GFMC: GFMC concerned about abolishment of the Federal Forest Service of Russia, 6 June 2000

GFMC concerned about abolishment of the Federal Forest Service of Russia

6 June 2000

On Friday 2 June 2000 the GFMC sent a letter to the Federal ForestService of Russia in which the possible consequences of climate change and the weakening of the fire management capabilities are highlighted. The text of the letter is given below:

The Future of Forest Fire Protection in Russia

Dear colleagues,

the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) has learned about the plan of the government of Russia to abolish the Federal Forest Service. At this stage it is not known to us what the future will be of the forest fire protection branch, including the Aerial Fire Protection Service Avialesookhrana.

Allow me to state the concerns of the GFMC about the possible abolishment of the independence of the Forest Service and its integrated Avialesookhrana.

During the last 10-15 years it has become very clear that the forests in the northern boreal zone and some forests in the temperate-boreal zone require a special fire management approach. As it has been demonstrated in North America (Canada and the USA) fire in forests can be ecologically and economically very destructive BUT are also an ecosystem factor that needs to be managed carefully. Russian scientists and foresters and their colleagues from other countries have demonstrated the need of developing very special skills (specialized forestry / fire management personnel) to practice Forest Fire Management. Fire Management includes the ability to control destructive fires, but also to make decisions on an ecological and economic base to let burn those fires which are either (1) too costly to extinguish, or (2) those needed for reducing combustible materials and reduce the likelihood of high-intensity destructive fires.

Sustainable forestry and ecosystem management in Russia is absolutely dependent on a strong and efficient forest fire management component. In order to guarantee sustainable forestry in Russia in future the consequent training (formation) of high-profile fire management specialists is required. These specialists can be recruited only from the group of professional foresters. The reason is: Decisions must be made on the base of knowledge of forest ecology, forestry and forest protection.

This conclusion is in agreement with statements of the United Nations Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000 (ECE Region) in which the usefulness of integrated fire management is confirmed. The TACIS Fire Programme in Russia has also clearly stated that forest fire protection must be an integrated element of the forestry system.

If Avialesookhrana would be separated from the Forest Service it would be very problematic – if not dangerous. Experience in other countries have demonstrated that fire brigades and emergency control agencies are not qualified to take decisions based on forestry knowledge.

Fire control capabilities of fire departments or emergency services, such as EMERCOM of Russia, are very extremely important for assistance in large of extreme fire situations. And we believe that EMERCOM has great capabilities to assist. But the fire management operations at the day-to-day basis, in fire prevention and in standard fire situations must be handled by forest fire management specialists which are part of the Forest Service.

If this task of managing fires in Russia will not be conducted by professional forestry specialists we predict a great danger.

As it is generally known the impact of climate change will affect mostly the Russian Federation. Longer and more extreme forest fire seasons will be more frequent in future. Thus, the task of the Forest Fire Management Service will become even much more important. And this includes the careful and wise integration of certain types of fire into the management of forests.

If this will not take place I predict the following scenario:

Based on the assumption that forest fire protection would not any longer be a part of sustainable forestry and its administration, and considering the climate change predictions (which include an increase of fire severity) we expect an increase of fires in the Russian Federation, mainly in Siberia, over the next three decades by more than 100 percent (doubling).

If we take the fire statistics of the Federal Forest Service as a baseline and add those burned areas which have not entered the fire statistics because they occur on non-protected land, the following assumption can be made:

During the next decade the average forest area burned by fire will exceed 5 million ha per year. Assuming that these fires will become predominantly high-intensity fires and also affect deep organic layers, the amount of fuel consumption will exceed 50 t per hectare, equivalent to 25 tons of carbon which contributes to the greenhouse effect if the forest is destroyed and will not recover. Additional 2.5 million ha burned forest are equivalent to 62.5 million tons of carbon released. In accordance with global standards the “value” of each ton of excess carbon released by fire-destructed forest is 10 US-Dollars. Additional release of carbon thus has a damage potential of 625 million US dollars per year.

However, this number reflects only the “greenhouse gas”. Other ecological damages are not included here. We assume that the long-term damages by forest destruction through high-intensity fires will lead to additional losses in the sector of socio-economy of more than 200 million US-Dollars per year.

Altogether the damages caused by fires as a consequence of non-existing fire management capabilities (even if fire suppression capabilities are in place) will be in the magnitude of 800 million US-Dollars per year and may reach 1 billion US-Dollars in extreme years.

The Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) and the international community of fire specialists are extremely concerned about possible changes of responsibilities in the forestry sector of Russia which may negatively affect the most important forest on Earth.

We appeal to the Federal Forest Service of Russia to mobilize all possible means at the political level to maintain the responsibilities and capabilities of integrated forest protection and fire management in Russia.

I remain with kind regards,

Johann G. Goldammer
Director, Global Fire Monitoring Center
Leader, UN-FAO/ECE/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire

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