With 22 percent of the world's forested area (851 million hectares), Russia has the largest forest resource of any country. Russia's forests are comprised mainly of northern boreal forest, with mixed and broad-leaved forests such as birch, aspen, alder, oaks and hornbeam to the south. Coniferous species make up 80 percent of the volume of growing stock, with larch the predominant species in much of Siberia. Other important tree species are Norway spruce and Scots pine to the west, and spruces, pines and firs to the east. The country also has more than 17 million hectares of planted forests. Given the magnitude of the forest base, environmental protection and forest sustainability issues in Russia have genuine global significance. Russia's forests protect watersheds and conserve soil while providing carbon storage to help regulate the global environment. They host unique biological diversity and are home to many threatened, endangered and rare species including the Amur (Siberian) tiger, various salmonids, Blakiston’s Fish Owl and the critically endangered Far Eastern leopard.
At the same time, Russia's forests are important to the country’s economy, providing export earnings as well as jobs. Maintaining a sustainable flow of renewable resources is critical to the health and economic well being of the Russian people. Attaining both goals - protecting the environment and providing a continuous flow of timber and non-timber forest products - requires careful land management over a wide range of geographic and ecosystem scales.
The federal government owns nearly all forests and other wooded lands in Russia. Recent transitions within the Russian forest sector have provided both the opportunity to implement improved forestry practices, as well as new challenges for resource managers. In January of 2007, the Russian government implemented a new Forest Code. Associated changes include provisions for long-term leases and transfer of forest management and administrative authority to regions. Most recently, following a particularly severe fire season in 2010, Russia’s Federal Forestry Agency was transferred from the Ministry of Agriculture and placed directly under Parliament. Adjusting to such large-scale changes while simultaneously working to sustainably and effectively manage the resource base will take time and effort.
Threats to the Resource Base
Factors impeding the sustainable management of forest resources are widespread in Russia and its biologically diverse forests face several critical threats. The Siberian moth defoliates vast tracts of coniferous forests in Siberia. Fire often follows defoliation, destroying remaining stands of wood. Harvesting and management practices in accessible forests often do not meet sustainability standards and socio-economic factors impact heavily upon certain regions, leading to unregulated harvesting, encroachment, and wildlife poaching. Poor markets, lack of income generation from forest products, declining social infrastructure and the legacy of the Soviet system exacerbate these threats in some cases. Wildfire represents a primary threat to Russia’s forests, In 1998, for example, wildfire burned more than 2 million hectare of forests in the Russian Far East. In late July 2010, following the hottest summer on record in Russia and severe droughts, wildfires spread through Moscow and the surrounding regions, resulting in heavy smog and a rise in fatalities in urban areas. Russian officials have also identified illegal logging as an important issue negatively impacting the forest sector and have been taking steps to combat this problem through improved legislation, monitoring, and enforcement. In addition, authorities and managers are concerned about the effects of climate change and the role of boreal forests in this process.
Why Does the US Forest Service Work in Russia?
Like the U.S., Russia contains temperate and boreal forests. The forests share similar species, similar forest health problems, and some common threats. In addition, both countries have a long history and extensive experience in forest research and management to exchange. The US Forest Service has been collaborating with Russia on research, technical cooperation, and policy issues since 1958. For over 50 years, the US and Russia have shared knowledge and expertise on sustainable forest management, fire management, ecotourism, habitat protection, pest management, illegal logging, and other topics. This work benefits the US as well as Russia. For example, collaborative work on invasive species may prevent future introductions of Russian pests to the U.S. Also, ensuring sustainable management practices are applied in such an extensive forested landscape can significantly mitigate the effects of global climate change.
Since the mid-nineties, the Forest Service has worked with Russian partners on a broad range of cooperative programs funded primarily by the US Agency for International Development with contributions from the US Forest Service and the Russian government. The U.S. and Russia have been collaborating to: 1) promote sustainable natural resource management practices, 2) address forest health issues and invasive species, 3) conserve biodiversity, and 4) expand successful programs into other areas in Russia. Through a series of training workshops, exchanges, and demonstration projects, both countries have the opportunity to learn from each other's experiences and technical approaches in an effort to improve natural resource management around the world.
In 2009, Presidents Obama and Medvedev created the U.S. – Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission (BPC) to improve coordination between our countries to address shared challenges and explore new opportunities for partnership in areas of mutual interest. Through several working groups and sub-committees, the BPC is making efforts to strengthen cooperation and good will between our countries. US Forest Service’s positive and mutually beneficial collaborative work with Russian partners contributes to several working groups including Environment, Agriculture, and Science and Technology.
Back to top
US Forest Service - Russia Federal Forestry Agency Working Group
In 2005, USFS reinitiated a bilateral forestry working group with the Russian Federal Forestry Agency (FFA). This formal agreement, or Protocol of Intent (POI), was again renewed in 2009 during an annual working group meeting in the US and outlines future collaboration between the US and Russia on forestry and natural resource topics. A high-level delegation first visited Washington, DC for official meetings and to sign the POI with USFS and USAID, jointly. The delegation then traveled to California to meet with specialists from the Tahoe National Forest and partner organizations to explore climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. In 2010, a USFS delegation visited Moscow and the region of Tartarstan to discuss ongoing cooperation on a variety of topics, particularly fire and post-fire regeneration. Through the POI and annual work plans, USFS and FFA have continued to collaborate on mutually important themes such as: forest inventory and monitoring, voluntary forest certification, wildfire management, illegal logging, climate change, regeneration and others. A few examples of recent collaborative efforts between our agencies are described below.
Fire is a topic of continued concern for Russian and U.S. resource managers. Both countries face increasing fires and associated challenges. Recent changes, such as the decentralization process, have further complicated fire management efforts across regional boundaries in Russia. US Forest Service specialists have been collaborating with Russian counterparts on fire-related topics for a number of years; smokejumper exchanges began in the 1970s, while more comprehensive collaboration in wildfire management expanded in the early 1990s with funding from USAID. Numerous exchanges, workshops, and study tours have taken place, resulting in the transfer of fire-related technology and information that has benefitted both countries.
Through past collaborative efforts with partners in the Russian Far East, US Forest Service specialists have provided assistance with the development of a fire coordination center in Khabarovsk, provision of fire equipment specifications, and fire management planning. In Krasnoyarsk, scientists have jointly explored wildfire behavior, emissions, and the benefits of experimental prescribed burning. In response to the devastating 2010 wildfires in western Russia, the U.S. Government, led by USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, provided nearly $2.5 million worth of technical equipment. The value of the US Forest Service’s strong working relationship with FFA contributed to this effort by allowing for quick access to information about the situation and needs during the crisis. US Forest Service continues to collaborate with Russia in fire-related areas such as firefighter training, trans-boundary coordination, budgeting and finance, and organization.
Forest Inventory and Monitoring
Russia recently restructured their National Forest Inventory system and is developing and piloting new strategies for forest inventory and monitoring. FFA requested input from forestry agencies in several countries, including the U.S., to inform this process. Throughout this process, USFS Forest Service and FFA specialists have engaged in ongoing discussions to investigate which approaches and methodologies from the U.S. and around the world might be most useful to the Russian context. Russia is currently evaluating preliminary data from pilot inventories in an effort to strengthen the developing system. The establishment of a robust Russian forest inventory will provide a better understanding of Russia’s vast forests, and will assist with international reporting requirements. As with any technology transfer activity, both sides benefit from the increased knowledge and joint exploration of improved methods.
Russia recently developed a Russian National Forest Certification (RNFC) system with support from the World Bank and input from various stakeholders. The RNFC was endorsed by the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes (PEFC) in 2009. Other voluntary certification systems have successfully be utilized in Russia, as well, with associated environmental, social and economic benefits. While Russia was developing the RNFC, the US Forest Service hosted a Russian delegation to explore how independent forest certification can be applied on public and private lands in the U.S. and around the world. This study tour allowed Russian policy and decision makers to exchange information and ideas with leaders in forest policy and land management from USFS, state agencies, academia and the private sector to explore issues associated with seeking certification on forest lands that they manage.
Back to top
Illegal logging is a significant problem for many countries in Europe and Northern Asia, including Russia. Estimates for the volume of illegal logging in Russia range as high as 20% of the total volume of legally sourced timber, which significantly impacts the country’s economy, in addition to the environmental consequences. Russia has recently taken several steps to address this problem including hosting the Europe and North Asia Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (ENA-FLEG) Ministerial Conference in 2005,adopting a National Action Plan for preventing illegal logging and associated trade, and developing a national forest certification system. In addition, combating illegal logging through sustainable forestry practices was identified as a priority direction for collaboration between the US Forest Service and the Russian Federal Forestry Agency. Further progress in Russia will require the availability of accurate and transparent data, clear legislation and policies, strong capacity for enforcement, and the promotion of greater cross-border cooperation.
The U.S. Forest Service has actively engaged a wide range of partners to address illegal logging and mitigate the risk of timber theft. For example, in 2006 and 2008, USFS sponsored workshops in collaboration with Forest Trends and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to promote Sustainable Trade and Investment along the Sino-Russian border. More recently, USFS has been working to initiate collaborative partnerships on forest governance issues as described below.
Forest Governance: Promoting Civic Involvement, Access to Information, and Legality in the Forest Sector
This component of our work on illegal logging aims to address issues of forest governance, including public participation, public access to information, information management, and institutional design in order to reduce the risk of corruption and illegality in the forest sector. The project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, also works to facilitate greater cooperation and collaborative efforts among stakeholders in civil society, government, and the private sector.
Recent amendments to the U.S. Lacey Act will likely begin to provide incentives to relevant entities in the Russian forest sector to improve forest management practices and reduce corruption. Through this project, USFS is working closely with Russian partners to identify, share, and design tools and mechanisms that may be applicable and implementable in the Russian context to assist partners improve monitoring and management of timber leases, enhance public oversight of timber extraction and export, and increase accountability among officials involved in the forest sector.
As an initial step in this project, USFS held a seminar in November 2010 in partnership with WWF-Russia and the All-Russia Institute for Continuous Education on Forestry to provide an opportunity to share US and Russia experience on important governance issues and increase dialogue among multiple stakeholders in select regions of Russia. During the seminar, participants identified recommendations, needs, and interests for improving forest governance in the Russian forest sector.
The U.S. Forest Service plans to continue working with government, non-government, academic, and private-sector partners to exchange best practices that promote good governance in the forest sector and legal sourcing of timber.
Back to top
Krasnoyarsk Partnership Program
Krasnoyarsk Krai is Russia’s second largest region, holding 234 million hectares (13% of Russia’s land) and producing roughly 20% of Russia’s timber for exports. With Russia’s new Forest Code, implemented in January of 2007, regional authorities – including the Krasnoyarsk Krai Regional Government (KKG) - received increased responsibility for management and administrative functions in the forest sector. The KKG began moving forward with designing and implementing policies and practices to develop and manage the region’s forests.
USFS has been collaborating with partners in the Krasnoyarsk Krai since the early 1990’s, first through the USAID-funded Central Siberia Sustainability Project (1993-2005), and more recently through the Krasnoyarsk Partnership Program, a regional development partnership initiated in 2006 between USAID and KKG that included a component on forest sector development. Through this partnership, the US Forest Service began working with USAID, the KKG, and several Russian implementing partners to collaborate on several activities aimed at sustainably developing the region’s forest resources. Project components included: Timber tracking; voluntary forest certification; forest roads planning and management; forest planning; biomass utilization; biofuel; and fire prevention. In 2008, partners proposed to add an eighth component on climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Within the context of the Krasnoyarsk Partnership Program, USFS specialists worked with KKG officials and regional specialists to assess a particular rail terminal and develop a pilot log tracking system using components from the U.S. system. Another USFS team traveled to Krasnoyarsk to exchange best management practices for roads planning and management with specialists from the Sukachev Institute of Forestry.
Currently, with funding from USAID, US Forest Service is collaborating with the V.N. Sukachev Institute of Forestry on two projects: 1) Fire Management in Areas of High Risk of Large and Catastrophic Forest Fires and 2) Sustainable Forest Management and Forest Regeneration Based on Ecological and Economic Assessment of Krasnoyarsk Timber Resources. Recommendations developed through these projects will inform regional authorities on best practices in the field of fire management and sustainable forest management.
Back to top
Habitat Management in the Russian Far East
Primorsky Krai, or Primorye, is a biologically rich temperate forest zone in the Russian Far East (RFE). It has a unique mix of northern temperate and boreal species such as the brown bear, Eurasian lynx and red deer as well as southern tropical species such as the Asiatic black bear, leopard cats and sika deer. The region hosts over a hundred endangered terrestrial species, of which at least 48 are endemic to Russia, as well as numerous threatened species. The conservation of this unique ecosystem is of global importance.
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has targeted the Far Eastern leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) and Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) as key umbrella species in the region. Habitat conservation for these animals, which are dependent on large tracts of intact forest ecosystem, benefits associated species and biodiversity in the region. The Blakiston’s fish owl (Bubo blakistoni) is another species of interest that resides in this region. The US Forest Service, with support from USAID, continues to exchange information and methodologies with Russian scientists, managers, and students on a variety of wildlife-related topics to support conservation and capacity building efforts and ensure the sustainable management of forests and wildlife habitat in the RFE.
Amur (Siberian) Tiger
The Siberian, or Amur, tiger is perhaps the most critically endangered of all tiger subspecies. Approximately 350-400 remain in the RFE. Although numbers have gone up slightly in recent years, the Siberian tiger continues to face serious threats such as poaching, habitat fragmentation, and disease. Intense logging and anthropogenic bi-annual fires in the region have led to the near disappearance of native Korean pine, a species that is integrally important to the health and size of the tiger population. In addition to providing habitat for the tiger, this pine species produces nuts that are a vital food source for elk, deer and boar, the chief prey of the Siberian tiger. As suitable habitat for tigers and their prey has disappeared or fragmented into a few isolated parcels, the Siberian Tiger has been forced to the brink of extinction. Currently, about 84 percent of the Amur tigers in Russia are found in Primorski Krai. A small isolated population is found in the southwest part of the region, together with the highly endangered Far Eastern leopard; therefore, conservation of this forest tract is of particular importance.
US Forest Service specialists have worked with a team of experts from Russia to study tiger populations and ecology and build a tiger conservation program. From 2001 to 2004, the US Forest Service supported research on population dynamics of Siberian tiger prey populations such as wild boar (Sus scrofa) and red deer (Cervus elaphus) in conjunction with scientists from Russia's Sikhote Alin Nature Reserve, Wildlife Conservation Society, and University of Wyoming’s Department of Zoology and Physiology. This effort significantly improved understanding of prey populations in the central portion of the Siberian tiger’s range and lead to several joint publications. The collaboration also strengthened relationships between Russian and American scientists and further developed scientifically based tiger conservation.
The US Forest Service continues to support efforts to better understand Siberian tiger populations and habitat needs and provide training to build the capacity of young scientists working on this species.
Far Eastern Leopard
The Far Eastern leopard, Panthera pardus orientalis, is the rarest feline in the world. They are found exclusively in southwest Primorye, with only about 35 individuals remaining in the wild. Continuing threats include poaching, habitat fragmentation and degradation, and human encroachment. Both the Far Eastern leopard and Amur tiger prefer mature forest growth; they avoid open fields and populated areas. Due to the secretive nature of these animals, they will retreat into the forest to avoid contact with humans or competition with tigers. Additional threats include inbreeding depression and loss of genetic diversity, disease, prey depletion, and fire. In addition, a shortage of young wildlife biologists and conservationists in the RFE has implications for natural resource conservation in the region.
Currently, USAID and the US Forest Service are supporting efforts by WCS and Russia partners to improve the habitat of the Far Eastern leopard and to build conservation capacity in the RFE. Fire is a pressing issue that is contributing to habitat degradation and is closely tied to human presence in the area. US Forest Service specialists are sharing technical expertise in fire planning, prevention, suppression, and rehabilitation to enhance the efforts of local organizations to mitigate fire effects on the Far Eastern leopard. Efforts to improve fire management in the region may also help mitigate the effects of black carbon from wildfires (see Climate Change: Black Carbon and the Arctic, below). USFS specialists are also contributing technical expertise and collaboration on regeneration, specifically to aid in the reforestation of Korean pine. If the population of leopards remains healthy, habitat restoration could aid in the recovery of this species by providing greater living and hunting territory.
Blakiston's Fish Owl
The US Forest Service has also been helping to conserve what many scientists believe may be the largest owl in the world. A secretive species, the endangered Blakiston’s Fish owl resides within remote, old growth, riparian forests in Northeast Asia, including the RFE. Increasing pressures from logging interests and development in the region threaten the owl’s habitat. Less than 1,000 pairs are thought to remain in the wild. A large percentage of these owls live outside protected areas, therefore cooperation with local communities is critical to protecting this species.
To conserve the Blakiston’s Fish Owl, a sound understanding of the bird’s biology and habitat is necessary. The US Forest Service has been collaborating with the Wildlife Conservation Society on the Blakiston’s Fish Owl Project, which focuses on collecting baseline data on the fish owl in the RFE, raising awareness about this species locally and internationally, and developing conservation recommendations to protect habitat and minimize disturbance effects.
Back to top
Protected Area Management
Russia has one of the oldest and most extensive protected area networks in the world. These protected areas range from strictly protected reserves, or “zapovedniki,” to national parks, national monuments, wildlife reserves, and various other categories. The Russian federal zapovednik system was established in 1917 and the national park system in the 1980’s. Historically, zapovedniki emphasized research and excluded human visitation and economic activity. Due to decreased government funding and ongoing economic transition in Russia, protected area managers have found it increasingly difficult to maintain programs and personnel. They have expressed a need for personnel training and capacity building if their lands are to be adequately managed and have been seeking ways to achieve this. In addition, environmental education and ecotourism programs have increasingly been incorporated into protected area strategies. In fact, the Russian President recently instructed MNRE to become more engaged in promoting ecotourism and responsible outdoor recreation on public lands, and has provided incentive through draft legislation providing for greater public access to protected natural areas and funding dedicated towards ecotourism development in Russian zapovedniks. USFS has been working with US and Russian partners from academia, government, and non-governmental organizations to build capacity of Russian protected area managers in a variety of management areas including planning, adaptive management, ranger training, interpretation, trail building, and others.
Protected Area Management Exchange
In an effort to better understand U.S. approaches to protected area management and exchange information and experience between U.S. and Russian park managers, 19 Russian nature reserve and park managers visited the United States in February, 2011. The U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. National Park Service jointly hosted the delegation during their visit, which occurred under the auspices of the Environmental Working Group of the U.S. - Russia Presidential Commission, created in July 2009 by Presidents Obama and Medvedev. Travel expenses for the Russian visitors were provided by the U.S. Department of State under the FORECAST program administered by USAID.
The delegation visited Washington, DC to discuss national priorities and approaches to protected area management. Following these official meetings, the group visited sites in Florida including Apalachicola National Forest, St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge, and Wakulla Springs State Park in northern Florida and the Everglades, Biscayne, and Big Cypress National Parks in southern Florida. During the exchange, the Russian delegation gained insights into resource issues such as fire and wildlife management as well as public access and partnership development. The visitors explored the importance of balancing various uses with environmental conservation, while they enjoyed the local landscapes, flora and fauna. Ideally, this visit will lead to increased cooperation and exchange between U.S. and Russian protected area managers.
Kamchatka Protected Area Management Training
Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula is home to some of the world’s most unique natural territories. With its extensive system of regional, national and international protected areas, Kamchatka represents a unique opportunity to share Russian and international experience and management approaches for protected areas (PAs) of various statuses. The peninsula’s protected areas also have the potential to serve as models for development of successful PA management programs in other regions.
In February 2007, USFS collaborated with the Consortium for International Protected Area Management (CIPAM), Wild Salmon Center (WSC), the United Nations Development (UNDP) Program’s Project, “Demonstrating Sustainable Conservation of Biological Diversity in Four Protected Areas of Russia's Kamchatka Oblast,” Ecocenter Zapovedniks, and other Russian partners and specialists to develop a joint training program to share international experience and knowledge on protected area management and training. The goal of this cooperative activity was to support and facilitate the creation of a long-term, sustainable capacity building program for PA managers on Kamchatka that is based on best practices and methodologies for protected area management. This seminar resulted in a program of future training activities, as well as improved connections and relationships between partners. USFS has contributed to several workshops and activities in Kamchatka since 2007; through these activities, USFS has provided training and information on topics such as ranger training, US public land management, first aid and safety, wilderness values and ethics, conflict management, volunteer services, community involvement, trail building and management, and others.
Kamchatka Visitor Survey
USFS worked in cooperation with the UNDP/GEF Project “Kamchatka Biodiversity Conservation,” the Kamchatka Regional Tourism Agency, Ministry of Natural Resources, Ministry of Industry and Investment of the Kamchatka Region, Bureau of Land Management, the Universities of Northern Arizona and Alaska, and other Russian and international partners to conduct a survey of visitors to Kamchatka. The goals of this one year project were to assess ecotourism values and experiences of visitors to Kamchatka and to provide information and data to interested stakeholders with the intention of enhancing tourism, recreation and protected area management in the region.
This survey was a unique effort in Russia. Visitors were surveyed in the Yelizovo airport about their visit to Kamchatka and the region’s protected areas. Data were analyzed by a team of U.S. experts; preliminary results showed keen interest from Russian and international visitors in tourism in Kamchatka. Results of the program were presented in Petropavlosk-Kamchatsky and Yelizovo in the fall of 2008 and distributed through a final report, with positive reception from regional authorities.
Kamchatka Salmon Habitat Conservation
Kamchatka produces approximately 25% of wild Pacific salmon. Oil and gas development and poaching for caviar pose significant threats to this resource. Protected area management on Kamchatka provides an opportunity to protect pristine habitat for salmon populations, and associated economic benefit to local populations. USFS is collaborating with the Wild Salmon Center and other Russian partners in their efforts to ensure the effective management of established salmon protected areas on Kamchatka, including the Kol River Salmon Refuge, established in 2006. Goals for the partnership include ensuring a conservation plan that utilizes adaptive management approaches, gathering support from local or regional stakeholders, ensuring available human and financial resources, establishing sustainable tourism ventures and developing and implementing effective monitoring plans.
Back to top
Sakhalin Island, the largest island in the Russian Federation, is situated a short distance across the Mamiya Strait from the mainland in the RFE. Dense coniferous forests cover the island and are home to numerous wildlife species. Whales, sea-lions, seals, and dolphins can be found along the sea coast. Sakhalin Island and the RFE provide important habitat for over 90 species of fish; seven species on Sakhalin are currently listed as endangered, and an additional 20 have been recommended for listing. At least 10 salmonid species inhabit the waters in and around Sakhalin. Salmon have long been important to the survival of indigenous communities on the island. Commercial fishing plays an integral role in Sakhalin's economy and employment opportunities; fishery resources also represent an opportunity for ecotourism development. In addition to direct pressures to Sakhalin's fish such as poaching and over-harvesting, historic and ongoing habitat destruction represents an increasing threat to these resources.
Sakhalin Salmon Initiative
The Sakhalin Salmon Initiative (SSI) promotes sustainable use of wild salmon and their habitat. Through SSI, partners are working to build capacity for conservation initiatives and ensure the sustainable development of Sakhalin’s resources. This public-private partnership, with participation from the government, private sector, local communities, and Russian and international NGOs, is managed by the SSI Center and overseen by a Coordinating Committee.
With support from USAID, the US Forest Service is contributing to the Sakhalin Salmon Initiative and Sakhalin Salmon Restoration Partnership, which seeks to increase local capacity for watershed restoration, through collaboration with the Wild Salmon Center (WSC) and Russian partners. Since 2005, several USFS teams have traveled to Sakhalin to exchange information, provide training, and cultivate relationships in the region. US Forest Service specialists have shared experience gained in the Pacific northwest to contribute to planning efforts, monitoring programs, restoration initiatives, establishment of local watershed councils, development of education and outreach projects, and training workshops. Most recently, USFS experts have been working with WSC and SSI to create an educational museum and eco-trail similar to the Cascade Streamwatch aquatic interpretive center in Oregon state on Sakhalin. These activities promote conservation and sustainable use of wild salmon and their ecosystems, build institutional capacity for conservation, and promote education and sustainable economic development on Sakhalin Island.
Back to top
Ecotourism and Watershed Management in Lake Baikal
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, Lake Baikal is the world’s deepest, oldest, and largest (by volume) freshwater lake. Lake Baikal is situated in south-central Siberia between the Irkutsk Oblast and Buryat Republic. The lake is home to over 1,000 plant species and 1,500 animal species, 80% of which are endemic -- including a freshwater seal, or ‘nerpa.’ Lake Baikal and its shores are protected through a number of specially designated territories, including Barguzin Zapovednik, created in 1916 to preserve the Barguzin Sable (Martes zibellina).
The development of ecotourism opportunities has been identified as a priority by authorities around Lake Baikal. The US Forest Service has been working with US and Russian-based non-governmental organizations and regional authorities to promote the development of sustainable ecotourism at Lake Baikal and to improve local capacity for resource management. US Forest Service contributions build upon expertise and lessons learned within the Lake Tahoe watershed in California and Nevada, the Pacific Northwest, and other important watersheds and forest units in the United States.
The US Forest Service, with funding from USAID, collaborates with the Great Baikal Trail (GBT) Association in their efforts to promote sustainable ecotourism and enhance recreation opportunities in the Baikal region, including a project to build a 1,500-mile trail around the lake. This trail will connect more than six protected areas around Lake Baikal, offering tremendous opportunities for low-impact tourism. Perhaps even more importantly, GBT teaches dozens of local young people the values of environmental stewardship, volunteerism, and leadership. Over the past five years, GBT has built nearly 400 km of trail around the lake in projects involving more than 1,000 Russian and international volunteers. Through this partnership, USFS has hosted experts from Lake Baikal to learn from local specialists, work on trail crews and attend seminars on trail building and protected area management. USFS specialists and teams have also traveled to Lake Baikal to participate in trail building exchanges; provide training on trail planning, building, and maintenance; help prioritize future projects; enhance safety procedures; and share approaches to nature interpretation.
The U.S. Forest Service also works with the Tahoe Baikal Institute (TBI) to improve watershed management and conservation education in the Baikal region. In 2004, Specialists from the US, Russia, and Mongolia participated in a workshop in Lake Tahoe to exchange information on policy development, watershed management, pollution, and other topics relevant to the Selenga watershed, Baikal’s main tributary. In recent years, USFS specialists have contributed to training workshops on fire and watershed management in the Lake Baikal Region. USFS also collaborated with TBI to organize annual public events where environmental information and enthusiasm could be disseminated. With USFS assistance, TBI planned a Forestry Agency – Community engagement annual event and organized environmental games and other activities on the main public square during the celebration of the annual Baikal Day. The activities highlight successful models of agency-community collaboration from the U.S., including “Forest Stewardship Day” and the “Kokanee Salmon Festival.” Most recently, in 2010, a USFS specialist in environmental education travelled to Baikal region, where TBI organized a series of trainings for school teachers, NGO educators, and protected area educators. The training seminars were so successful that the curriculum taught is now being translated into Russian by volunteers. Meanwhile a number of schools and a protected area have approached TBI to continue to work with their education professionals on establishing regular environmental education lessons.
Going forward we will begin collaborations with the Baikal region’s national parks and nature reserves on sustainable tourism development. These protected areas recently received a mandate and funding for ecotourism. Due to this development, the protected areas’ management expressed very strong interest in hearing lessons learned and discussing recreation plans with USFS recreation specialists. The first such exchange is planned for 2011.
Back to top
Around the world, forests and grasslands are at increasing risk due to the effects of global climate change. The US Forest Service has initiated several interrelated management and research programs domestically to help the nation’s forests and grasslands mitigate and adapt to global climate change. By slowing deforestation rates, curbing land degradation, increasing carbon storage, and using forests as an alternative and sustainable energy source, greenhouse gas emissions can be mitigated and reduced. Both the US and Russia contain temperate and boreal forests with similar species, forest health issues, and common threats. A number of US Forest Service activities in Russia promote sustainable forest practices that directly address issues related to global climate change. Current activities relevant to climate change include efforts to mitigate the effects of black carbon from wildfires and other fire management activities in collaboration with the Russian Federal Forestry Agency and Avialesookhrana.
Black Carbon and the Arctic
In December 2009, within the framework of the UN Climate Change Conference, the White House Council on Environmental Quality announced the Administration’s commitment of $5 million towards international cooperation to reduce black carbon emissions and the associated warming effects in and around the Arctic. Black carbon is a short-lived warming agent that is particularly damaging to the Arctic by darkening ice and hastening melting. Decreasing black carbon emissions is a strategy to mitigate near-term warming in the Arctic. The U.S. initiative to address black carbon emissions, supported by the U.S. State Department, will build on the ongoing analysis of the Arctic Council Task Force on Short Lived Climate Forcers and other domestic and international assessments. Multiple concurrent projects are being initiated to address the most significant contributors of black carbon emissions that reach the Arctic, including diesel engines, agricultural burning and forest fires, and stationary sources such as district heating and heavy industrial facilities in high northern latitudes.
Chemical analysis of particles deposited on Arctic snow suggests that biomass burning, including agricultural burning and forest fires, is a major source of black carbon deposition in the Arctic. According to estimates from chemical transport models and satellite observations of fire and smoke plumes, international experts believe burning across Eurasia is a significant source of Arctic black carbon. To address sources of black carbon in Eurasia, the U.S. Forest Service International Programs office, with support of the U.S. State Department, is coordinating a multi-agency USDA program on collaborative research and international technical cooperation to achieve the following goals: 1) develop data and models to improve estimation of black carbon emissions and transport; 2) increase science-based knowledge among scientists and practitioners of black carbon emissions from agricultural burning and forest fires; 3) facilitate technical cooperation and exchange between US and partner countries to improve fire management and regulation of agricultural burning; and 4) identify and promote feasible options for farmers to reduce black carbon emissions from agricultural burning. This USDA program will focus on US collaboration with Russia to jointly address these Arctic black carbon objectives through research, technical exchanges and other cooperative activities.
Under the USDA Black Carbon Initiative, the U.S. Forest Service International Programs office will implement technical exchanges and cooperation between U.S. and Russian experts on black carbon, agricultural burning, and fire management. These efforts will support training activities and the development and implementation of innovative local-level “pilot” programs designed to illustrate strategies and practices that could be more broadly applied to reduce any negative environmental impact of agricultural and forest fires. Specifically, we are working with Pacific Environment and the Gebler Ecological Society to advance fire management activities in the Altai Krai. Further, we are expanding our partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society in the Primorsky Krai to initiate fire management activities in the Leopardovyi Wildlife Refuge and Bezverkhovo municipality. USFS will also participate in two training courses in Russia, organized by Avialesookhrana, for pilot observers and regional forest protection specialists. These efforts are funded by the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development.
- US Department of State
- US Agricultural Research Service and Foreign Agricultural Service
- Pacific Environment
- The Gebler Ecological Society
- Wildlife Conservation Society
Back to top
Central Siberia Sustainability Project
Despite threats to forests in Central Siberia from insects, disease, wildfire, and over cutting, an economic assessment conducted by Pan Atlantic Consultants in 2000 indicated that sustainable forest management was possible in the region. There were excellent forest resources, knowledgeable and dedicated forestry professionals and a demand for wood products from European and Pacific Rim countries and China.
The Central Siberia Sustainability Project (1993-2005) contributed to ensuring a sustainable future for the forests and people of Siberia. This project focused on many elements of sustainable forest management: data collection and management, including Geographic Information Systems; forest harvest methods and equipment; reforestation and stand improvement; and, significantly, assisting development of some of the first government-authorized and endorsed prescribed burning efforts in Russia.
In terms of actual changes in on-the-ground management resulting from this project, the prescribed burning program was likely the most successful. A large number of hectares were burned for both hazard reduction and site preparation in a variety of conditions. This included prescribed burning in young, thinned pine stands around communities to reduce the threat of wildfire.
The U.S. team also assisted with other related programs including development of forest management regulations, restoration of insect-devastated forests, and development and implementation of projects funded through the U.S. Agency for International Development's Replication of Lessons Learned (ROLL), and Forest Resources and Technology (FOREST) programs.
The Central Siberia Sustainability Project developed a sustainable resource management plan for a portion of the Bolshaya Murta Leshoz, a site similar to a national forest in the USA. Lesproekt, which had historically been the organization responsible for completing forest management plans for Leshozi every 10 years, worked in partnership with the Bolshaya Murta Leshoz and the Sukachev Institute of Forest Research to complete a sustainable resource management plan that incorporated ecological, social and economic factors, all of which were key to sustainability. The intent was to develop a plan that considered all resources and could be used as a model for planning in other parts of the Krai and across Russia.
In 2005, US Forest Service provided support for the writing and publication of a book, Regional Problems in Ecosystem Management, that summarized the project results, so that information gained through project activities could be widely available and replicated. In addition, US Forest Service fielded a team to Siberia in the fall of 2005 to further project activities and check on progress that had been made in previous collaborations. The project enjoyed many success stories including innovative approaches to watershed management and conservation, vast improvements in forest management, and the establishment of new partnerships and networking not only between Russian and American partners but among various Russian agencies as well. Cooperation and information exchange between the USFS and partners involved in the CSSP continue to this day.
Back to top