200-600 year old trees stacked at a clear-cutt of a primeval forest in northern Karelia 2011 – Photo: Protect the Forest

Massive Cutbacks in Karelia’s Nature

Conservation Policy Would Threaten

Europe’s Natural Heritage

Some of the most important landscapes of Europe’s high-conservation value forests are located in the Russian republic of Karelia, where vast, intact areas of virgin forest still remain unprotected.  The government of Karelia has recently proposed to cancel the previous agreement for protection of high conservation value forests. The proposed changes in the land use plan would cancel 2/3 of all planned protected areas, threatening more than 1.3 million hectares of old-growth forests and natural ecosystems in Karelia.

“The scheme of territorial planning included the most valuable parts of the Karelian nature. These areas have relatively low value for industrial development, and thus are not of critical significance for the economy. On the other hand, these areas have extremely high conservation values”, says Alexander Markovsky, head of the Karelian nature conservation organization SPOK.

If the proposed cutbacks in nature preservation are carried out, some of Europe’s most valuable expanses of old-growth forests will be threatened by destruction. Also, the cutback plans have led to an international outcry from leading scientists and environmental movements, now urging the Karelian government to reject the new proposal. One of the environmental groups who have reacted is the Taiga Rescue Network (TRN), a global network with a membership of over 100 NGO:s. TRN initiated an appeal that up to date has been signed by a large number of leading scientists from all over the world. The appeal was handed over to the government of Karelia on November 7, 2011.

“TRN is concerned about the proposal of the Karelian government as the forests of Karelia form such an important part of European natural heritage. These are some of the last remaining fragments of intact old-growth forests in Europe, an important part of the global boreal forest ecosystem and one of the last refuges for biodiversity in Europe”, says Katy Harris, secretary of the Taiga Rescue Network.

If the proposal will be implemented, only five percent of Karelia’s forests would be strictly protected by 2030. This is far from the international agreement of protecting 17 percent of the ecosystems until 2020. This agreement was signed by 193 countries during the United Nation summit in Nagoya one year ago. Also, the UN has declared 2011 “the international year of forests”, and the whole decade “the decade of biodiversity”.

“The global rate of biodiversity loss has been identified, in parallel with climate change, as the major threat to humankind. This concerns all ecosystems and regions, including the European boreal forests. The governments of the world identified last year 20 targets for slowing and halting this loss. This includes the target to set aside 17% of the land area as well-connected, ecologically representative protected areas. This is a highly cost-effective tool to meet both the demands to protect forest biodiversity and still allow for sustainable forest management on a large fraction of the forest landscape,” says Professor Bengt Gunnar Jonsson, Mid Sweden University.

As global awareness is rising regarding the importance of biodiversity, the environmental movement points out that there is no future market for forest products coming from unsustainable forestry and old-growth forest destruction.

“If the Karelian government decides to cut protection for Karelia’s valuable forest areas, it will inevitably give Karelian forest products a bad reputation on the global timber market, threatening export possibilities, tax revenues and employment possibilities. Foreign and large domestic enterprises will see this as a signal that they cannot invest money in Karelia’s timber industry: forests are no more, and long-term investment projects are fraught with unnecessary risk”, says Alexander Markovsky.


Contact information

Alexander Markovsky, Ph. D. in forest ecology, head of Karelian nature

conservation organization SPOK.

Phone: +7 (8142) 76-91-15 markovsky.a@gmail.com

Viktor Säfve, chairperson Taiga Rescue Network Phone +46 76 114 88 11


Katy Harris, secretary Taiga Rescue Network katy@lookeast.org.uk



Read the appeals here