‘Non-existent’ indigenous people challenge WWF’s certified ‘model’ forest project, Komi, Russia

One of the several issues raised in our earlier posting on the FSC in Russia was the case of the ‘Komi Model Forest Project’, which is taking place in the Komi Republic, north-western Russia. The reports we have received below indicate that this project, which is used as a ‘model’ for certified forestry operations in European Russia, may be a model of what not to do, rather than one of good practice. It once again raises questions about the competence of SmartWood as an FSC-accredited certifier, and about WWF’s relationships with forestry companies.

According to WWF, the Komi forest is “huge, the largest area of primeval forest in Europe, covering around 33,000 square kilometres…It became Russia’s first World Heritage Site in 1995, saving it from massive felling for timber.” In 2002, WWF’s existing work in Komi’s Priluzje district with the state forest management unit, Priluzje Leskhoz, was transformed into the ‘Komi Model Forest Project’. The purpose of the project (also sometimes known as the ‘Priluzje Model Forest’) is to develop a ‘sustainable forest management model’ in the Priluzje Leskhoz, which covers nearly 800,000 hectares. The project is run by ‘Silver Taiga’, a not-for profit foundation supported by the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC), and which brings together WWF, the regional authorities, and Mondi, a South Africa-based pulp and paper company.

The first FSC inspection of Priluzje Leskhoz was carried out by SmartWood in September-October 1999, though the certificate was not awarded until February 2003. The certification process was paid for by John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In the light of the recent reports from Komi, some of the contents of SmartWood’s Public Summary report now seem ‘odd’. Notably, SmartWood concluded that FSC Principle 3, ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Rights were “Considered not applicable for this assessment…There are no indigenous people in the territory of Leskhoz and all groups can protect their rights in the court”. The report goes on to note that “The local FSC working group representatives said that this principle is probably not applicable in Priluzje Leskhos. Local Komi people, who are the only possible “indigenous” group within the Leskhoz area have equal rights to resource use compared to other groups.”(emphasis added).

This raises a number of major questions. SmartWood’s report suggests they decided that there were no indigenous people in region largely on the basis of the views of one local FSC working group representative, rather than on a proper rigorous assessment and consultation. It seems clear that, had there been proper consultation, FSC Principle 3 should have been invoked. It also raises questions as to how the problems raised by local indigenous people were not identified by SmartWood during their four annual surveillance visits between 2003 and 2006. This would constitute a major failure by SmartWood against the FSC’s requirements, which requires thorough investigation by the FSC Secretariat.

As one of the main partners in the Komi Model Forest Project, questions must be asked as to how WWF were seemingly ‘unaware’ of the existence of indigenous people in the area under certification, or about the concerns which these people are now raising. There will also no doubt be questions asked about the nature of WWF’s relationship with Mondi. As a company whose core business is in industrial plantations of eucalyptus, Mondi might not seem like the obvious business partner for a project in the ‘primeval’ natural forests of northern Russia. However, there has been a close relationship between WWF and Mondi for many years. Mondi has ‘donated’ the equivalent of nearly $1 million to WWF-South Africa’s wetland projects, and the company has reported “the FSC certification of 1.16 million hectares of leased forests in Russia in March 2006, an achievement that earned MONDI BUSINESS PAPER a WWF Panda Award“. In fact, in 2002, Mondi had acquired Komi Republic’s Syktyvkar paper mill for $2 billion, and was no doubt looking to secure sources of supply. Perhaps their cordial contacts with WWF were helpful.

(The Syktyvkar mill’s processing of FSC-certified wood and other fibre continues to pollute local people, causing “respiratory diseases, cancers, allergies, asthma and skin irritations”. As previously reported on FSC-Watch, the certification of Mondi’s environmentally disastrous eucalyptus plantations has been bitterly opposed by South African environmentalists and the company has also been accused of ‘environmental racism’.)

Finally, as with the case of Terneyles, the FSC Secretariat has so far failed to produce a report of an accreditation inspection visit to Priluzje Leskhoze in 2006.

FSC-Watch hereby invites SmartWood, WWF and the FSC to answer the above questions.

Note: the following is an unauthorised translation from an original in Russian

Indigenous people of Priluzje Leskhoz insist on revision of fulfilling of FSC requirements 22. May 2007

Komi Business News (BNK) reports that on 21 May in Obyachevo the decision was taken at a founding meeting of social organisations to create a community for indigenes people ‘Luzvatas’ (Priluzskie Komi). One of the aims of the community will be to participate in forest policy of Priluzje. The community will start by checking compliance of Priluzje leskhoz regarding forest legislation and the FSC’s requirements.

Representatives of the community prepared a Charter and sent their declaration to the Komi Republic’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Protection of the Environment, Ministry Culture, and the Regional Forest Certification Group. The information was also sent to Priluzsky Leskhoze, the ‘Silver Taiga Foundation’, JSC Mondi Business Paper and JSC Luzales. According to BNK, the community hopes to be able to participate in forest certification in Komi Republic. “The situation of Priluzje District’s forests has been one of plunder of nature over recent years. A little more and indigenous people will lose the forest. We will not have firewood or wood to build houses. The forest around our villages has been felled by criminal organisations” – said a representative of indigenes people ‘Luzvatas’. “We do not want to wait, we will protect our rights”.

According to BNK, the Bukvoed Center for Public Rights will provide legal advice to the community. “After legal registration, we will actively take part in relationship concerning FSC’s Principles” said a lawyer of Bukvoed, Mrs. Ekaterina Marutshak. “We are concerned that, whilst there are many violations of forest laws and FSC Principles in Priluzje District forests, the ‘Silver Taiga Foundation’ which realizes the ‘Priluzje Model Forest Project’, and the municipal organization ‘Komi voytir’, which has responsibility for protection of rights, have failed to act.” To start with, ‘Luzavatas’ will document the problems of forest management in Priluzje Leskhoz. After that, the indigenous people will insist on total inspection of FSC requirements by Leskhoz.

Head of Priluzje district – “I will support activity of Luzavatas to set matters right in the forests” 23 May 2007 Today, the Head of Priluzje District, Mr. Vasiliy Kuznezov, was interviewed by BNK and was also told about indigenous people ‘Luzavatas’ and about their intentions to take part in the development of Priluzje’s forest policy .

The Head of Administration of Priluzje has a mass of complaints regarding the ‘Model Forest’. Mr Kuznezov explained: “I am aware about the creation of Luzavatas community and will strongly support their work in order to set to right matters in the district’s forests. Moreover, the community is led by very authoritative forester Alexey Strekalov. Indeed, there are serious problems in Priluzje Leskhoz. We know about it and will work actively in order to eliminate defects. So, at the immediate time we will send complaint to Public Prosecutor of Republic Komi. We are concerned that the rights of indigenous people of the district have been badly broken”.


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