Washington International Law Journal


Jim Wilkson


The Russian Far East's ("RFE") most abundant natural resource is its vast, relatively unbroken tracts of boreal forest. Wildfires are the largest cause of deforestation in the RFE. Rampant fires in the RFE threaten biodiversity and wildlife habitat, destroy timber reserves, and create pollution and greenhouse gases. Experts estimate that between eighty to ninety percent of these fires are human-caused. However, Russian forestry laws fail to provide the type of legal framework necessary to adequately address these preventable fires. Forest management legislation mandating more comprehensive and cooperative fire prevention could prevent disastrous forest fires in the RFE. U.S. fire management policies provide a model that Russia should follow to implement coordinated fire prevention programs in the RFE. Fire management policies in the United States incorporate the so-called "cooperative federalism" approach—coordinating local and federal resources to both prevent and suppress human-caused fires. International sustainable forestry guidelines also recommend this approach. The FOREST Project, a non-govemmental organization currently implementing cooperative fire prevention programs in the RFE, demonstrates how a coordinated approach to fire management can work. Russia should incorporate this cooperative approach to fire management into its new Forest Code. Although various extra-legal factors could impede the success of even the most well thought-out fire management policies, a legally-mandated, coordinated fire prevention program represents Russia's best hopes for gaining control of the wildfires raging in the RFE.

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