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Chapter 31. Belarus, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation and Ukraine

Figure 31-1. Belarus, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation and Ukraine: forest cover map

The four countries of this subregion - Belarus, Republic of Moldova, the Russian Federation and Ukraine (Figure 31-1) - were part of the former Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (USSR) until its break-up into 15 separate countries in the early 1990s.[46] Belarus, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine occupy the southwestern part of the subregion, while the Russian Federation spreads across two continents (Europe and Asia), eight time zones and 7 000 km from east to west. The land area of the Russian Federation of 1.69 billion hectares is three times the area of all other European countries put together, and with a population of 147 million it is one of the most sparsely populated: 11 ha of land per capita compared with about 1 ha per capita for the rest of Europe. Ukraine, with 58 million hectares, has the second largest land area in Europe after the Russian Federation. The climate of the subregion is boreal to the north, with part of the Russian Federation lying within the Arctic Circle, and temperate to the south, with a correspondingly wide range of ecosystems. The living standards of the populations in the four countries is currently low by European standards, having fallen considerably after the economic collapse which followed the dissolution of the USSR.


The forest area in the four countries of the subregion amounts to 871 million hectares, to which can be added 71 million hectares of other wooded land. It is one of the subregions of the world with the most forest and accounts for well over one-fifth of the global forest area. In terms of forest cover, it is considerably more heavily forested than the world average: nearly 50 percent compared with 30 percent; and in terms of forest area per inhabitant it is also very well endowed, with more than 4 ha per capita compared with a world average of 0.6 ha per capita (Table 31-1).

These impressive figures are due very largely to the situation in one country, the Russian Federation, which alone has 851 million hectares of forest, the largest of any country in the world, and a further 70 million hectares of other wooded land, and accounts for nearly 98 percent of the forest area of the subregion and 22 percent of the world total. The data for the Russian Federation tend to overshadow those for the other three countries of the subregion, but it should not be forgotten that Belarus and Ukraine both have well over 9 million hectares of forest, which puts them among the European countries with large forest areas. Nevertheless, owing to its sheer size, particular attention is given to the Russian forest resource in this assessment.

Table 31-1. Belarus, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation and Ukraine: forest resources and management


Land area

Forest area 2000

Area change 1990-2000 (total forest)

Volume and above-ground biomass (total forest)

Forest under management plan

Natural forest

Forest plantation

Total forest

000 ha

000 ha

000 ha

000 ha


ha/ capita

000 ha/ year




000 ha



20 748

9 207


9 402







7 577


Republic of Moldova

3 296












Russian Federation

1 688 851

834 052

17 340

851 392







851 392



57 935

5 159

4 425

9 584







9 584


Total subregion

1 770 830

848 742

21 961

870 703







868 878


Total Europe

2 259 957

1 007 236

32 015

1 039 251







954 707



13 063 900

3 682 722

186 733

3 869 455



-9 391






Source: Appendix 3, Tables 3, 4, 6, 7 and 9.
According to the classification used in this report, 98 percent of the Russian Federation's forests are "natural", the remainder (17 million hectares) being plantations (Table 31-1, Figure 31-2). In contrast to other European countries, where very little really natural (old growth) forest remains, the area in the Russian Federation of forest undisturbed by humans [according to the definition of the Temperate and Boreal Forest Resources Assessment 2000 (TBFRA) (UNECE/FAO 2000)] is very extensive, amounting to 749 million hectares, with only 50 million hectares semi-natural. About two-fifths of the forest undisturbed by humans is classified as not available for wood supply, and most of that for economic reasons, that is to say inaccessibility, although there are 24 million hectares not available for wood supply for conservation and protection reasons. The area being withdrawn from actual or potential harvesting is increasing, as more emphasis is given to nature conservation and protection. The forest undisturbed by humans is mostly mature or overmature and is at risk of damage from natural causes, notably fire, pests and diseases. Fires in the more remote and inaccessible areas have to be left to burn themselves out and consequently may be very extensive in area. Although, in more inhabited areas, human error is the most common cause of fires, lightning is a frequent cause in more remote areas, which may be considered in some locations as a positive ecological element by inducing the rejuvenation of overmature stands. However, about half the Russian forest grows on permafrost, where the ecosystems are fragile and regeneration slow and difficult.

Most of the semi-natural forest is located in the European part of the country or within exploitation distance of the trans-Siberian railway. Many of these areas have suffered overexploitation in the past, and their present state is degraded or unsatisfactorily restocked, for example by alder, aspen and birch on areas that were formerly coniferous stands. Over half the forest area in the Russian Federation is occupied by predominantly coniferous stands, with a further two-fifths mixed coniferous/broad-leaved, leaving less than 10 percent predominantly broad-leaved. The last group is mainly in the southern, more temperate parts of the country, consisting of such species as beech, oak, lime and hornbeam. In the more northerly, boreal areas, the main species in the western parts of the Russian Federation are Norway spruce (Picea abies) and Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris). In Siberia and the Far East, larch (Larix spp.) is the most common species, with Siberian stone pine (Pinus sibirica), dwarf pine (Pinus pumila), spruces (Picea spp.) and firs (Abies spp.) also present, and birch (Betula spp.) and aspen (Populus tremula) among the broad-leaved species. In terms of growing stock volume, coniferous species make up about four-fifths of the total, larch being the most important.

Only about one-fifth of the forest area lies in the European part of the Russian Federation, where the major part of the population and of the wood-processing capacity and wood products consumption occurs, and four-fifths lies in the lightly populated parts to the east of the Ural mountains.

Only part of the area of 525 million hectares, which is reported as available for wood supply, is or has been under exploitation or accessible for harvesting. Much of it, although not under any harvesting restriction, is currently and likely to remain inaccessible for the foreseeable future, being located in parts of Siberia and the Far East without road or rail infrastructure as well as some areas in the northern part of the European Russian Federation. Growing stock on forest available for wood supply amounts to 61 billion cubic metres over bark, or about 70 percent of the total volume on the forest area, while the net annual increment (NAI) is estimated at 742 million cubic metres over bark or 1.4 m3 over bark per hectare. NAI is difficult to calculate where much of the forest is undisturbed by humans (old growth) and where natural losses are likely to more or less offset gross increment. The NAI per hectare is only about one-third of the level achieved in northern Europe, where growing conditions are roughly similar and most of the forest is under management, giving an indication of the potential for improvement if and when management is extended over a wider area in the Russian Federation. Moreover, despite the low NAI per hectare figure, it is still many times higher than the level of fellings on forest available for wood supply in the late 1990s of about 125 million cubic metres over bark. The barriers to higher fellings are economic and infrastructural, including the capacity of the domestic wood-processing industries and access to export markets. At least since 1990, the difference between NAI and fellings has led to a rising trend in the volume of growing stock and a tendency for the proportion of mature and overmature forest to increase.

Total removals in the Russian Federation in the late 1990s were running at about 104 million cubic metres under bark a year, which compare with volumes of between 300 and 400 million cubic metres under bark a year in the 1970s and 1980s. In former periods the quantities of unrecovered harvesting losses were very large, but improvements in logging methods in more recent times have reduced the proportion of such losses in the total volume of fellings. According to the data provided for TBFRA, under bark removals on forest available for wood supply were 69 percent of the over bark volume of fellings, so that after allowing for the bark percentage on removals, the proportion of unrecovered harvesting losses was not significantly higher than in some other temperate and boreal countries.

Figure 31-2. Belarus, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation and Ukraine: natural forest and forest plantation areas 2000 and net changes 1990-2000

Natural losses in Russian forests, which are defined in TBFRA as mortality from causes other than cutting by humans, such as natural mortality, diseases, insect attacks, fire, windthrow and other physical damage, were reported as amounting to 359 million cubic metres over bark per year in the late 1990s, equivalent to 37 percent of gross annual increment and between two and three times the volume of fellings. The high level of natural losses is linked to the large proportion of old growth, mature and overmature forests.

Belarus, lying to the west of the Russian Federation, has some similar features so far as its forest resource is concerned, but also some differences. Nearly two-fifths of the forest is classified as predominantly coniferous and a similar area as mixed coniferous/broad-leaved; forest covers about 45 percent of the land area. However, three-quarters of its forest is available for wood supply, and it has very little forest undisturbed by humans, the bulk of which is in the semi-natural category, similar to other European countries. NAI in Belarus, averaging more than 4 m3 over bark per hectare is comparable to that of northern Europe, but it is still more than twice the volume of fellings in the late 1990s. This is probably associated with the fact that most of its forests are in the younger age classes - less than 80 years.

The forests of Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, lying to the southwest of the Russian Federation, have certain features which resemble those of southern European countries more than those of the Russian Federation and Belarus. In the first place, forest cover is fairly low: 16 and 10 percent, respectively, of the land area, while forest area per inhabitant is very low: 0.2 and 0.1 ha per capita, respectively. Second, broad-leaved forests are in the majority: in Ukraine half the forest area is predominantly broad-leaved with a further 10 percent in the mixed broad-leaved/coniferous category. In Moldova, all but a very small area is classed as predominantly broad-leaved. About two-thirds of both countries' forest is available for wood supply; most of the area not available is in that category for conservation and protection reasons. Ukraine has only a small area of forest undisturbed by humans and the Republic of Moldova has none, but whereas most of the latter's is classed as semi-natural, as much as 45 percent of Ukraine's is reported to be plantations. Considerable afforestation has been carried out for the protection of soils against wind and water erosion.

The annual average change in forest area between 1990 and 2000 in the subregion was an increase of 423 000 ha (Table 31-1, Figure 31-2), of which 60 percent was in Belarus and most of the rest in the Russian Federation. Information is not available on how these data were calculated. What they should show is the net change after deducting losses in forest to other use from additions as the result of afforestation and natural colonization of non-forest land. Problems may arise if the classification and definition of land categories changes between one reference period and another. In the case of the Russian Federation, it is interesting to note that its original response to the TBFRA enquiry showed an average annual decrease in forest area between 1988 and 1993 of 1.1 million hectares, which was more than offset by an increase of 1.6 million hectares in the area of other wooded land. In recalculating the data for the present report to cover the period 1990 to 2000, the result was an average annual increase in forest area of 135 000 ha (no information is available on the change in other wooded land). For Belarus, the average annual increase in forest area of 256 000 ha or 3.2 percent, a remarkably strong rate of expansion, is the same in both reports. The conclusion to be drawn seems to be that care should be taken in accepting the change data for these countries until more is known about how they were derived. With regard to the Russian Federation, a long-term programme is being carried out for the creation of shelterbelts to protect agricultural land from wind and water erosion, which would presumably count as afforestation. On the other hand, clear-felling of forests has not always been followed by regeneration, artificial or natural, which might change the classification of some areas from forest to other wooded land, if some sort of scrub vegetation appeared, or to non-forest land, either agriculture or built-up or waste land. Further examination of the changes taking place in the Russian Federation and the other countries of the subregion would clearly be useful.


Ownership of forest and other wooded land in all four countries of the subregion is entirely by the State. In the Russian Federation, the Federal Forest Service controlled 94 percent of the country's forests until the recent reorganization of the administration, which involved the absorption of the service into a new ministry. Other departments, such as the Committee on Environmental Protection, the Ministries of Agriculture, Education and Defence, and some municipalities, were also responsible for some forest areas. Unlike other European countries in transition towards a market economy, there has been no move towards the privatization or restitution of forest in the four countries of the subregion. In the Russian Federation, for example, the policy has been to retain all land in public hands, although some plots, including forest land, may be made available to citizens and legal entities on the basis of leases, rights of use or concessions.

In Belarus, all but 19 percent of the forest is reported to be under management plans. In the other countries of the subregion the coverage is reported to be 100 percent. Given that in the Russian Federation, a large part of the forest area remains inaccessible and has not been intensively ground surveyed, the nature and extent of management in such areas has been simplified compared with that in the more accessible ones.

In the Russian Federation, all forests have been subdivided into three management groups, in relation to their protective functions and to the degree they can be exploited for wood. Group I, protection forests, includes forests with mainly water- and soil-protection, sanitary and health restoration functions. These are belts along the banks of rivers, lakes, reservoirs, etc., forests preventing erosion, including those on steep slopes, shelterbelts, urban forests, forest parks, green belts, natural and national parks and so on. In 1998 they made up about 21 percent of the forest area but 36 percent in the European part of the Russian Federation (Pisarenko et al. 2001). Strict felling regimes are maintained within this Group. Group II, multipurpose forests, includes forests in areas where the population density is high and the road network is good. The forests have protective and limited exploitation importance, and the group also includes forests without sufficient wood reserves. Wood harvesting is restricted to amounts equal to annual growth. This group accounts for about 6 percent of the forest area. Group III, forests for commercial use, accounts for the remaining 73 percent of the forest and includes forests in richly forested areas, predominantly exploitable and designed to provide a continuous wood supply without damaging their protective functions. Clear-cutting is allowed in these forests. The proportion of forests in Group III diminished between 1966 and 1988, while that in Group I and Group II increased.


In terms of its forest resources, the Russian Federation is a giant on the world scene. In terms of wood production and trade, on the other hand, its share of the world total is relatively modest. A major question is, therefore, whether, when, to what extent and how it might raise its production and trade towards the potential of its forest resources. The answers lie to a large extent beyond the control of those responsible for the resource. In the first place, it depends on the way and pace at which the country is transformed into a modern economy, with an efficient long-distance transportation system and other infrastructural developments, as well as reconstructed and expanded industries. Latent demand for wood products is considerably higher than present levels, with a large potential for recovery and growth in the use of sawnwood and wood-based panels in construction and for all categories of paper and paperboard. The domestic market is likely to remain the principal outlet for wood products, but exports have been, and are likely to remain, an important source of foreign currency and will continue to be supported. The largest markets are Europe and the Near East (fed mainly from the European part of the Russian Federation) and Japan and other Pacific Rim countries (fed from the Russian Far East). The importance of China as an outlet for wood from the Siberian forests is increasing strongly. Up to now a large part of Russian exports has been in the form of raw material and semi-processed products, such as sawnwood, with relatively low unit values. The expansion of production and export of wood products in the Russian Federation is dependent on the possibilities to shift harvesting to hitherto underexploited forest areas in the central and northern parts of the country and to develop economic systems for transporting them to domestic and overseas markets, as well as the establishment of new wood-processing capacity. At best, this will be a gradual process.

With the liberalization of the economy, there has been increasing awareness within the country of the environmental damage that has occurred in many sectors, including forestry and forest industries. Logging practices, including large-scale clear-felling, had caused serious forest degradation and had sometimes not been followed up by proper regeneration. Biodiversity had been compromised, well-publicized examples being the threats to the survival of the Siberian tiger by logging in the Russian Far East and to the purity of the water and the unique ecosystem of Lake Baikal by pulp and paper mill activities in the vicinity. Measures have been strengthened to protect the environment by increasing the areas under nature conservation and other protection measures, e.g. by increasing the extent of Group I and Group II forests. It is not clear, however, to what extent the good intentions are being implemented in practice, given the inadequacy of resources to monitor the forests and logging activities and the difficulties of ensuring that regulations are followed.

The fallout from the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine affected about 1 million hectares of forests in the Russian Federation, as well as large areas in Belarus and Ukraine. These areas will remain out of bounds to the population for the foreseeable future and will be excluded from any kind of utilization, either for wood or other forest products, apart from some research activity into the effects of this major environmental disaster.

Unless a change in policy occurs, privatization of forests in the countries of the subregion will not be an issue in the coming years. On the other hand, there do seem to be possibilities for extending the private ownership and management of wood-processing industries; in the Russian Federation most of these industries have already been converted into joint stock companies. With regard to the management of forests, there appears to be need for clarification about the intensity of management, especially in the more remote areas of the Russian Federation. Although reportedly all forests are under management, in practice this does not appear feasible according to the internationally used definition of the term.

There also seems to be some ambiguity about the figures of change in forest area over time in Belarus and the Russian Federation: are the reported figures net changes in the real area or do they arise from differences in definitions or land classifications between one period and another? Reliable information on change is considered to be important for policy discussions in international fora and, given the importance of the Russian Federation in the world forest total, it would be highly desirable to have as accurate an indication as possible of the extent and type of changes that are taking place in its resource. No doubt measurements from remote sensing at different periods would provide such information.

The area of forest per inhabitant is very low in Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, and their resources are insufficient to meet their populations' need for wood or to ensure an adequate supply of other goods and services. They do not have the reserves to be able to import wood products to cover the latent demand. Consequently, the possibilities need to be considered of extending their forest resources, both to increase wood supply in the medium to long term and to provide other essential services in the shorter term, notably soil protection and nature conservation. Finding the means to do this could be a major challenge.


Pisarenko, A.I., Strakov,V., Päivinen, R., Kuusela, K., Dyakun, F.A., & Sdobnova, V.V. 2001. Development of forest resources in the European Part of the Russian Federation. European Forest Institute Research Report 11. Leiden, the Netherlands, Koninklijke Brill NV.

UNECE/FAO. 2000. Forest resources of Europe, CIS, North America, Australia, Japan and New Zealand: contribution to the global Forest Resources Assessment 2000. Geneva Timber and Forest Study Papers 17. New York and Geneva, United Nations.

UNECE/FAO. 2001. Forest and forest products country profile: Russian Federation. ECE/TIM/SP/18, United Nations Publication.

[46] For more details by country, see

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