Wildfire consumes a structure in the Republic of Buryatia in Siberia, during the 2016 fire season. Photo: Siberian Times

By Olga Gertcyk
29 May 2016

(Siberian Times) – A quarter of all Russian forests, 89% of stocks in Sakha Republic, could be left to burn, even though they are essential to fight global warming.

These vast tracts of forest have been labelled 'distant and hard-to-reach territories', and as such it is officially permitted not to extinguish forest fires if they do not constitute a threat to settlements or if a fire fighting operation is extremely expensive.

At the same time, there is official recognition that some regions in Siberia are underreporting the extent of forest fires for 'political reasons', an accusation long made by environmental campaigners.

Some 86% of forest in Sakha - also known as Yakutia, and the largest constituent of the Russian Federation - is deemed to fall into the category of 'distant and hard-to-reach territories', according to reports.

Some 219 million hectares - or 2.19 million square kilometres, a larger area than either Saudi Arabia or Greenland - is covered by the definition. This amounts to quarter of all forests in Russia, where trees - especially in Siberia - are seen as an essential brake on climate change. 

A new decree in Sakha Republic says the emergency services may stop extinguishing fires in such territories if there is no threat to residential areas, or if costs are disproportionate. The move comes as the forest fire season is once more biting across Siberia. 

On 26 May 2016, some about 129,000 hectares of forests, mainly in the Republic of Buryatia, and TransBaikal and Amur regions were on fire. Greenpeace Russia believes that officials and regional authorities intentionally announce figures underestimate the scale of forest fires. 

According to the environmental activists, open satellite sources indicated fires covering up to 3 million hectares of forests as of 23 May. 

Rosleskhoz - the Federal Agency for Forestry, a federal executive body responsible for oversight of forestry issues - admitted that official figures from regions may be at odds with the actual area of raging fires. Among other reasons this could be 'because of political factors'. 

The agency promised to provide correct data about damage at the end of the [fire] season. [more]

Forests on fire: 'no attempt will be made to extinguish 219 million hectares of burning trees'



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