The Chernobyl exclusion zone is 260,000 hectares of land, 70% of which are forests. Clearing and selling them has long been a business, despite the fact that only sanitary cleaning is allowed in the zone. The main function of the Chernobyl forest is to prevent radionuclides from leaving the limits of their occurrence.
The forests have a protective function here. People can cut them down only within the limits of sanitary cleaning. As a result of the accident at the ChNPP, spots of radiation-contaminated places remained on the territory of the Zhytomyr and Kiev regions. Some of them are not in the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
Who benefits from cutting wood?
There are hundreds of hectares of unaccounted forest in the Chernobyl zone. People cut it down under the guise of another sanitary cleaning. However, you need the appropriate permits and documents to sell and export wood. Therefore, people export them without marking and chips, mixing with legal parties.
The price paid for “dead wood” is 2-3 times cheaper than in other leshozes. The only ones who can see the entire volume of arbitrariness in Chernobyl are illegal immigrants, the so-called stalkers. They have been walking around the exclusion zone for weeks. They know all its secret places, where after the Chernobyl accident, no human has ever set foot.
The entire forest cut down in Chernobyl has about one path. Trucks bring the raw timber to the warehouses of the nearest railway station near the village of Radcha. The wood is sorted here. Then it is sent to Ovruch and Korosten. After that, its destiny is varied from Romania and Poland to China and the UAE. If the wood is exported, this is a VAT refund, the intermediary companies abroad resell the Chernobyl raw materials 3-5 times more expensive. This is how the Chernobyl spruces and pines end up in the markets of Africa and South America.
If you ask ordinary people how they imagine the exclusion zone, the majority will most likely answer that these are old wild forests and impenetrable thickets with a large amount of animals.
Analysts of the human rights organization “Ecology-Right-Man” had the opportunity to survey the forest tracts that the SE “Severnaya Pushcha” manage them. They checked forestry conducted there and what the Chernobyl forests actually look like. The immediate reason for such monitoring was information about another large-scale logging in the Chernobyl zone.
Representatives of the SE “Severnaya Pushcha” and the State Agency for the Management of the Exclusion Zone demonstrated their openness to the public. They made it possible to visit all the sites that were of interest to the ERP representatives. In particular, they examined selective sanitary cuttings, clear sanitary cuttings, passage cuttings, and fire cuttings.
The State Enterprise “Severnaya Pushcha” manage the forests in the Chernobyl zone. The total area of the forest fund under its management is 240.6 thousand hectares, divided into 7 forest districts. Of these, a continuous forest, until the moment of large-scale fires in April 2020, covered 150 thousand hectares.
Forests of the exclusion zone are not “the boreal forest”
There are two key aspects to every felling: legality and expediency. It happens that the purpose of the felling is clear, but the documents are not drawn up properly. The opposite situation also happens. When there are all the necessary permits and documents for cutting, the expediency of its implementation raises great doubts.
It is to this category that the overwhelming majority of forest areas, which analysts from the human rights organization “Ecology-Right-Person” visited. Moreover, separate felling was inexpedient not only from the ecological, but also from the economic point of view!
Forests of the exclusion zone are not “the boreal forest”, but mainly artificial pine plantations of different ages. They are highly overburdened due to lack of felling and lack of appropriate care. Accordingly, the effects of external factors such as bark beetles, windbreaks, fires, etc weakened them.
Also, according to local foresters, the last decade has seen a decrease in the level of groundwater, which contributes to the drying out of forests. Specialists of Severnaya Pushcha assure that bark beetles affected about 30 thousand hectares of pine plantations at the beginning of 2020. Fires damaged at least 10 thousand hectares. This is without taking into account the losses from the fire this spring, which we are still calculating.
The main function of the forests of the exclusion zone is a barrier, aimed at curbing the spread of radionuclides, including due to the wind. After the creation of the Chernobyl Biosphere Reserve, an environmental function was added to it.
Therefore, competent forestry management puzzled the experts. It should be aimed primarily at the formation of sustainable and healthy forests. However, now, there is a disagreement among scientists and practitioners as to what is the best way to achieve the goal of restoring natural forests.
There is still an opinion among Chernobyl foresters that the best way is to conduct forestry according to the old, “Soviet” approach. However, some modern scientists show the opposite view of this problem.
Paradoxically, there is no separate instruction on forest management in the forests of the exclusion zone in Ukraine. And in fact, forestry in the zone is carried out according to the same rules as in ordinary forests, only with amendments for the presence of areas with increased radiation pollution.
What does the “Soviet” approach show?
People accept that if a tree is sick or withered, they must cut it down. Most of the trees on the site have dried up. It means that we must cut down everything completely, and then planting forest cultures, and not at a distance, but as they say, the trunk in the trunk. The state does not even consider the alternative.
That is why, during the sanitary felling of conifers, in addition to dry pines, people “accidentally” cut out several young oak trees. The rest are standing with stripped bark and broken off branches. The felling damaged them. As a result, instead of natural renewal, the state will spend significant funds on the creation of new types of trees.
Fire fighting is the main reasoning for felling in the exclusion zone.
Dead trees can easily catch fire, which can lead to large-scale fires. There is no doubt about that. However, sanitary felling has never been carried out in full in recent years in the exclusion zone. There is no relationship between the places of occurrence of fires with or without sanitary felling.
Therefore, if we do not take the economic component in the form of income from timber exports, then the expediency of their implementation is highly questionable from this point of view. The last fires, when the forest burned in a continuous strip, and as a result of the fire, dozens of villages abandoned during the evacuation period burned down. This is another confirmation of this. The fire does not make out. Young needles or dried up needles burn equally well as one and the other.
Another fire fighting measure is the laying of fire strips. Every year, the number of fire strips in the exclusion zone is growing exponentially. This makes it possible to harvest more than 32,000 cubic meters of liquid timber annually. It would seem that this is a very logical step.
In their opinion, they will only intensify the fires. There is an example. In particular, a new clearing appeared on the territory of the Severnaya Pushcha State Enterprise for laying a railway track for the storage facility for spent nuclear fuel. In fact, it was an analogue of a fire strip and its appearance just resembled a logging of a forest.
But when a fire broke out nearby, this not planted long strip formed a huge influx of air. It is easier to say a draft, which only fanned the fire more strongly,. As a result, it became much more difficult to localize the fire in this area.
There is inconsistency in approaches to the functionality of the forestry service. There is a struggle between established stereotypes in work and management aimed at enhancing the sustainability and protective functions of forests based on the best foreign practices. We can say for sure only one thing.
Until the specialists of GSP “Severnaya Pushcha” will be busy to a greater extent with the “economic” side of their activities, i.e. how it is more profitable to sell the harvested wood, to expect from them modernized approaches to the restoration of both natural and artificial massifs of the Chernobyl forest, as well as the creation of a modern fire management system is a thankless task.
The year 2020 brought new fires to the area around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. This time, they approached the nuclear power plant almost close. They once again reminded the whole world of the catastrophe with their scale. The disaster in 1986 turned the Ukrainian Polesie into a radiation desert. We must say that everyone, who defended every piece of the forest at the fire in a hellish battle, did their job with honor.
How long will it take to figure out the causes of the next fire in Chernobyl? Where will the new batch of wood sorted after the Chernobyl fire leave? Will we draw the conclusions? This will help to minimize in the future not only forest fires in the exclusion zone, but also radically change the management system for the better forestry. After all, as you know, the life of not only the Chernobyl forest, but also the Ukrainian Carpathians depends on this.
We wonder once again if nature again takes on the systemic natural forest restoration on the territory of the Chernobyl exclusion zone. As they say, it is no stranger to it.