President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Colleagues, today we will discuss the lessons we must learn from this recent difficult summer in terms of our forestry sector’s operation.
It is clear that we have problems with our laws and regulations and with the degree and level of organisation in the sector. This does not mean that we need to renounce everything in our current system, but we should analyse very closely the laws and examine carefully the agency (or agencies, I have not made any final decisions yet) to manage our forestry.
I did make the decision to bring the Federal Forestry Agency directly under the Government’s subordination. I hope this will make work easier. The necessary documents have already been approved, but if this turns out to be not enough I reserve the right to make more radical changes to this agency.
Before we discuss the actual substance, the instructions that I have already given, the Government’s proposals and the ideas of the governors of the most affected regions, I want to take this opportunity to thank once again our colleagues from abroad who helped us to put out the wildfires, and I also want us to examine today ways for making our cooperation in this respect more effective.
I have already noted the heroism our people demonstrated in this situation. I want to inform you that I just signed two executive orders on decorating rescue workers and other people who took part in fighting the fires.
On August 27, 2010 I instructed the Government to make an inventory of our forestry legislation. I would like to hear your preliminary assessment of what we have, what we need to do, which laws are helpful, and which did not help us to fight the fires and even perhaps aggravated the situation. Of course, I also hope to hear specific proposals from the Government on amendments to this legislation.
I remind you that the current legislation places a substantial share of powers in this area in the regions’ hands. These powers are financed with federal budget subsidies which this year totalled 15 billion rubles [around $0.5 billion], including 2.2 billion rubles for protecting forests from fires. I want to hear your views on whether this is sufficient or not.
The legislation does not set out procedures and criteria for transferring these powers back to federal level, say, in cases when regions systematically fail to meet their obligations and are not coping with prevention work and real efforts to organise fire-fighting activities.
In a number of agencies and regions responsibility for this work ended up being placed on random organisations that had neither the equipment, experience, nor the specialists. I am not talking about volunteer associations (I want to sincerely thank everyone who took part in them), but about organisations that were hired to carry out this work, but did not have the necessary equipment, licenses or powers.
Fire prevention and fire-fighting are certainly part of forestry management and preservation. Of course, specialised fire-fighting organisations should be responsible for putting out forest fires, but the regions must have not just all the relevant action plans for dealing with these situations but also the necessary human and equipment reserves at the ready.
Another matter is that the current Forest Code replaced the state forest protection system with a state control and supervision system. This was the subject of debate in its time. This summer’s events have intensified this debate, of course. Was this the right step or not?
The recent events brought to light at least one problem with this system, connected with the fact that supervision and monitoring is carried out by means of checks on the activities of legal entities or individual entrepreneurs working in the forests.
But unlike in some small Central European country, say, Russia has leased out only around 13 percent of its forests, and this means that we have more than a billion hectares of forests that have ended up with no specialised forest protection workers because the forests in question have not yet been leased to legal entities or individual enterprises. They are still in the state’s hands, but there is no supervision in place there.
In the past, as we all remember, this work was the permanent responsibility of forestry management officials and forest rangers. The debate on the best road to take here is still going on, and I want us to discuss this matter too. We can discuss any reasonable proposals in this area.
Another serious issue is that the forests damaged in the fires need to be regenerated. This does not mean that the state should take on the full cost of this work. We should put in place the financial and legal mechanisms that would make it possible for lessees and regional authorities at the appropriate level to carry out forest regeneration activities.
We also are to make use of the potential that scientific research offers. In general, we should look at how to organise fire prevention efforts and see what effective methods other countries are using.
I have talked with some of my colleagues about this. The King of Spain called yesterday, for the second time. They feel a lot of sympathy for our plight because, as you know, Spain suffers from frequent wildfires. This is a recurring problem there, but they have come up with all kinds of different technology. So, Mr Shoigu [Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu], we agreed that you too will examine this matter with your colleagues abroad.
Another very important aspect is environmental education for our children. We have all been abroad and have seen what kind of culture of environmental awareness many European countries have built up. Go into the forest there and you’re almost afraid to step away from the track. All the tracks seem to have been laid out so clearly and everything is so neat and looked after that it’s simply a real pleasure for the eyes.
You know for yourselves what the situation here is like. This is not just a problem of money, of equipment, of organising work, of management, or of improving the laws, but also a question of culture. We used to have school forestry ranger movements, but I think this system no longer exists anymore. Whatever the case, we are to give this issue more attention. People have realised through their own experience now just how dangerous this can be and how much attention these issues demand.
Another matter is the role of civil society. This includes our schoolchildren, but adults too. Civil society has a very important part to play in forest protection. We are worried not just about the environmental situation but also about our forests’ future.
People get together to resolve environmental issues. In some cases the movements they create have a real effect and a big political and public impact. The situation with the Khimki Forest is a case in point.
Incidentally, as you know, we decided to re-examine this issue. I hope that in its examination of this matter the Government will take into account not just economic but also environmental considerations.
This does not mean that economic considerations are secondary, but both factors should be taken into account. I understand the agencies that support keeping the current project, but I have not made a final decision yet.
As we agreed, we first need to carry out full consultations with the public and experts, and only then make a final decision on the route this new road, which our country unquestionably needs, will take.
(Head of the Federal Forestry Agency Viktor Maslyakov presented a report on the situation with forest fires in the Russian regions and the measures needed to regenerate forests.)
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Mr Maslyakov, first of all, you have provided a fragmentary picture of the situation, but I would like to get an overall picture, in a dozen sentences, of how you see the changes in the management, control and supervision system in the forestry sector. I do realise that this work is not finished yet, but nevertheless, I would like to hear your views on what is needed. Should we leave the Forest Code as it is, or should we change the system taking into account what I said and what you said? A large part of our forests are indeed currently not under commercial management, and are not forests that have been leased. What are we going to do about them?
Head OF THE FEDERAL FORESTRY AGENCY VIKTOR MASLYAKOV: The system is completely financed by the federal budget at the moment, taking into account the specific forests in the different regions: 69 percent of our land is forest land. I probably did not say that 15 percent of our forests on average are leased out.
Dmitry MEDVEDEV: I said this in my opening remarks.
Viktor MASLYAKOV: But in European Russia we have around 40 percent of forests leased out.
Dmitry MEDVEDEV: I understand this. But what are we to do with the forests that have not been leased out? With the ones that have been leased we can at least ask the organisations to take responsibility.
Viktor MASLYAKOV: The regions have to work together with us and continue this work with our financial support. We have this experience today and have already developed fire prevention practice and forest fire-fighting technique. I think that in this area we simply need to put greater emphasis on the regions and bring order to the different forestry organisations in the regions.
Taking into account the huge amount of land we manage, forestry management in the regions is mostly in the hands of agriculture sector organisations or environmental organisations financed by us through the federal budget. Russia needs a unified forest management system, and this system must extend to our regions too. When you have a forestry service director with a dozen different tasks to take care of, of course he ends up not knowing where to start.
Dmitry MEDVEDEV: What are you talking about specifically? You mentioned re-equipping the forest fire prevention services. So, you are talking about extra money, more people, and new possibilities, is this the case?
Viktor MASLYAKOV: Not more people, but extra money for buying new equipment. We already have enough people.
Dmitry MEDVEDEV: So, you have the people. That’s clear. What kind of changes need to be made to the Forest Code?
Viktor MASLYAKOV: No changes are required.
Dmitry MEDVEDEV: Are you sure of this?
Viktor MASLYAKOV: Orders and instructions will be required: internal Government orders and resolutions, which would make it possible for us to regulate…
Dmitry MEDVEDEV: I would not rush to conclude that no changes will be required to the Forest Code. If something happens in the future those who concluded now that no changes are needed will have to answer for this decision, so I would suggest that you analyse the situation once again.
I am not calling for the code to be completely rewritten, but I want to say once again that the Government needs to make a complete inventory of our forest legislation. There are laws that have not been working. Aside from the problem of not having the proper services and equipment in place, or properly organised work, there is also the problem of legal provisions that require amendment.
The Government overall, the Prime Minister, the First Deputy Prime Minister responsible for this sector, and Mr Sobyanin [Deputy Prime Minister and Government Chief of Staff], as government chief of staff, therefore need to make proposals in this area, taking into account the changes that have already been made in the way the Federal Forestry Agency’s work is organised.
Now, regarding the mechanisms for taking over powers from regions that are not coping with the situation, in cases of criminal negligence, for example, I am not opposed to the idea of adopting provisions for such a mechanism, but as I see it, this would require changes to the Forest Code, isn’t that so?
Viktor MASLYAKOV: Yes.
Dmitry MEDVEDEV: And you say that nothing needs to be changed – but something does need to be changed.
Viktor MASLYAKOV: I was thinking about the fires and the current organisation, sorry.
Dmitry MEDVEDEV: I am talking about forest legislation. You are responsible for forests, after all, not for fires?
Viktor Maslyakov: Yes.
Dmitry MEDVEDEV: So, this is one step we could take. But in cases when powers are revoked this should entail the automatic dismissal of the officials responsible for these failures. I met with the Prosecutor General. We had fires break out in one region, and this led to a whole raft of resignations. But if these kinds of cases continue I will be forced to draw more serious conclusions, including regarding higher officials too. This situation is not acceptable, after all.
So, if we do decide to establish this mechanism it would entail the automatic responsibility and subsequent resignation of everyone involved – from municipal heads right up to the governor. We need to put this mechanism in place. That’s agreed? But it must entail automatic responsibility, because if the federal authorities revoke regional authorities’ powers because they are failing to carry out their responsibilities this is in itself an indictment of the performance of the governor, his team, and the local authorities. If we take this step it has to be this way, otherwise we would end up taking over these powers while the governor just sits back and says to himself, “thank goodness, let the federal authorities take care of everything”, and that would be a totally abnormal situation.