It has long been necessary to create a mechanism to save our oldest forests from destruction, bringing the bylaws into line with current legislation. But for some reason, the officials are in no hurry.
The forests, in defence of which a special law was passed last year, continue to be deforested. The ecologists convince that the reason is that the Cabinet of Ministers and the State Agency of Forest Resources still did not manage to modernize legal documents on which the fate of these forests directly depends: “Sanitary regulations in the forests of Ukraine” and “Rules for improving the qualitative composition of forests”.
If this does not happen in the near future, the reduction of the areas of the oldest forests can turn into irreversible losses and natural disasters. Moreover, the consequences of floods, which happen precisely because of deforestation for more than a decade, may seem trifles. Since the officials are not in a hurry to revise the bylaws, and the chainsaw continues to host the oldest forests areas, leaving behind only some stumps, the environmentalists decided to seek the truth through the courts.
However, forests began to be actively protected against deforestation throughout the world, and last year we also passed a corresponding law. The defenders of nature rejoiced then: they said, hurray ‒ the matter of protecting forests has moved off dead point. But it was not like that. While the law, which should stop the destruction of age-old forests, perfectly protects them only on paper. The moratorium, prohibiting deforestation, announced by the State Forest Agency of Forest Resources at the request of eco-activists (not to be confused with the moratorium on forest exports!), seems, in a strange way encourage loggers to cut down faster and more, as long as there is a loophole in the legislation: in Transcarpathia, and in Bukovyna, where it is just the oldest forests, they cut down, having received special permissions.
They hide stumps under the branches
“We decided to take a walk across the Carpathians,” writes Ihor Banderivsky on the social network. “Route: Osmolod ‒ Polonyna ‒ Yavory ‒ Malaya Popadya ‒ Piskava ‒ Osmoloda. I was struck by what I saw… A picturesque hunting trail, marked #Karpatskistezhky#, now is cut down to the ground. There is no water along the route, the streams dried up completely. It seems that the joke about renaming the Carpathians to Bald Mountains becomes a sad reality”.
And there are a lot of such stories, illustrated with dozens of photos, on the “Lisova Varta” page on Facebook. “November 22, Turiye village, Starosambirsk district. The municipal enterprise of the Lviv Regional Council “Halsillis” continues to cut down our forests and cause environmental and economic losses to the country,” Vasyl Kuriy informs. “A detailed description of the crime scene Turiye-Horishnye, above the church top, about 1 km, turn left at Zelenyak Volodymyr, the road to the forest, just 400 m to the old abandoned house. Passing the old house, after 50-70 m, turn left, in 200-300 m there is a forest (27th quarter). Also from the same abandoned house, go straight, for 50-100 m across the creek, the road leads under the forest in the 28th quarter. At the entrance to the 28th quarter, there’s timber. 27th and 28th quarter, “Halsillis”, near the village of Turiye, hundreds of stumps of freshly cut wood”.
Vasyl Gavrylyuk echoes him, who pays attention to the fact that the business of black lumberjacks in Starosambirsk district continues to flourish. “After activists revealed massive illegal cut woods near the village of Dnisteryk, which were recorded by the State Ecological Inspectorate, “Lisova Varta” revealed fresh unauthorized wrecks in Starosambirsk forestry of Starosambirsk subsidiary forest enterprise “Halsillis”,” he writes on Facebook. “Part of the stumps from such logging is masked by throwing earth for rapid ageing, part is covered with branches, and part of it shamelessly remains to sparkle in the sun. In addition, this weekend a large-scale cut of woods near the village of Grozievo in the territory of the Dnisteryk forest area was revealed. The police were called to the scene, which recorded this fact. According to the examination of the territory, 299 trees were cut down without permission.
Cases of unauthorized logging on this territory have already become systematic. A story that the unauthorized cut down of trees occurs as a result of firewood gathering by the local population is a complete myth. A targeted forest range is harvested, which is processed at local sawmills”.
Thanks to this “activity” of people, who want to profit from the oldest forest in Ukraine, there are less than 48,000 hectares of it now. These are unique inviolable forests that exist and develop outside the direct influence of human, according to the laws of nature. Because of this, they have a high viability, resistant to natural changes and even cataclysms. It is impossible to reproduce such forests. Now their remnants are preserved only in the Carpathians, the Balkans and in northern Russia. In Ukraine, in addition to the 48,000 hectares of forest tested by scientists, almost 35,000 can also be precisely the oldest forest, but this is still not known for sure ‒ there should be a conclusion of the scientists.
A forest without dead wood ‒ not the oldest forest
Now scientists are exploring forests, while environmentalists and public activists are protecting them. “Our organization, with the support of German ecologists, for the fourth year, has been implementing the project “Conservation of the Carpathian Forests,” Olha Yaremchenko, project coordinator, head of the environmental department of the Ukrainian Society for the Protection of Birds, explains to Opinion. “Why do we care about the preservation of the forests of the Carpathians? Because, it is impossible to save the birds, not taking care of their environment. Moreover, this environment must not only be protected but also, where it is possible, to be restored, since the perspective depends on the state of the habitat, whether these birds will live there or not. Just like people, by the way. However, the society, unfortunately, does not understand the severity of this problem.”
Forests, which there are very few in the world, the expert emphasizes, are absolutely unique remnants of natural indigenous forests that human has not yet managed to cut down. Ukraine is lucky with this ‒ it is one of the few countries in which they are still preserved. Resistant to diseases, pests, catastrophic natural phenomena, such forests are extremely powerful as habitats of rare biodiversity because they have preserved all age categories of trees from mature and overripe trees that have already outlived their age (in such forests there are 200-300-year-old trees), to the sprouts. And the most important sign of the oldest forests is the presence of dead wood in them. If it is not in the forest, then it is no longer the oldest. Because it is this wood that provides food for the remaining components that are in these forests, including the growth of new young trees. This uniqueness of forests is a model for the restoration of those artificial forests, planted on vast areas of the forest zone of Ukraine.
“If forests are completely destroyed, we will lose the prospect of restoring sustainable forests. Now they remained on separate pieces of 5, 10, 15, 20 hectares. These forest areas are located high in the mountains, where it is very difficult for people to get there and cut it down,” Olha Yaremchenko says. “Being more resilient to diseases and natural disasters, primarily holding the soil much more powerful from destruction and preventing mudslides, they formed in the Carpathians a kind of ecological safety framework that protects people, who live in local valleys. However, the oldest forests are being cut down, notwithstanding their role in the ecosystem.”
For example, according to environmentalists, in comparison with 2014, the area under the oldest forests decreased by a third, and they primarily cut down ripe and overgrown forests, which are precisely the oldest forests. Moreover, Olha Yaremchenko noted, not because of “bad foresters” but because of certain legislative moments and forest management conditions: there is a law that protects forests, but it is not supported by the necessary legal acts and therefore it does not fully work. Foresters continue going into the forest areas and cutting them down. Because in their order of materials, these areas are intended for logging. And if we fail to make this law work in full force, in the end, we like most European countries will lose forests. Then it will be possible to forget about the prospect of their recovery.”
Why the law does not work
The law, on which has been pinned hopes, was signed by the head of state on August 31 last year. They banned logging in the oldest forests and introduced administrative responsibility not only for their destruction but even for damage. But after the document came into force, they “forgot” to prescribe in the bylaws a complete ban on all continuous and other types of cut downs, most harmful to biodiversity, in the oldest forests and in all categories of objects of the natural reserve fund. In spite of the fact that they provided that within three months, the Cabinet of Ministers should ensure the bringing of its normative legal acts ‒ “Sanitary rules in the forests of Ukraine” and “Rules for improving the qualitative composition of forests” ‒ in accordance with the requirements of this law. This period expired in December 2017, but no one has done anything so far.
According to the director of the Kyiv Ecological and Cultural Center Volodymyr Boreiko, the significant changes to these bylaws should have been elaborated on the last day of November 2017, but officials did not manage to do it. “Foresters do not read the laws, for them, it is higher mathematics. They have their own instructions, which are approved by the Cabinet. And while in these documents is written that it is possible to cut down the oldest forests, that they can cut down in the reserves, they will cut there. And nobody will be able to punish them, because they always show normative documents and say that they work in the framework of these documents,” Volodymyr Boreiko says in the comment to Opinion. “It is an abnormal illegal situation and there is no other way to persuade the Cabinet of Ministers to take the necessary measures, then the only thing remains to go to the court, and we did it with Ihor Lutsenko, turning to the District Administrative Court of Kyiv in September this year, the main purpose of the suit is to oblige Government officials to bring subordinate legal acts in line with the requirements of the law “On the Protection of the Oldest Forests”.
The law, which is abbreviated as Forest Protection, is the first in Ukraine, which was dedicated specifically to the protection of this category of forests. “For the first time at the legislative level, this category is recognized comprehensively: it is determined that these forests should be identified, certain protection limits are designated, responsibility for their destruction is established,” Galyna Levina, a lawyer at the “EkoPravo-Kyiv” public organization, comments to Opinion. “It would seem that after its adoption, the authorities, who should implement this law, should be actively involved in environmental protection. Indeed, apart from the preservation of unique national resources, it is also an international authority, because the oldest forests are very carefully protected all over the world. Therefore, the international community is closely watching how this process is carried out in Ukraine.”
Today, the human rights activist explains, the Law on Forest Protection has tougher limits and prohibitions, in particular, on the implementation of a number of logging in the oldest forests, while sanitary rules and rules for improving the qualitative composition of forests allow certain types of logging. “This is not a controversial situation, not some discrepancies or misunderstanding,” Galyna Levina notes. “The Law on the Protection of Forests has established that certain types of logging are prohibited in all reserves. And the sanitary rules prohibit certain logging only in certain types of these reserves, and not in all, as the law says.
That is, these are very simple things, but for some reason, it seems that neither the Cabinet of Ministers nor the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food, which manages the forests, do not notice these contradictions. Also, this law prohibits all types of logging in protected areas, but only certain types of logging are prohibited by sanitary rules. That is, this prohibition is not fully established. And such discrepancies create a field for abuse and for violations of the current legislation, not to mention the fact that all bylaws and regulations must comply with the laws of Ukraine.”
Banal inaction or outright sabotage?
Until recently, the State Agency for Forest Resources of Ukraine, Volodymyr Boreiko explains, conducted large-scale logging in the protected areas: annually more than one million cubic meters of timber was planted in them. In total, 15-17 million cubic meters are being harvested in the forests of Ukraine. In general, the logging and “cleansing from clutter” in protected forests, including surviving sections of the oldest forests and old-aged forests, occur annually on almost 44 thousand hectares, due to it, many parts of such forests and protected objects actually ceased to exist as valuable natural territories.
“The ecological and cultural situation in Ukraine is such that the right to life today have only promoted brands of forests. Therefore, the beech forests of the Carpathians are more likely to maintain their authentic integrity and live and develop than those forest areas that remained on Polissya. Until recently, the oldest forests were not the subject of legislation, but in 2017 we managed to change approaches. But we still see that the situation is quite hard: the implementation of the law on the protection of forests is banal sabotage. And the big question here is to the Government,” MP Ihor Lutsenko, one of the authors of the law on their protection, explains to Opinion the situation with the protection of forests. “Ignoring the law, adopted last year at the end of the summer gives a certain signal to the foresters, who are actually responsible for protecting forests, stimulating them to act exactly the way they act, that is to cut down the oldest forests plots. And the impression is that they are trying to do it as soon as possible because only this legislation will work, then it will not be necessary to make efforts to protect these forests. Therefore, the process of destroying Ukrainian forests continues, in particular, despite the existence of an appropriate law, and the oldest forest is also under threat.
The problem, the people’s deputy is convinced, is that today Ukraine does not have the function of overseeing legislation. “If a law is not implemented, then this is our problem, yours and mine, that is, citizens’, and not the state,” Ihor Lutsenko says. “It creates huge problems, including in the field of nature conservation. I hope that in the near future we will raise the issue of changing this legislation, but now, if enforcement of the law is sabotaged at the top, we have the only way to force them ‒ to sue, what we did. The requirement is extremely simple ‒ to comply with the law that already exists.”
The next court hearing should take place in January 2019. Everyone who cares about the fate of the Ukrainian oldest forests hopes that the court will sort the things out in this case, but officials still have enough time to do it without the intervention of Themis. This will give a chance to leave the national park “Uzhansky” for the descendants, with its oldest forests that are still being cut down and the oldest forests of the reserves “Bradursky”, “Lykhoborovsky”, “Grofa” and others, where the unique forests remain untouched by the man’s hand. Maybe, it’s worth it?
Text by Larysa Vyshynska