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Reforestation instead of combating felling of forests: Why Zelensky's heading into the woods?

Author : Olena Holubeva

Source : 112 Ukraine

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree on the preservation and restoration of forests. Under this program, a billion trees are to be planted in three years
08:31, 11 June 2021

Illegal deforestation in Transcarpathia
BBC News Ukrainian/Facebook

The construction of Potemkin villages continues. With the slogan "give a five-year plan in three years," Zelensky's team continues to generate large-scale projects, which the media willingly write about, feeding the illusion of her great work. Following the construction of roads, the creation of a new university and an oil refinery, and the launch of an almost useless satellite, the president announced the planting of a billion (everyone was joking about this) trees in three years. He plans that the forest area will increase by a million hectares in 10 years.

Planting trees is, of course, good. However, during the pandemic, the presidential greening project, according to the estimates of the Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Roman Abramovsky, will cost the country 73 million USD. Isn't it easier to deal with uncontrolled deforestation instead?

Related: Billion trees in three years: Zelensky signs a decree on reforestation

Amber diggers

According to the forecasts of EOS Data Analytics and the Space Research Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, in 30-40 years, such regions as Rivne and Zhytomyr regions may be left without a forest at all. But at the moment our country ranks eighth in terms of forest area and sixth in terms of timber reserves in Europe.

Illegal amber diggers, in conditions of complete impunity and indifference to the topic on the part of law enforcement agencies, continue their destructive work. When mining the "sunstone", they wash huge carvines on the body of the forests with motor pumps, uprooted perennial trees, the growth of which is impossible to resume after that.

What is especially important - according to the legislation, greening in the regions where amber is mined should be taken up by legal miners.

Related: 420 mln hectares of forest lost over 30 years worldwide

In 2019, the state legalized the sphere, after which licenses for this activity began to be sold at state auctions. It was assumed that upon completion of the work, the entrepreneurs would be obliged not only to renew the fertile soil layer in the territories where illegal diggers had worked before them but also to plant new forest seedlings on them. Dozens of legal special permits for amber mining have already been sold at auctions. The entrepreneurs are ready to plant millions of seedlings and even renew the destroyed soil layer at their own expense.

However, due to the fact that the legislation in this direction was never finally settled, only one private enterprise was able to start legal production. The rest are waiting for the approval of legislative changes.

In addition, the forestry establishments also require licensed companies to pay the lost profits fifty years in advance. A paradox: special permits for the extraction of amber, work on which still cannot begin, were issued for five years, and the lost profit must be paid in an amount calculated for fifty years.

In such conditions, will entrepreneurs be interested in buying special permits and investing in reclamation? The answer to the question can be understood from the results of recent state auctions. Nowadays, most of the special permits are sold at the starting price or go to a repeated auction, where their value drops even more.

Related: Three malefactors illegally seize forest lands for almost $728,000 in Lviv region

Cutting down trees

Experts unanimously assert that the majority of violations today are carried out by the forestry establishments themselves, and not by the so-called "black lumberjacks". Poachers are not able to quietly cut down huge forest areas. The destruction of healthy trees is often disguised as legal sanitary felling. Often, forestry workers designate wood as firewood and officially sell it for a penny. If violations are identified, losses are calculated for the state forestry enterprises. This is how individual individuals profit and the state pays for it.

Ukrainian legislation today is designed in such a way that a person can be held accountable only when he was caught red-handed, literally by the hand with an ax, with which he was chopping a tree. Supervisory authorities, as a rule, only face the consequences of such activities. The fact of the illegality of felling is revealed sometimes after months and even years of the existence of clearings. But even if someone is caught in a hot spot, the violator will pay only 1,5 USD for cutting down a tree with a diameter of 10 centimeters. This is incomparably small, given the prices for timber on the black market, which are dozens of times higher.

What is happening in the direction of the legalization of timber sales looks like a banal blurring of the eyes. At auctions in the Prozorro system, no more than 8% of all timber volumes are sold. The rest of the forestry establishments continue to "push" according to bilateral agreements, under which both the circle of buyers is limited, and the word "kickback" is not an empty phrase. The electronic system of accounting for forest resources still does not cover the entire forest area of ​​Ukraine. Therefore, tracing the path of each tree from the felling site to the plant where it will be processed remains a huge challenge. In addition, for a long time, normal inspections did not take place, since the forestry enterprises, hiding behind quarantine, simply did not allow inspectors.

Related: How trash with coronavirus ends up in forests, fields and landfills of Ukraine?

It is worth noting that this is not Zelensky's first "entry" into the forest. Former Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk was actively involved in the issue. Loud denunciations and meetings with the smell of Corvalol ended, however, ingloriously: the president's team replaced the head of the State Forestry Administration, publicly defamed several foresters. Criminal cases were opened against a number of them, which, as usual, ended in nothing.

***

Obviously, beautiful landscaping ideas come from very mundane motives. It is much easier to PR on greening projects at public expense than to close a corruption shop in the form of kickbacks from illegal amber diggers and smugglers.

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