© WWF России
© WWF России

Implementation of the Forest Program in the Russian part of Caucasus

Forests are the most important biome for biodiversity conservation in the Caucasus, covering nearly one-fifth of the Ecoregion. Mountain forests make up the majority of the forest biome. Forests used to be widespread on mountain slopes and in valleys in the Caucasus before humans began to clear the land for agriculture and pasturelands. Forest cover is closely linked to precipitation and climate in the region, and the lower edge of woodlands varies considerably.

Broadleaf, coniferous, timberline, arid open woodland, and lowland forests are the main types of forests in the Caucasus, dispersed according to elevation, soil conditions, and climate. Broadleaf forests account for more than two-thirds of forests in the region. Arid open woodlands, consisting of juniper (Juniperus spp.) and pistachio (Phistacia mutica) species, form on dry, rocky slopes in the eastern and southern Caucasus.

Most of the focal species of animals are, to various extents, associated with forest ecosystems. The majority of bat species, brown bear (Ursus arctos), bezoar goat, chamois, Caucasian red deer, European bison, and Persian leopard depend on the presence and quality of forests.

Regions forests are ecosystem-constituting and water-protective, mountainous forests – mudflow-protecting, which are critically important under the climate-change pressure. An important part of those mountainous forests are combined by unique complexes of relic’s plants such as Buxus colchica (box tree). Recent invasion of box tree moth due to trade accident poses a serious threat to existing native populations of Buxus colchica in Caucasus Region.

The major threats to biodiversity in the Caucasian forests are illegal logging, fuelwood harvesting, and the timber trade. While officially-sanctioned logging has actually decreased in some areas in the past few years (in the North Caucasus, for example, only 30 to 50 percent of the originally planned area is being logged), illegal logging has increased.

Illegal timber export is a serious problem, particularly for Krasnodar Region and the Republic of Adygea, but official estimates of exports are not available. Illegal logging leads to decline in species composition, forest degradation, and overall habitat loss, impacting a number of plant and animal species.

The Northern Caucasus is one of two Russian priority ecoregions and wood producing areas where FSC certification has not started yet. There are objective causes, including general low economic and social development of the region, lack of the demand for certified forest products from the region, lack of forest leasing development, etc.

In 2014 WWF-IKEA partnership on forests is starting in the Russian part of Caucasus. Main goal of project is creating basis for improving forest management in Russian Caucasus. Draft of Identification methods for High Conservation Value Forests (HCVF) and Key Biotopes and Objects of Forest Ecosystem were developed this year.