High conservation value forests (HCVF) are such forests which have especially high ecological and/or social value. In other words, HCVF are such forests which are more valuable in terms of biodiversity values, ecological values and importance for local people than in terms of industrial timber.
HCVF as a concept contains no any principally new ideas. Forests, which were not cut or cut with strong restrictions because of different reasons, existed from the earliest times. Nowadays such forests are varying a lot and exist somehow almost everywhere, where forestry exists. But in the framework of HCVF concept they are united by one general term and general ideology.
The term “HCVF” appeared during elaboration of voluntary forest certification systems – particularly the system developed by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international non-governmental organization. Sustainable and environmentally responsible forestry means that maintaining all other forest values is not less important than gaining profit due to timber products sale. That is why special efforts to identify HCVF are required. According to the term adopted by FSC, HCVF includes such forest areas where it is necessary to preserve and to enhance their high environmental value. That is why cuttings in such forests must be limited or forbidden at all – otherwise these forests will lose their value. If logging operations are allowed they must be carried out with special plans. Obligatory HCVF identification and conservation is one of the principles of forest management certification by FSC.
Working out national HCVF concept and its use in practice have become very acute problems due to the growing interest to the certification by FSC in Russia. Besides, possibilities to form new protected areas in lots of Russian regions are very restricted nowadays, that is why preservation of biological diversity and main environmental forest functions must be carried out by timbermen themselves.
At present HCVF are defined in Russian framework national standard for forest FSC certification, in developed regional standards and in those under development. The experience of interpretation, identification and mapping of HCVF in Russia is rather extensive.
Nowadays it is considered that various HCVF can have value from different points of view – international, regional or national. In Russia HCVF can be identified on national and regional level due to vast territory of the country. For example, at present the majority considers virgin forest areas (VFA) mapped in the course of Global Forest Watch researches (“Atlas of virgin areas in Russia” Aksenov and others, 2003; Aksenov et al., 2002) as HCVF 2 (large forest landscapes) of the national level. HCVF 2 of the regional level can exist in regions where there are no VFA or in regions with large biodiversity that is insufficient in VFA. The same forest tract can have several values. For example, if a virgin forest area (HCVF 2) includes tracts of rare ecosystems (HCVF 3), such tracts will have value of two types (see HCVF types).