A quantative take on Russian forests

Russia has one fifth of the global forest area. This area has remained relatively constant in recent decades, but clear cutting and wildfires are altering the species composition.

Due to the inconsistency of world data on the state of forests, data from the United Nations Agriculture and Food Organization (FAO), which has been publishing summaries of this kind for many decades, are used to show the role of Russia in world forestry.

According to the FAO (2020), the total forest area of the world is about 4 billion hectares. Of this area, 45%, i.e. 1.8 billion hectares are tropical forests, and 27% (about 1.1 billion hectares) are boreal forests (or taiga), which mainly include Russian forests. The remaining 28% are temperate and subtropical forests. Among the countries of the world, Russia ranks first in terms of forest area – with 815 million hectares (21% of the global forested area).

Unlike the rapid destruction of tropical forests of Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia, boreal forests (two thirds of which are located on the territory of Russia) are stable in area. If we take into account the new forests that have arisen on abandoned agricultural land, but are so far ignored by the authorities, then the area of Russian forests is increasing. At the same time, there are negative changes in their species composition. Due to fires, clearing, the impact of diseases and pests, the areas of typical coniferous stands (spruce, pine) are somewhat reduced, and these species are being replaced by secondary species – birch and aspen.

The total area of intact forests in the world that have still not experienced significant anthropogenic impact is about 1.1 billion hectares (i.e. more than a quarter of all the forests in the world). According to the FAO, the largest areas of intact forests have been preserved in Russia: 255 million hectares.

When using Russian forest statistics one should be aware that a number of the indicators they contain may differ from corresponding FAO estimates. FAO figures allow for maximum comparability of data at the global level. Russian forest statistics allow for a deeper and more detailed analysis.

According to Rosreestr, the Russian statistics agency, as of 1 January 2020 the forest lands of the Russian Federation covered 897 million hectares. The definition of forest land includes land occupied by forest ecosystems, as well as land intended for growing forests, but temporarily devoid of forest cover (burnt areas, dead stands, clear cuts, etc.). The main area of forest land is part of the Forest Fund (863.4 million hectares, or 96.3% of their total area), for which there is the most detailed information on the species and age composition of forests. However, official statistics ignore the presence of 34 million hectares of forests that have grown in recent decades on currently unused agricultural lands.

The average forest cover on Russian territory in recent decades has remained quite stable. At present it is 46.5%, but it varies greatly from region to region: from 0.2% in the Republic of Kalmykia to 82.5% in the Irkutsk region. About two-thirds of all forests in the Russian Federation grow on permafrost, which occupies vast areas of Siberia and the Far East.
On land managed by the Forest Fund and occupied by the main tree species, coniferous forests (mainly larch, pine and spruce) prevail, occupying 76% of the area. Deciduous forests (mainly birch and aspen) occupy 22% of the area, while the rest of the territory (2%) is populated by hardwoods and shrubs.

Looking at statistics on changes in the forest area of Russia, it is worth noting that, at the beginning of 2021 (compared to 2000), the forest area of the Russian Federation slightly decreased, namely by 179 thouand hectares. The decline in forest area was mainly driven by two factors:

  •  Illegal deforestation in the Russian Federation;
  •  Large forest fires that have occurred over the past five years in particular.

As noted in the Strategy for the Development of the Forest Complex of the Russian Federation until 2030, approved by decree 312-r of the government of the Russian Federation on 11 February 2021, the problems of conservation and use of forests are becoming more diverse and complex. Forest management standards are changing to meet increased international, social, environmental and economic requirements. Threats of harmful organisms, forest death from fires, and other adverse factors have increased due to the consequences of climate change, as well as the risks of loss of forest biodiversity.

Andrey Laletin



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