Russians reflect on forestry management

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Lack of national action plan

Russia's poor response to the wildfires stems from the lack of a unified national forestry management system and an independent forestry protection agency at the federal level, experts say.

In 2000, the Russian government dissolved the independent Federal Forestry Agency and put forestry management under the administration of the Natural Resources Department. The financial budget for this sector decreased substantially, leading to the dismissal of 60,000 forest workers out of a total of 80,000. Many forests have since been left uncared for.

Since 2003, a series of new legislations on forestry was adopted, which gave the responsibility of forest management, protection and development to local governments and leasers. These legislations were oriented towards the major goal of attracting investment and promoting woods export. As a result, forestry protection has been largely neglected.

Realizing this problem, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced recently to reestablish the Federal Forestry Agency as an independent institute responsible for exercising autonomous authority over forestry management. The Emergency Situations Ministry also announced a plan to set up a national volunteer firefighting team.

Signs of climate change?

The wildfires have also prompted Russians to think twice about climate change, a topic not very widely accepted in the mainly cold country.

The heat wave, drought and wildfires are other indications that global warming is causing more weather extremes around the world, Alexander Bedritsky, the Kremlin's weather adviser, acknowledged Monday.

Taken together, they "are signs of global warming," he said.

President Dmitry Medvedev recently urged the international community to take more effective measures in dealing with global warming. Medvedev's remarks are seen by observers as a major shift from the Russian government's previously lukewarm attitude on the issue.

The Russian government has also called for the establishment of a federal meteorological center to strengthen climate monitoring and weather forecasting. The Emergency Situations Ministry has also urged Russian scientists to do more research on the effects of hot weather.

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