Sunday, August 8, 2010

Wildfires, bad forest laws linked in Russia

WWF: As wildfires rage in Russia following a massive heatwave this summer, WWF-Russia says the situation is being made worse by existing forest laws which put expensive fire prevention measures in the hands of land renters in and around forested areas.

According to the Forest Code of the Russian Federation, which came into force Jan. 1, 2007 and was the subject of harsh criticism from environmental groups, “fire security measures on rented forest areas are carried out by their renters on the basis of forest exploitation projects”. In forests not under rent, fire prevention responsibilities fall on the local authorities.

These measures call for the construction of roads for fire fighting vehicles, landing grounds for fire fighting helicopters, creation of firebreaks, and maintenance of fire fighting equipment. “As a rule, these expensive activities are a heavy burden for small and medium renters, and therefore anti-fire measures are a pure formality”, says Nikolay Shmatkov, WWF-Russia forest policy coordinator.

Before drastic spending cuts in the 1990s and adoption of the new Forest Code, fire fighting was one of the responsibilities of the State Forest Service, Shmatkov said. In each forest area, guards held patrols, where they undertook fire prevention work. There also were special observation points and lookouts for early detection of fires, and trained staff with special equipment.

In addition, WWF sees other reasons for the unprecedented forest fires this summer in Russia. One of the causes for the peat fires can be traced back to the Soviet times, when wetlands were dug up for country house construction and peat extraction. Left over peat is still very flammable and can burn for a long time, because it has enough air inside to be able to smolder at deep levels. WWF believes that the most efficient way to prevent future pit fires is wetland restoration on numerous abandoned areas that housed swamps destroyed in Soviet times….

A 2008 fire in the Altai region, shot by Igorevich, Wikimedia Commons

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