Russia: Forest Fire Problems in the Baltic region (IFFN No. 18)

Forest Fire Problems in the Baltic region of Russia
(Leningrad Province and Karelia)

(IFFN No. 18 – January 1998, p. 78-79)

Forests of the Leningrad Province and South Karelia play an important role in the maintenance of the ecological equilibrium of the Baltic region. The peculiarity of the Leningrad Province is defined by its position in the junction of the Baltic crystalline shield, the Pribaltic depression and Valdai Hills. Here lies the watershed between the river basins of the Baltic and Caspian Seas, and that explains the most particular water protection role of the forests of this region.

The total forest area of Leningrad Province makes up 5.8 million hectares, that is 68% of the total territory of the Province. The main forest species is Scotch pine (40%). The forests of South Karelia and their influence on the hydrological regime are also inseparably linked with the river basins of the Baltic. The total forest area of this region accounts for 3.9 million hectares, out of which 80% are covered by coniferous forests, mainly by pine stands (ca. 50%).

The high share of the coniferous stands in the forests of Leningrad Province and South Karelia, and the presence of vast areas of drained peat lands create a high wildfire danger in that region. In recent years the recreation load on the forests has been constantly growing. As a rule, most of the fires are caused by people. On any one particular day of a weekend about 2 million people visit forests to pick mushrooms and berries, fish and hunt in Leningrad province. The average attendance in forests makes up 1-2 persons per hectare.

The analysis of forest fire occurrence in the Leningrad Province for the last 20 years (1977-1997) shows the strong variation of fire occurrence to depend on the aridity of the fire season. Extreme fire years occur about twice per decade. The tendency of an increase in the number of fires and area burned during the above period is evident: In the course of the last decade (1988-1997) the number of forest fires in Leningrad Province increased nearly two times per year in comparison with the previous decade (1978-1987). The average size of a fire increased from 0.5 to 2.6 hectares.

In South Karelia the number of fires for the last 16 years (on average per year) increased by 50%, and the average area burned per fire increased from 0.7 to 2.8 hectares.

The average frequency of forest fires (number of fires during one year per 1 million hectares of the forest fund land) in Leningrad Province amounts to 143, varying from 18 to 441. In South Karelia the average frequency of forest fires is 50, varying from 8 to 134. The mean percentage of forested area burnt by crown fires in Leningrad Province amounts to 8%, in Karelia to ca. 2%. The mean share of peatland affected by fire in Leningrad province is 22%, in Karelia ca. about 8%. In 1997 the share of peat fires was over 70% of the total area of fires in Leningrad province. Deterioration of the indices of forest protection from fires is the consequence of a considerable reduction in financial resources for such purposes.

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Fig. 1. Tendency of fire occurrence in Karelia during the last two decades (1977-1997).

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Fig. 2. Forest fires in Karelia: (1) Percent of fires detected by aircraft; (2) average area (ha) burned per fire.

Taking into consideration that the regional climate is getting more variable (warmer, with longer droughts), growing influence of people on forests, reduction of the level of forest protection, and increasing forest fire danger due to swamp-draining and increase of forest plantations area, it is expected that the number of forest fires and area burned will increase.

A multitude of different environmental consequences of forest fires have been known for a long time. One of the most negative problems in the Baltic region is the bogging of burned areas due to the destruction of the forest cover. Another big problem deals with the territories contaminated with radionuclides, namely: Luga district (237,200 ha), Kingisep (177,000 ha), and Volosov (146,300 ha). According to the data of 1995 the total forest area contaminated with radionuclides in Leningrad Province accounts for 560,500 ha or 10% of the forest fund.

As is generally known, forest fires in areas contaminated with radionuclides present a special danger, creating new hotbeds of pollution by the transportation of radioactive fractions along with smoke. Once more this underlines the extraordinary importance of reliable forest protection from fires in the Baltic region.

The Federal Forest Service of Russia has developed a Programme for 1998 – 2005, which foresees the complex measures on strengthening the forest protection service. The realization of this Programme will depend on the dynamics of economic growth for Russia on the whole.

From: Mr. Eduard P. Davidenko  Mr. B. G. Gusev  Mr. A. G. Schedrin

National Aerial Forest Fire Center
Gorkogo St. 20
141200 Pushkino, Moscow Region

Forestry Research Institute
Sankt Petersburg

North-West Fire Centre

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