News from Ukrainian forests
Issue #1, 02 May, 2022
Yehor Hrynyk, “Ukrainian Nature Conservation Group”, [email protected]
Our country is at war. But vested interests in Ukraine are cynically using the conflict to water down environmental controls.
- Over 30 Ukrainian NGOs demand passing environmental laws which are essential for successful European integration.
Environmental protection has never been among the Ukrainian government’s priorities. And the situation became even worse when the war started. Oddly enough, war became a window of opportunity too, as Ukraine got a viable opportunity to join the EU when Russian invasion started.
Success of Ukraine’s European integration depends on environmental legislation, among other things. The majority of environmental laws which are essential for European integration of Ukraine have never been passed during recent years, including those envisaged by the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, which includes clauses on protection of Ukraine’s forests
Therefore, more than 30 Ukrainian NGOs, including Environment-People-Law and WWF-Ukraine, are calling upon the authorities to pass 7 critical environmental laws without delay. Some of them directly concern forest protection:
- Draft law On Emerald Network Territories that should at last formalise the Emerald Network, which is the counterpart of Natura 2000 for EU non-member states. Without this law hundreds of thousands valuable Ukrainian forests cannot be protected;
- Draft law On Timber Market that should reduce corruption during timber sales, which means allocating more funds to forest protection;
- Draft law On State Environmental Control should fully reform the Ecological Inspectorate of Ukraine which is a corrupt agency ignoring illegal logging in forests.
More details about the campaigns progress will come in our following newsletters. Watch this space!
- Ukrainian MPs cancelled the ‘silence season in forests claiming to do so the country’s defensive capabilities.
The war in Ukraine demonstrated extraordinary unity both at home and abroad. However, shady business and the desire to destroy nature are still around. On March 15, 2022 Ukrainian parliament passed the Law No. 7144 which cancelled an important environmental regulation.
The so-called “silence season” – a prohibition to cut timber in protected areas and other forests during the critical time for animal breeding between April 1 and June 15 – shall be called off during the ongoing period of martial law.
Indispensable for conservation of biodiversity, the silence period was highly inconvenient for the foresters. Using the war, they lobbied for its cancellation under the pretext of “supporting the country’s defensive capabilities”. However, forests not covered by the silence season can sufficiently provide for the needs of the economy amidst market decline. It appears that pregnant forest animals and not Russian soldiers pose a threat to Ukraine. And they have to be destroyed to win.
The entire process from the draft law registration to the law being passed in full took only… 48 hours! Civil society had zero possibility to influence the situation. By the way, this is not the first time the parliament has passed laws during the war without any adequate discussions, covertly and in a undemocratic way.
As a reminder, a 2020 investigation revealed that a supplier to famous Swedish furniture retailer Ikea was found to have purchased wood from a Ukrainian supplier who had flouted this law.
Incidentally, the Parliament used the same law to exempt the projects involving “renewable works to control the impact of armed aggression and fighting during martial law and during the rebuilding period after cessation of hostilities” from the requirement for an environmental impact assessment. There is no definition of either the projects or the rebuilding period, so we expect abusive practices on a large scale.
- Public access to the information of timber cutting limited under the pretext of war.
Since the beginning of Russian invasion Ukrainian authorities have limited access to numerous public resources and databases, including forest-related.
The following are no longer publicly available:
- Forest maps, including those containing no sensitive information;
- There is no possibility to propose amendments to the environmental impact assessments needed to approve forest management plans (which in turn decides what is harvested within a state forestry enterprise) and there is no possibility to view the management plans themselves.;
- Information about planned sanitary cuttings;
- Entering forests (mostly state-owned) has been prohibited in many regions of Ukraine, including those where no hostilities have taken place. The authorities explained the prohibition using a ‘fire hazard’ excuse, but in reality, access to the forests where massive fires are virtually impossible (and no limitations were introduced in the past) has also been denied.
Authorities claim they have discontinued access to such information because it could be used by the Russian aggressors. This explanation is justifiable for detailed forest maps only. It is still unclear how the occupants can make use of the list of planned timber harvests.
Moreover, limiting access to information about forests is a step back and allows lots of space for corruption to grow. the reality now is that Ukrainian civil society has been deprived of the possibility to influence timber harvests and to monitor their legitimacy and sustainability. Moreover, the war has most likely already resulted in increase in illegal and unsustainable cuttings. However, due to lack of access to information, the public can only speculate about that.
These signs indicate that the war will also be a tragedy for the forests of Ukraine. If the situation continues to deteriorate, Ukrainian wood may no longer comply with requirements of the European Union Timber Regulation [EUTR], which requires imported timber to be at negligible risk of illegality.
Western Ukraine is home to the Carpathian forests, and as the central country in the Carpathian arc connecting the Carpathians in EU countries like Romania and Slovakia, deterioration of forests and biodiversity of forests in Ukraine has serious implications for the viability of the entire Carpathian region.
At the same time, there is still a chance of a positive outcome. The EU can still indicate its concern about the protection of forests to the government of Ukraine and stress the importance of keeping existing environmental requirements for forestry in place, but also the importance that they be enhanced and improved.