Illegal Logging in Russia

1       Illegal logging in Russia (from field survey)

(1) Presence of illegal logging

Not only environmental NGOs but also government officials, forest managers and all other people concerned admit that illegal logging activities have been going on. However, the estimation of the scale of illegal logging is different from one party to another.

              The estimates of illegal logging in this survey vary from 1% to 30%(100%) depending on the respondents. Generally speaking, officials at the Ministry of Natural Resource and the Bureau of Forest Management give lower estimates. On the other hand, research institutes, administrations for environmental protection and NGOs respond with higher estimates.

              The official view of the Russian Government is 1%. But they admit the existence of such problems and started to discuss countermeasures against illegal logging at federal as well as regional level. This indicates that there are possibilities to promote cooperation at the governmental level.

(2) Definition of illegal logging

              Such differences in estimates are caused by the different definition of gillegal loggingh.

Does gillegal loggingh mean only pure theft? Or does it include violation of regulations? Or does is also cover officially gnot illegalh activities that are violating regulations in reality? In hearing survey this time, some respondents have distinction between violation of regulations and theft but others have the two together in one category. Therefore, the necessity of clear definition of illegal logging was pointed out.

          The contents of illegal logging could be described as below. (The length of graph does not reflect the percentage.) The excessive harvests beyond the allowed harvest amount include theft, inaccurate calculation of resources leading more real resource amounts in logging areas than allowed amounts and violation of regulations such as logging beyond the allowed logging areas or logging of other species than allowed species. They also include logging that are within the allowed logging amount but logging methods violate regulations or concession terms. It is thought that the percentage of gpure thefth is not very high.

          Majority of such illegal logging are believed to be conducted by companies and other organizational illegal behaviors. There are some cases in which local residents do theft logging for firewood and other daily necessity in desperation, but the amount of such activities is limited.


          It is said that in addition to these illegal logging there are illegal activities of fake documents or repeated use of documents. However, the reality of such activities is not clearly known.

          There are cases in which the activities are glegalh but they infringe the rights of native people. For example, the legal system to protect traditional land use of indigenous people is not established properly in the Maritime Province of Siberia. There is a case in which logging concession was obtained through the legal procedures but a claim was made that rights of indigenous people were neglected in the area. NGOs argue that such cases should be counted as illegal logging activities.

          The second reason behind the different understanding of the illegal logging is that no survey has been conducted properly to get the reality. This is why there are various estimates by each party based on various kinds of information.

          However, it should be technically difficult to get the accurate grasp of the situations. NGOs are trying to use satellite photos to understand the real situations but we have to see what extent they can do with limited financial and human resources. For such monitoring, it is necessary to collect all concessions issued by every leskhoz (District forest office) and convert them to mapping information to compare with satellite photos. For accuracy of the survey, wild fires, weather damages and other disturbances should be incorporated. At the same time, such monitoring cannot provide information on selective logging or sanitary logging(selective logging for maintaining forests). It should be recognized that such survey could deliver only limited outcomes.

(3) Legal system for forest management

          Almost all parties with exception of some NGOs admit that current laws and regulations for forest management are well established and there are quite detailed and rigorous logging regulations.

          On the other hand, as to the implementation of these laws and regulations, many are doubtful with exception of forest management administrations that are in charge of the legal system. Since the regulations are rigorous, if illegal logging include all logging activities that are not conducted in due compliance with these regulations, the percentage of illegal logging soars. As mentioned earlier, the scale of illegal logging depends on its definition. It means that the Russian government has some reasons to argue against claims from outside on the scale of illegal logging in Russia if it compares its forest logging regulations with those in other countries.

          Although forest management administrations in Russia donft admit it, other parties believe most of sanitary loggings that are conducted by leskhoz themselves to obtain their own money are illegal logging. Some point out that due to substantial shortage in fund allocations to leskhozs from the federal government, leskhozs need to earn their own money to sustain their organizations. This is said to be a primary reason behind illegal logging conducted by leskhoz themselves. Even in the cases of excellent leskhoz, they need to get money by@sanitary logging to manage its organization. However, the actual situation or quantity has not been confirmed.

(4) Disciplines of officials

              Many point out cases in which officials working at forest management administrations are involved in illegal logging activities. Their involvements vary from active ones of intentional issuance of fake documents to passive ones of neglect of illegal activities. In any case, most of illegal logging cannot be conducted without cooperation with officials.

              The driving force behind is low wages for officials. Officials with the minimum wage of 20-30 dollars per month cannot overcome the temptation of bribes. gExcellent caseh leskhozs improve employment situations for workers by obtaining their own funds. In such cases, enhanced moral of workers might curb illegal logging activities. However, this time the content of sanitary loggingto obtain their own funds should be questioned as stated above.

          The discipline problem of officials is not confined in forest administrations. For example, traffic polices in charge of control of transportation of illegally harvested logs have the same problem. It is generally pointed out that corruption prevails in Russian administrations and elimination of illegal logging cannot be achieved without resolution of this discipline problem.

          It might be true that it is impossible to properly monitor and eliminate illegal logging and violations because of shortage of financial resources at leskhoz. Some officials at leskhoz say that it should be difficult to combat criminal organizations equipped with modern equipment without cars, gasoline or mobile phones even if they would like to fulfill their duties.

(5) Actors of illegal logging

          Majority of illegal logging is conducted by small-scaled companies. Almost all NGOs and other parties concerned say that larger companies with certain scale are reliable. Timber production is an easy industry to get hard currency and rampant faked documents drive small-scaled companies for illegal logging activities. Some NGOs say that large-scaled companies also buy illegal logs from small-scaled companies. In extreme cases, such small-scaled companies are established as a dummy company to conduct illegal logging for the time being. Because these small-scaled companies are established, abolished or converted to other businesses in a short period of time, it is difficult to grasp the actual situations.

          The government, with a policy of strengthening of forestry industries, has been promoting selection of small-scaled companies by setting the scale of logging concession to the maximum in allocation of rights to use forests. In addition, they implement measures including deriving logging concessions of companies who repeatedly conduct illegal activities regardless of its scale. However, such measures have not led to fundamental solution of the situations.

          In border areas with China, almost all parties including NGOs admit that there are many illegal activities with direct or indirect involvement of Chinese companies. In particular, problems have been surfaced over oaks, ashes and other hard-wood trees as well as Pinus koraiensis in the Maritime Province of Siberia and the southern Khabarovsk region.

          As to international trades, inadequate system at Chinese customs to check and control logs is said to make the situation more difficult to handle.

(6) Countermeasure against illegal logging problems

          As explained earlier, the issue of illegal logging is a structural problem with no quick fix.

              At present, the Russian federal government considers systematic certification of timbers that are legally harvested. But NGOs are skeptical about the effectiveness in reality and they say they cannot take such certification approach as an effective countermeasure against illegal logging.

          Expectation for FSC certification is high. But Japan or China, the timber markets in this far-east region, doesnft request certification. If Japan has strong demand for certified timbers, it might only result in a shift of market to China.

          Some NGOs demand timber tracking strongly, but others say that it is difficult in reality to implement tracking system since some field offices of leskhoz donft have even telephones. Financial difficulties are a major problem, but it is impossible to resolve this problem for the time being.

          It is believed that so-called theft logging can be dealt with strengthened regulations. However, it might be difficult in operation of the systems.

          Needless to say, it is necessary to consider those who have been dependent on forestry for making a life when examining countermeasures against illegal logging. Regulation should give consideration to forest use by traditional hunter people and indigenous people.

(7) Activities of NGOs

          Some international NGOs are specially concerned about forest conservation and illegal logging in Russia and they have conducted joint surveys with domestic NGOs in Russia. For example, one of such international NGOs, Specialized Inspection gTigerh, provides funds to combat illegal logging.

          There are networks with European regions where certain achievement has been obtained in forest conservation in Russia. In this regard, it is necessary to keep in mind how the situation in the Far East Siberia could be gevaluatedh.

2  How to think countermeasures against illegal logging in Russia

(The case studies and surveys in this section have been personally conducted by the author, different from surveys conducted by Japan Federation of Wood-Industry Association in the previous section.)

(1) Activities of NGOs in Russia to date

a. As mentioned above, NGOs have been conducting surveys and PR activities. In addition, WWF provides funds for establishment and maintenance of the Specialized Inspection Team.

b. As to FSC certification, some already started to move for the direction. European companies and joint ventures that come to Russia are certified by FSC. In the Far East region, a certification center is established.  telneiles started preparation and  Flora also show its interest in certification activities.

c. Activities to protect primary forests in Russia have been developed by collaboration between Tiger Rescue Network, an environmental NGO of Sweden and Finland, and forestry companies. The details will be presented later.

(2) Activities of the federal government

a. Since the Code of Forest, stipulated in 1997, makes gcertificationh compulsory and illegal logging has been viewed as a problem, the federal government has been trying to institutionalize a gmandatory@certificationh.

b. From 1998 to 1999, ordinances and regulations were stipulated, showing a concept of big-picture framework. It was envisioned that log-harvesting companies would be the certified parties, forest with concession would be certified and certified logs would be distributed. And it was decided to establish a certification center under the auspice of Goskomstandard@(the national institute for standardization).

c. The basic system envisioned was a document-based tracking system from logging area to consuming place. A pilot system was implemented in the Maritime Province of Siberia, but it ended up to be a mere paperwork with signatures of companies in distribution and processing on paper, bringing about no effectiveness.

d. Such compulsory certification system was about to be implemented. However, due to the closing of the Bureau of Forest and confusion at the Ministry of Natural Resources, its realization became far less real. In particular, the Ministry of Natural Resources, at present, is not able to formulate proper policies for forests. For the time being, effective countermeasures from the federal government cannot be expected.

e. Even if the federal government becomes serious in addressing this issue, the effectiveness of their policies is doubtful due to prevailing corruption across the forest management administrations as well as governmental organizations as mentioned repeatedly. In addition, NGOs generally are skeptical about such certification system. This could not be a very effective resort against illegal logging issue.

(3) Activities at local governments

a. The local governments including those in the Maritime Province of Siberia admit that it is necessary to take countermeasures against illegal logging and they try to take actions through distribution of broad-leaved timbers. And in Khabarovsk region, the local government takes actions including deprivation of logging concession from companies who conducted illegal activities. 

b. However, an issue here is as follows: it is the federal government institutions that manage forests. In the trends of closing the Bureau of Forest and overall centralization, it has become difficult for local governments to coordinate with forest management institutions at the federal level. In the past, the regional forest management offices were functioning under the supervision of both the federal Bureau of Forest and the local government. However, due to the administration reforms, such relationship with local governments was severed.

c. The basic of countermeasures against illegal logging is to seize the logging activities in the field. However, due to the reasons above, local governments cannot take actions in this regard, limiting what they can do as countermeasures.

(4) Countermeasures against illegal logging with activities in the North Europe as a model

a. As mentioned before, there are various activities in practice in the North Europe and other regions. The characteristics include cooperation between NGOs and forestry industries. In the hearing survey with NGOs, many said that it takes time to wait responses from the Russian government and they cannot trust the government, concluding that voluntary activities are more effective.

b. In the European Russia, with drastic shrinkage of primary forests, the focal point in their activities is to protect primary forests. NGOs took initiatives in mapping of primary forests and, based on the results, they conducted a campaign to companies importing timbers from Russia not to import timbers harvested from primary forests. Most of forestry companies are sensitive to environmental issues since EU is their market. A number of companies cooperated with this gprimary forest moratoriumh campaign. Here, forestry companies decided to avoid purchasing timbers from regions with primary forests and, to this end, they tried to introduce a system to identify the logging area. This is the basic approach for any countermeasures against illegal logging.

c. The followings are methods they take to identify the logging areas.

 (based on the questionnaires to Swedish companies)

a)They believe that forest-related laws and regulations are properly implemented in the field.

b)They believe in exporting companies.

c)They set up basic corporate policies for environment and purchasing

d)Purchaser and seller form a document-based contract that enables them to identify the logging areas.

e)They introduce a tracking system back to the logging area.

f)They visit and check the logging area.

g)They limit suppliers to those who they can trust.

h)They own local logging companies or they have a close relationship with them.

i)They educate partners in Russia.

j)They introduce FSC or other certification system.

d. Among the above, a) and b) means that they practically do nothing. Also c) is not an effective measures sine it is a mere general policy setting. On the other hand, e) and f) can be effective but only companies who can take e) are those who have all companies through till the logging field under their umbrella. As to f), companies themselves admit the limitations since it is impossible to check the logging areas all the time.

e. In the European Russian region, infrastructures are relatively in place and the region is neighboring land for Europe. This is why there are many direct operations of European companies in this area. These background factors seem to enable e), f) and h). In addition, basically, pressure from the EU market work for the Northern European companies. And the Northern European companies, in turn, take measures to Russia. Environmental pressure in the market is substantial. They are coupled with environmental measures in their own countries.

f. Nevertheless, there are many companies, in particular small-sized companies, that are in the stage of a) or b). And even proactive companies have to say that they donft go to the field everyday and they cannot give 100% guarantee.

(5) Possible measures

a. As mentioned above, various measures can be possible but every measure has its limitation and can deal with a part of the problem due to the structural nature of the problem. The low level of trustworthiness of forest management organization is problematic in the first place and there is no effective measure without improvement of this aspect of the issue.

b. Therefore, it is necessary to accumulate various approaches at various levels. The following is a list of possible measures.

c. For domestic consumers

a)   Let them know the issue of illegal logging and situations of timber producing areas.

b)   Let them select the products as gwise consumersh and put pressure on suppliers.

c)   But such approaches have both pros and cons. Who are gconsumersh in the context of Japan?

d. Promote measures at the federal and local government level

a) Promote reforms of forest management organizations. There are actions that can be taken within the current framework of systems, as shown in the case study in our survey. (Cheguevka leskhoz)

b) As local government, they promote countermeasures against illegal logging by improving reliability of logging companies with concession control and through distribution processes.

c) Joint development of monitoring system of illegal logging by using remote sensors and GIS. Measures can be formulated only after grasping the actual situation and trends of the problem.

e. Activities at the level of companies and NGOs

a) Measures to be considered as industry with a model of Swedish companies mentioned above.

b) Pilot implementation of tracking system

c) Considering the introduction of certification and third-party audit systems

d) Exerting influences to domestic companies in Russia, in cooperation with d. b)