions.

If nothing changes and if the weather is as hot as it is now the next year the devastating forest fires will hit Russia again

The Forest Code signed off by Mr Putin in 2007 has abolished the centralized woodland-fire control system that used to give the alert when fires broke out and helped to fight them at an early stage.

Till 2007 there was a centralized body responsible for forest protection (Goslesohrana). Its staff consisted of about 70 thousand foresters who patrolled their forest territories on a regular basis and fought the fire at an early stage.  However after adoption of the new Forest code the Goslesohrana was abolished and its functions were distributed between regional authorities and private leaseholders. Instead of 70000 forest guards Russia now has around 12000 forest bureaucrats who mainly do the paperwork.

The Emergency Situations Ministry (MES) is not responsible for forest fire fighting unless the fire threatens the settlements and therefore is not experienced in battling the forest and peat bog fires. The machinery and equipment MES obtains very often can not be used for forest fire fighting activities. For example this kind of equipment can not pass unpaved forest roads or can not assure water extraction from shallow and partly dried water sources.  Eventually 80% of all people involved in forest fires fighting are forest workers whose powers and possibilities are nearly exhausted.

Many foresters are now working out of a mere enthusiasm - in the budget only 2,2 billion rubles are allocated for fire fighting. With the scale of forest fires we are now facing this budget will be sufficient only for two days. But if there is no money there is no modern equipment.

There is no reason to rely on leaseholders: under the law they are obliged to assure fire fighting but not to fight the fire. Fire fighting is within the duties of those regional bodies that won the tender for fire-extinguishing activities. But many regions simply don't have such organizations. They do not have representatives of forest services as well: where the major forest areas are leased, the forest services and former forestry stations are rather small since it is expected that main forestry activities should be done by leaseholders. As consequence when it is necessary to attract professionals for fighting with forest fires it turns out that there is nobody to attract.  

So, what should be done?

First of all the authorities should honestly admit that the heatwave is not the only one to blame for the situation we are facing now. The problem can be solved if the government establishes a centralized system of forest protection employing no less than 20000 people, Greenpeace believes.

If nothing changes and if the weather is as hot as it is now the next year the devastating forest fires will hit Russia again.

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