UKRAINE — The Forest Service and World Wide Fund for Nature Ukraine hosted a kick-off event for WWF-Ukraine’s Forest Watch program in late September. Forest Watch builds the capacity of community activists and local leaders to observe, document, and report potentially illegal forest activities. Forest Watch works with communities to ensure they have a voice in the creation of laws and procedures, protections and regulations for sustainable use of Ukraine’s forests.
Colin Fisher, law enforcement officer on the Green Mountain National Forest, and Mark Burgeson, special agent on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest, participated in the event along with International Programs office staff. Other participants came from the U.S. Department of Justice, INTERPOL-Washington, and the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, as well as officials from various Ukrainian agencies responsible for forest use, protection and prosecution.
The group discussed challenges each institution faces, including why the illegal wood market exists, reasons for its open transport, as well as the impact of low wages on forest crime. George Kent, Deputy Chief of Mission for the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, spoke at the event and emphasized the importance of the forests for the future of Ukraine and the role civil society plays in protecting them.
Dmytro Karabchuk, coordinator of Forest Watch at WWF-Ukraine, noted, “I think it is a positive sign that representatives from key institutions responsible for forests met together, and interesting to get acquainted with the U.S. system of forest protection and what we may apply in Ukraine.”
Forest Service and DOJ experts spent the remainder of the week providing training for Forest Watch volunteers, consulting with WWF-Ukraine for their ongoing program activities and carrying out a series of seminars for university faculty and students. The program was supported by the U.S. Department of State and coordinated through the International Programs Office.