Government Jumps at Forest Reforms
20 October, 2011
Government Jumps at Forest Reforms

The accelerated way of changing the forest law bypasses the public opinion and poses irretrievable environmental risks - Georgian green watchdogs worry and appeal to the government to heed its ear to the public opinion and not jump at forest reforms.

 

On October 13, 2011 Georgian government held public hearing of the draft project of law on forest legislation that should replace the currently active Forest Code without publicity inclusion irrespective repeated requests of Georgian environmentalists to be included in the

decision-making process.

Governmental standpoint is that the forest management in the country lags behind standards that causes uncontrolled cut out of forests and the solution to the problem must be found as soon as possible. And the best solution is handing 100% of forests encompassing 1.8 million hectares including virgin forests under 49-year-long-term lease agreements to private sector.

And the sooner the new legislation is approved, the sooner lease process will start. Reforms gained kaleidoscopic speed this past spring when the forest management was handed to the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (MENRG) and the forest law project was completed by July and slated for public hearings and parliamentary procedures by fall.

However, all the documentation was made and offered to the public in English that made environmentalists think that the process is hastened and lacks competent opinion of sector pundits that may lead to fatal results.

40% of Georgia is made up of forests and only 10-15% of it can be used for economic activity as Georgia is a highland region and natural disaster risks including landslips and floods are quite high.

“Therefore, Georgia cannot handle with its forests like lowland countries,” Rezo Getiashvili, the Environmental projects Coordinator at CENN, told Georgian Journal. “We should be much more careful for if you cut out trees in highlands you may have flood in lowland. Georgian population faces approximately USD 150 million worth loss each year due to natural disasters and government compensates only 1.5% of the loss that means to only one person in 70 disaster-affected people.”

Green watchdogs repeatedly appealed to government this fall to slow down the pace and draw reasonable decisions. They hailed government to postpone the discussion date and insure translation of documents in Georgian language so as to insure public inclusion in the process. On October 6, 2011 Caucasus Environmental NGO Network (CENN) sent a long list of possible risks to MENRG requiring public information before the forest code discussion scheduled on October 13, 2011. But all to no avail.

The hearing was held without requested information. Although government answered a big deal of sore questions during the project discussion but major questions still remain unsolved and Aleko Khetaguri, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, agreed to continue discussions with environmentalists prior the project will be put under parliamentary procedures.

The key question of giving forest under lease agreement without preliminary inventory tops the agenda. Under the pretext that inventory is too expensive [about USD 3 per hectare] and Georgian state budget cannot afford it government leaves inventory in competence of the potential lessees.

Sector pundits find this approach unreasonable and risky from price-making and transparency points of view. Leasing forests without preliminary inventory means that either the state or the lessee will be at loss.

Getiashvili assures that the state will be at loss at any rate as far as if investors find out that the forest does not meet the expectations they will squeeze as much profit out of the forest as possible that ultimately may lead to environmental catastrophes.

“Inventory falls within the competence of the state budget of all countries globe over. It can take maximum USD 5 million and this sum is quite available to Georgian budget I believe. In 2007-2008 the state raised about USD 100 million through forest licensing why did not they earmark sums for inventory out of this money? What is this 5 million compared to the losses of hundreds million we face due to natural disasters each year?” Getiashvili asks.

Khetaguri assures that they strongly demand of investors to plant 3 trees instead of one that is a guarantee that forests will be protected from devastation.

Getiahsvili finds the provision not sufficient due to inclement climate of Georgia especially in its east part where the dry climate that makes the forest replanting process quite difficult. Forests cut out in Dariali Gorge in 19th century cannot be recreated up to day irrespective huge finances spent on forest recreation during the soviet time.

“As forest experts explain a normal forest consists of 200 trees and to plant this kind of forest one should plant 3 thousand young plants [so that 200 trees could survive] that means that one should plant 15 not 3 trees instead of one cut tree to insure forest recreation,” Getiashvili said.

Also paragraphs defining rights and competence of lease-holders are dubious leading to risks that lease-holders can use forests at their own discretion and deprive local population of their legal right to utilize the forest for their domestic needs. And the problem may pester people for about half-century as lease becomes 49-year long.

“This is just incomplete list of risks government has to solve in frames of the forest code and if broad society does not raise its voice to force government find reasonable solution results will be lamentable,” Getiashvili concluded.

 

 

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