Yehor Hrynyk, “Ukrainian Nature Conservation Group”, [email protected]
Ukrainian Parliament calls partners to strengthen sanctions against Russian and Belarusian wood!
In May 2023, the Parliament of Ukraine officially called partner countries to strengthen sanctions against Russian and Belarusian wood-based products. In particular, Ukrainian parliamentarians called on the governments of foreign countries to:
- Introduce a complete ban on the purchase, import and transit of any Russian and Belarusian wood products, including those manufactured in third countries. This is important as not all wood products are currently under sanctions. Moreover, cases of circumvention of sanctions, as well as labelling of Russian products as coming from other countries are common.
- Introduce a ban on the sale, transfer, export and maintenance of any machinery and equipment used for logging and woodworking in Russia and Belarus. Such a ban is important as Russian and Belarusian woodworking and forestry sectors depend on machinery and equipment from Western countries.
Sanctions against Russian and Belarusian wood are an effective way to weaken the aggressor in order to achieve peace in Ukraine as soon as possible. In 2022, dozens of NGOs from Ukraine and other European countries have already called on governments including those in the EU, US and UK to implement such a decision. However, the sanctions against wood from Russia and Belarus remain incomplete.
New initiatives to increase wood harvesting in Ukraine!
In previous newsletters we mentioned that Ukrainian authorities have been promoting the increase of wood harvesting volumes. During 2022 there have been many initiatives in the parliament and the government aimed at facilitating additional logging.
Due to loud NGO opposition most such initiatives were not successful. However, some of them – for example, the suspension of the ban on logging in high conservation value forests in the spring period – were adopted by the parliament.
In 2023, the situation only worsened. This spring the government proposed significant changes to the Logging Rules in Ukraine. The draft document provides for the cancellation of most environmental restrictions on logging. For example, it allows clear sanitary cutting in some parts of national parks, removes restrictions on sanitary cutting in mountainous forests, and creates opportunities for final felling in hundreds of thousands of hectares of forests previously inaccessible for exploitation.
The draft of the new Logging Rules is the most serious of all legislative threats to forest biodiversity for the period 2022-23. Currently, the Ukrainian government has not yet approved the document, and the review is ongoing.
Another initiative to increase felling is a draft law #9516 registered at the end of July 2023. The authors proposed removing the need for an environmental impact assessment for clear sanitary cutting, which directly threatens old-growth forests in the Carpathians. Like the draft of the new Logging Rules, this draft law is still under consideration by the deputies.
State forestries united into a single enterprise “Forests of Ukraine”
Until 2022, the majority of Ukrainian forests – 73% – were managed by independent state forestry enterprises. Since 2023, such enterprises were merged into a single state enterprise “Forests of Ukraine”, which became a monopolist in the country’s wood market.
The change has already led to a negative impact on forests. The newly established “Forests of Ukraine” declares its intention to increase the “efficiency of forest management”, referring to an increase in the wood harvesting volume. These plans have the support at the highest political level. For example, the company actively invests in the construction of new forest roads in order to be able to cut previously inaccessible forests.
In many regions the drafts of new forest management plans already foresee an increase in harvesting volume. For example, in the Svydovets region new management plans are projected to increase harvesting in mountain forests by more than 50% – including logging in remnants of old-growth forests. Ukrainian NGOs have a very limited influence both on the harvesting volume and on the construction of new forest roads.
At the same time, the company operates under heavy conflict of interests with no independent control of logging operations and timber sales – therefore, the problem of illegal logging remains significant.
Ukraine bans planting of alien invasive trees!
In May 2023 the Ministry of the Environment of Ukraine officially adopted a list of alien and invasive tree species which are banned for use in forestry.
From now on 13 alien tree species (including black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) and northern red oak (Quercus rubra)) are illegal to use for the purpose of forest regeneration, as well as for afforestation. At the same time, the already existing forests of these tree species are not subject to any specific regulations. Planting these trees in urban areas is also not banned.
This list, although being a compromise, is an achievement of Ukrainian environmental NGOs who have been campaigning for it for several years. In previous decades foresters widely used these alien tree species for afforestation, which led to dramatic decline of the areas of natural grasslands (mainly, steppes) in Ukraine. These trees were also widely used for forest regeneration – thousands of hectares of red oak or black locust forests exist in Ukraine, threatening local forest biodiversity.
Fake transparency from the Ukrainian government
Digitalization and increased transparency are trends in governmental work in Ukraine. This often allows civil society to access previously unavailable data. However, sometimes such transparency is fake.
It was under the slogans of “transparency” and “digitalization” that in May the government adopted a decree on the digitalization of a logging ticket (=permit for cutting) and a certificate of wood origin (a document required for lumber export).
The document does not add any transparency in the forest sector – in fact the government rejected all NGOs’ proposals to amend it. For example, the documents that serve as a basis for issuing a logging permit have not become mandatory for publication. As before, civil society does not have the ability to track the movement of wood from the place of harvest to the place of processing and export.
The only significant change is the issuance of permits online, but this is unlikely to help solve the problem of illegal logging, extremely common even in wartime.