Illegal Logging in Russia

The problem of illegal logging and illegal timber trade is one of the most pressing social, ecological and economic problem facing the world forest sector. Russia is no exception. 

According to official data of the Federal Forestry Agency, in 2011 1.2-1.8 million cubic meters of timber were harvested illegally in Russia, 21 000 offences were uncovered. In 2010 illegal logging totaled in 1.3 million cubic meters and in 2009 about 1.5 million cubic meters.

According to this data, illegal logging accounts for about 1 % of the total annual timber harvest and corresponds to the best international practices of countries with strong law enforcement in the forest sector.

Official data differ from independent assessments. According to assessments made by WWF Russia (2006) and the World Bank (2011), up to 20 % of timber harvested in the Russian Federation (or about 35-40 million cubic meters) is of illegal origin. The total volume of timber harvested in the Russian Federation in 2011 was 197 million cubic meters.

The assessment by WWF Russia is based on the balance method, which compares the allowed harvesting and factual consumption. The assessment by the World Bank is based on interviews with forest sector experts. The total cost of economic damage to the budget of the Russian Federation originating from illegal wood trade is estimated to be 13 billion to 30 billion rubles per year.

The considerable difference between official data and assessments made by NGOs is partly attributed to the lack of an official definition of illegal logging and the incompleteness of reasearch methods. Official assessments use satellite data on clear felling outside allocated felling areas and unauthorized large-scale clear felling. At the same time, illegal small scale logging is not detectable from space but is of great danger for biodiversity and forest ecology. Illegal loggers remove selected trees, groups of trees, and parts of stems of the most valuable and rare species. Such fellings are unidentifiable on satellite imagery and are practically never included in official assessments. Yet such type of illegal logging is the mostly widespread one.

The unavailability of reliable official information on the volume of illegal logging complicates the efficient combating this illegal activity. Information transparency and open discussion of this problem would induce regional government authorities to collect reliable information and to facilitate the efficient combating illegal timber trade.

Please see more information in the FAO Russian Federation Forest Sector Outlook Study to 2030 and in the Keep it Legal Country Guide for Russia.

Illegal logging is widespread in the export-oriented forest regions of the Russian Federation, especially along the border with China and, in particular, in the Irkutsk Region and the Primorye Territories. According to NGOs assessments, up to 50 % of timber harvested in these regions may be of illegal or “doubtful” origin. Please see more details in the “Russia-China Collaboration” section.


There is no definition of illegal logging in the Forest Code. However, October 18, 2012 the Supreme Court Plenum of the Russian Federation (#21, Oct. 18, 2012) provided the definition of illegal logging for use in courts. Based on this definition,

“ illegal logging is any logging of forest stands, trees, shrubs and lianas with violation of legislation, including logging without proper documents (a forest area rent agreement, decision on a forest area allocation, a timber harvesting plan approved by the state or municipal expertise, a forest stands sale agreement, a state or municipal contract for forest use); logging above an allowed volume; logging of species different from allowed ones or logging of trees which are of different species or age from allowed ones. [ …]

A rent agreement alone or other documents proving legal rights for harvesting are not enough. Logging would be classified as illegal if a harvester has no proper timber harvesting plan approved by the state or municipal expertise or when species not allowed by this plan were logged or when logging was accomplished in the wrong time”.      

Illegal Logging: WWF’s Definition

Illegal logging is obtaining, transporting, processing, sale and purchase of timber with violation of national and/or regional laws (WWF Position Paper on Illegal Loggings and Forest Crime, April 2002).


  • Logging of rare and endangered species;
  • Logging in protected areas where logging is not permitted;
  • Bogus ‘salvage’ and ‘improvement’ logging;
  • Logging in the breach of approved rules and/or technologies;
  • Commercial logging by local communities for sale reported as ‘subsistence’ logging.

Even legally harvested timber may be later got involved into illegal trade when customs, transport or trade laws and regulations are breached.


WWF Russia is actively involved in tackling illegal logging and illegal timber trade at the national and regional levels. This work is supported by the  WWF-IKEA Partnership on Forests and the ENPI-FLEG Program.

WWF activities include:

  • Research of supply chains;
  • Analysis of the official data on timber harvesting and trade;
  • Analysis of traded species;
  • Analysis of the forest companies activities and their environmental policies;
  • Raising awareness of European Timber Regulation, Lacey Act and other international initiatives focused on tackling illegal logging and illegal timber trade;
  • Development proposals to improve Russian forest and other relevant legislation.

WWF Russia developed a number of proposals to tackle illegal logging and illegal timber trade, which include:

  • Raise effectiveness of the forest control, re-establish the Forest Rangers Service;
  • Introduce timber legality verification systems;
  • Strengthen environmental responsibility of the forest private sector companies;
  • Develop and apply economic incentives and customs benefits to stimulate domestic timber processing and decrease export of unprocessed logs;
  • Development of timber accounting system and data bases to track timber origin from a stump to a consumer.
  • Promote interdepartmental cooperation.

WWF Russia developed a number of tools to identify illegal timber and keep it out of supply chains including the Keep it Legal Country Guide for Russia and the Timber Species Identification Handbook. Both publications were supported by the WWF-IKEA Partnership on Forests.

For more information please contact Nikolay Shmatkov, the Forest Policy Projects Coordinator, WWF Russia at