Over 20,000 hectares of the oldest Ukrainian forests are set to become natural monuments
Just before the New Year holidays, WWF-Ukraine submitted a package of documents to the Trans-Carpathian and Ivano-Frankivsk Regional Environmental Departments to complete the process of granting more than 20,000 ha of virgin Ukrainian forests protected natural monument status. Although the first 20,000 hectares of these virgin forests found in the Trans-Carpathian and Ivano-Frankivsk Regions have received confirmation from the local forestry agencies, their possible high conservation status as natural monuments completely depends on the decisions of regional councils.
If this decision is approved, the area of natural monuments in Ukraine will increase 200-fold. Until now, only 100 ha of forests that have received highest conservation status and protection as natural monuments in Ukraine, and those are in the Lviv Region. In this territory, all types of logging and any economic activity is prohibited.
The special subcategory of forests as natural monuments was introduced through Ukrainian legislation in 2017 with the aim to protect virgin, quasi-virgin and natural forests. The regime of management of these natural monuments is the same as in nature reserves and in strictly protected zones in national parks.
WWF-Ukraine has been identifying virgin (forests that have not been directly affected by humans), quasi-virgin and natural forests that must be protected throughout the entire Ukrainian Carpathians for several years. This process included the study of maps and field studies of over 100,000 hectares of forest.
"Most of these forests are located in remote areas, far from settlements. Therefore, they are not essential for forestry, and their protection has very little effect on the rights or opportunities of the local population for picking berries or mushrooms," explains WWF-Ukraine Forest Officer Mykhailo Bogomaz.
Why are forest natural monuments important for Ukraine?
There are still ancient forests in Ukraine which have been left untouched by human impact. While there are several such remaining areas in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), their scale in Ukraine makes them unique. In fact, less than 320,000 ha of old-growth forests are now thought to remain in CEE. Many are felled every year as our appetite for wood continues to increase and new forest roads and more powerful machines allow us to reach previously inaccessible areas. In the case of Romania, more than 60% of its old-growth forests have been lost between 2005 and 2019.
Forests, particularly old-growth and high conservation value forests (HCVF) are critical to life on Earth. Old-growth forests are home to nine out of 10 land flora and fauna species. Many, such as the large carnivores, are listed as endangered. Almost 500 vascular plants are endemic to the Carpathians; meaning that they cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Moreover, forests lock up vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, generate oxygen, and filter freshwater, thus representing a crucial element in Earth's resilience to climate change.
It is crucial that decision-makers take the necessary steps required to safeguard those parts of the forest that are still in good health. Therefore, WWF Central and Eastern Europe calls on ministries responsible for the environment and forestry to work together towards the rapid identification and conservation of all high conservation value forest sites in the region, with a special focus on virgin and old-growth forests by 2022. A further step should ensure that illegal logging is substantially removed from supply chains in all CEE countries by 2025. Furthermore, in order to guarantee that the remaining swathes of intact forest habitats in CEE remain intact, we urge ministries responsible for transport and spatial planning to plan new infrastructure projects in a way that minimizes forest fragmentation and ensures ecological connectivity. This is essential, since habitat fragmentation is one of the leading drivers of global biodiversity loss.