The territory of the Russian Federation measures more than 17 million square km and approximately 45% of it is fully forested. Forested areas in Russia exceed those in Europe, if we take into account the borders of the former USSR.Not all the forests have an important economic value, but it is not surprising that forestry plays a significant role in the economy of our country, which is especially notable in several regions: production of pulp and paper goods constitutes from 10 to 50% of total industrial production in 45 constituent subjects of the Russian Federation.
The forest industry, including forest protection and reproduction, employs over a million people; in addition, it provides jobs for the mechanical engineering sector, the chemical industry and the transportation sector. The share of the forest industry in gross domestic product is not particularly high at the moment and represents only 1.3 %, while total industrial production amounts to 3.7%, employed population — 1.5 % and export earnings — 2.4%. Accordingly, the potential of our forest complex is very large, and the forest sector will inevitably be of great interest to investors, although about 60 thousand large, medium- and small-sized businesses located in all regions of the country are currently involved in timber harvesting and processing.
Forestry has always had a special significance in the Russian economy. On the one hand, the abundance and seemingly endless stretches of forestlands made wood affordable, and on the other hand, this material was a very popular item.Wood was actually the only construction material until the 19th century: stone buildings were extremely rare and were usually either public buildings, especially churches, or houses belonging to the wealthiest people, who numbered at the most ten in all of Moscow in the 17th century. Everything else was made of wood — homes, most of the churches and government buildings, even bridge works. Wood was also used for heating purposes. Therefore, the economic expediency of timber harvesting remained until the 20th century, even in the central regions of our country.
There was no industrial exploitation of forests until the 18th century, nor was there any good legislation in this field. Forest management was extremely limited as forested lands were often private or wood was used to build defense lines — a vast complex of fortifications, made of abatis and barricades of felled trees — strict military measures which made cutting down trees illegal. Only with the advent of a new type of economy in the 18th century did industrial exploitation of forests actually begin.
First of all, legislation for forest management and the first classification of forests appeared; these measures were generated by incessant wars and the need to build fleets. In 1703, under Peter the Great, the following order was issued: «All cities and counties shall describe and evaluate the forests stretching from the banks of all large rivers inland to 50 versts (one verst=1.6 km), and from the banks of small water branches flowing into the same rivers inland for 20 versts. No one, without any exception, shall be allowed to chop down oaks, maples, elms, Siberian elms, larches and pines measuring 12 vershoks or more. Moreover, anyone caught felling trees, except oak, shall be fined ten rubles. Any person caught felling oaks, even a single oak tree, or any other protected trees shall be sentenced to death.» The first riparian zones were then established for all lands adjacent to rivers.
The first pulp and paper factories appeared in the first half of the 18th century. Prior to this, paper manufacturing was limited and, in fact, rather primitive. In the 19th century, sawmills became especially important as they were especially engaged in manufacturing boards for steamships. The Russian forest industry functioned in this manner until the second half of the 19th century, when the economic boom opened up numerous forest markets, complex wood-processing enterprises and the first cellulose production plants (as of 1875).
After the Russian Revolution and for some time hence, due to a severe economic collapse, wood regained its initial economic importance as a basic construction and heating material. Wood was even used to fire trains: firewood used in the fuel mix to run railroad engines amounted to 51.8% in 1918, 88.1% in 1919 and 69% in 1920. However, official tree-felling fell sharply: in the 1920-21 fiscal years, it accounted for only 10% of the 1913 level. Wood-processing was developed as of the 1920s — companies were modernized and new ones were built (for example, the world’s largest sawmill in Solombal and the Segezhskiy sawmill and pulp and paper mill); timber rafting was also developed.
In the postwar era, timber harvesting and processing did not lose its relevance. However, they shifted from the sphere of applied economy (due to the development of non-ferrous metallurgy and production of polymeric materials) to raw material used for pulp and paper production and other related products. In the 1960s, new pulp and paper mills were built: Baikal PPM (Pulp and Paper Mill) (1966), Kondopozhskiy PPM (rebuilt in 1959-60), Syktyvkarskiy Mill (1969) and others. In the 1970s and 1980s, production plants were significantly modernized, and many questions related to the negative impact of the forest industry on the environment were addressed.