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Pristine woodlands in need of protection

The Barents region has large areas of untouched forests, like this in Karasjok in Norway.

The Barents Region has some of the last large areas of intact natural woodlands in Europe. Scientists, bureaucrats and environmentalists from all four Barents countries cooperate on preserving the forest, but an international initiative is needed.

Aetas, Nature and Youth´s sister organization in Arkhangelsk, last weekend held its first forest conservation seminar in Malye Karely outside the city of Arkhangelsk.

“With over 30 participants and experts from Arkhangelsk oblast and Moscow, this was an inspiring and exciting weekend for the environmental youth”, forest biologist at WWF Norway Trude Myhre says to BarentsObserver.

Forests in Danger
Arkhangelsk is to a large extent covered by forest and still has some large intact forest areas that are not destroyed by logging, road construction or other infrastructure. Here we find the last great pristine natural forest areas in Europe, which is why WWF Norway wants to support both its sister organization WWF Arkhangelsk and the youth organization Aetas their forest conservation efforts in the region.

The last of the last
“It is extremely important to save the last remnants of old intact natural forest in Europe, both in order to conserve biodiversity and the huge carbon bank the forests pose. To strengthen and inspire local forest conservators is perhaps the most rewarding thing I can do in my job,” Myhre says.


Participants at Aetas´forest conservation seminar in Arkhangelsk. Photo: WWF Norway

While Norway, Sweden and Finland have cut clear most of their forests and replaced them with spruce tree fields, Northwest Russia still has some large woodlands left. But also in Russia felling machines are eager to go to work, since planned protected forests in Arkhangelsk are rented to industrial logging companies and are in danger of becoming paper and timber.

“I hope that forest conservation cooperation across the borders can help the Russians to avoid making the same mistake as us and to manage securing the last big woodlands before it is too late.” “It was great to see so many young people from Arkhangelsk wanting to contribute actively in this work,” Myhre adds.

Embarrassing on behalf of Norway
The WWF forest biologist recently participated in the international conservation forum Habitat Contact Forum8 (HCF8) in Petrozavodsk, where more than a hundred participants from all over the Barents Region gathered at the Karelia Research Center. The first conservation forum was held in Trondheim in 1999. The previous forum was last held in Bodø, and this was the second time Petrozavodsk hosted the event.

The forum brings together scientists, bureaucrats and organizations from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, and is important to identify, coordinate and cooperate on conservation across national boundaries. Over the fifteen years the forum has existed, it has evolved into a well-functioning forum for exchange of knowledge, contacts and ways to manage nature on.

“Every time I meet colleagues from other countries they ask how it goes with the Norwegian forest protection. It is always embarrassing to tell them that forest protection is moving along at a snail’s pace back there at home for lack of money in the budget. Hopefully Minister of Environment Tine Sundtoft and the Government will change this in the state budget that is to be presented on Wednesday”, Myhre says.  

Different countries, same challenges
The four countries in the Barents region face many of the same challenges when they want to preserve the northern forests and the species that live there, therefore they have a mutual benefit of exchanging experience and knowledge.

“When the countries cooperate, it becomes clear that all the experts have different knowledge and complement each other. If anyone has a problem in a country, they can just turn to the other countries and often we find that they already have a solution that we can resort to,” said Trude Myhre at the international forest protection forum in Petrozavodsk.

Hoping for a forest protection strategy for the Barents Region
The need to protect the last pristine forests in the Barents Region has been recognized by the environment ministers of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC), who have requested a strategy on this issue. Norway is writing this strategy and the draft was up for discussion in Petrozavodsk. Before Christmas the ministers will meet again and decide on the further strategy for forest conservation in the Barents Region.

“I hope the ministers will agree to intensify forest protection until 2020 and that they will launch an international initiative to preserve the northern woodlands, in the same way as for the tropical rainforest”, Myhre says.

The Norwegian Government on Wednesday presented its proposal for the state budget for 2016. WWF Norway is not pleased. “WWF Norway was hoping for an increased forest conservation budget, but the government suggests to keep it at the same low level of about 300 million NOK. With this level of forest conservation, we will not reach 10 percent forest protection until 2052. Norway needs an annual forest conservation billion to meet international obligations and to have credibility on forest protection abroad, we must also do the same at home,” Trude Myhre says to BarentsObserver.