On February 15, the Karelia Regional Nature Conservancy SPOK organized a demonstration in Petrozavodsk to protect Karelia’s valuable forests. Other participants included activists from the republic’s Animal Protection Society, the Karelia branch of the Animal Rights Alliance, the Karelia Association of Greens, the Federation of Mountain and Rock Climbers, and Greenpeace Russia.
The protester’s main demand was to retain sixty Specially Protected Natural Areas in the republic’s current land use plan. The participants also demanded that the republic’s leaders forbid felling trees and developing quarries in the planned SPNAs and that they appeal to the RF government on behalf of the Republic of Karelia to create the Ladoga Skerries National Park and create a protected zone for the Lake Yastrebinoye Natural Monument.
The demonstration was set up at the Karelia government building, where the republic’s cabinet of ministers was meeting. As the government officials passed by, the nature conservationists chanted, “Hands off our forests!” and handed out a list of their demands.
Over fifty persons took part in the event. Their main slogans were “The riches of the forests belong to Karelia, not to bureaucrats,” “Preserve nature, not quarries,” “Stop eliminating planned Specially Protected Natural Areas,” “A forest isn’t a bureaucrat’s toy,” and “Together we can save Karelia’s forests!”
In 2007 the Karelia government approved the regional land use plan, which provides for the creation of sixty new Specially Protected Natural Areas in the republic, including the most valuable natural resources and recreational areas. The plan includes the results of numerous studies carried out in the republic over the last two decades by scientific and non-governmental organizations, both on their own initiative, as well as under the auspices of various Russian and international programs. As an across-the-board compromise for conflict-free forest use development in the region, the plan to create the SPNAs was accepted and approved by almost all interested parties—NGOs, forest users, and timber exporters and consumers.
However, four years after the approval of the Karelia Land Use Plan, the republic’s new government launched an initiative to amend the document. Currently the Karelia Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology intends to keep in the republic’s land use plan only seven of the planned SPNAs for which completed reports are available. The remaining SPNAs are expected to be included in the supporting materials that are appended to the plan. According to the current Urban Development Code of the Russian Federation, these materials are not considered to be part of the land use plan documentation. Thus, for all practical purposes, this means that several dozen planned SPNAs will be excluded from the republic’s land use plan.
During the demonstration, ROO SPOK’s director, Alexander Markovsky, reported that during negotiations held the evening before the event between a few nature conservation organizations and representatives from the Karelia government, the government officials agreed to retract the changes in the republic’s land use plan that have so outraged the environmentalists. However, Markovsky stressed that the nature conservationists will fight for all their demands until the republic’s government issues the official rulings that the environmentalists want.