Keeping the world green: Alexander Belokurov, Program Officer at WWF International, works to conserve forests worldwide. One country of special concern to him is his native Russia, which contains almost one-quarter of the earth's forestland.The world is losing natural forestland for·est·land
A section of land covered with forest or set aside for the cultivation of forests. at the rate of 30 hectares (300,000 square metres Noun 1. square metre - a centare is 1/100th of an are
centare, square meter
area unit, square measure - a system of units used to measure areas or 74 acres) per minute. Urban development, land clearing for agriculture, irresponsible logging, forest fires This is a list of notorious forest fires: North America
Year Size Name Area Notes
1825 3,000,000 acres (12,000 km²) Miramichi Fire New Brunswick Killed 160 people. , mining, road building, and climate change are all responsible for this loss. When we lose forests, we lose not only our source of timber and paper but also the habitat of exotic animals and medicinal plants medicinal plants, plants used as natural medicines. This practice has existed since prehistoric times. There are three ways in which plants have been found useful in medicine. . In addition, we lose an essential component of nature that purifies our air, preserves water, and prevents soil erosion, floods, and landslides.
Luckily, forests still cover around a quarter of the earth's land surface, and Alexander Belokurov is dedicated to preserving as much of this territory as possible. Since the World Wildlife Fund's (WWF See Windows Workflow Foundation. ) Forests for Life program began in 1996, more than 300 conservation projects have been conducted around the world in countries as diverse as Norway, Malaysia, Portugal, Bulgaria, and China. Belokurov, who works at WWF's international office in Gland, near Geneva Geneva, canton and city, Switzerland
Geneva (jənē`və), Fr. Genève, canton (1990 pop. 373,019), 109 sq mi (282 sq km), SW Switzerland, surrounding the southwest tip of the Lake of Geneva. , helps to support and coordinate the work of forest officers out in the field and to develop and implement international policy.
Protect, Manage, Restore
"We have three main goals," he explains. "First of "all, we want as many protected areas as possible to be set up and maintained in the world's biologically most important locations. So WWF has targeted 238 crucial eco-regions that are a priority for conservation, and 85 of these contain primarily forestland--tropical, temperate, sub-arctic, and so on."
"At best, a mere 10 per cent of the world's forests are currently in protected areas," he continues. "So our second goal is to make sure that the other 90 per cent used to produce wood and paper products is harvested ecologically. We call that sustainable forest management Sustainable forest management (SFM) is the management of forests according to the principles of sustainable development. It is also the current culmination in a progression of basic forest management concepts preceded by Sustainable forestry and sustainable yield forestry . One of the ways we promote it is by offering special certification from the Forest Stewardship Council The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a non-profit organization based in Bonn, Germany. The Council's stated mission is "to promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world's forests". (FSC FSC
See: Foreign Sales Corporation ). Timber or paper companies that work in an environmentally responsible way are rewarded by being FSC-certified, and their products carry a special label."
"Finally," says Belokurov, "we also want to restore forests that have been destroyed. WFF WFF Wallops Flight Facility
WFF Well-Formed Formula
WFF With Full Force (German music festival)
WFF Women's Foodservice Forum
WFF Wee Forest Folk
WFF World Fitness Federation
WFF Wildlife Foundation of Florida
WFF Warm Fuzzy Feeling has set a global target of implementing 20 forest-landscape restoration projects in some of the world's most deforested or threatened regions, like Madagascar, Malaysia, Laos, and Bulgaria. We're conducting this work jointly with partners like the World Conservation Union."
Encouraging and assisting governments, private landowners or businesses to set aside protected forest A protected forest is a specific term to denote forests with some amount of legal, and / or constitutional protection in certain countries, besides being a generic term to denote forests where the habitat and resident species are legally accorded protection. areas by creating parks is very important work, but it is only one part of Belokurov's job. Often, such parks begin by existing only on paper, since their preservation is so difficult to enforce.
"In poor areas it is often very difficult to protect natural resources," he explains. "Protection costs money: helicopters to search for evidence of illegal logging Illegal logging is the harvest, transportation, purchase or sale of timber in violation of national laws. The harvesting procedure itself may be illegal, including using corrupt means to gain access to forests; extraction without permission or from a protected area; the cutting of and fires, guards to police the forests on the ground, teachers to educate local people about the importance of biodiversity biodiversity: see biological diversity.
Quantity of plant and animal species found in a given environment. Sometimes habitat diversity (the variety of places where organisms live) and genetic diversity (the variety of traits expressed . So once a park has been created, the next step is to work with national and local governments to make it effective."
Park professionals are coming to realise that the best way to make a protected area successful is to win the support of the people who live in and around it. Local knowledge about the region and its resources is invaluable, so it's important to involve local residents in both the planning and the management of parks.
World Parks Congress
"In September, I attended the World Parks Congress in Durban, South Africa South Africa, Afrikaans Suid-Afrika, officially Republic of South Africa, republic (2005 est. pop. 44,344,000), 471,442 sq mi (1,221,037 sq km), S Africa. ," says Belokurov, "along with around 2,500 experts in park management. These are the people who really know the field, do the research, and solve the problems. It was exciting to spend time with them. And the point that they kept coming back to was the importance of local commitment to conservation. You will not be successful in protecting a region unless you have the support of the local people. In some cases they may be able to profit financially from a park, by working as guides or selling their handicrafts to visitors. In other cases they may benefit intangibly, because the protected area is important to their way of life or has a sacred significance. But there has to be some advantage for them, or else the park's resources will not be preserved."
If protected areas are to reduce local poverty, then conservationists need partnerships with all kinds of organisations beyond national governments, like tourism enterprises, water and energy companies, banks, and development agencies.
Gifts to the Earth
Seven years ago, WWF decided that people, governments, and organisations that were successful in protecting natural resources needed to be recognised and celebrated. This led to the creation of the 'Gifts to the Earth' program. So far, 93 Gifts to the Earth have been publicly acknowledged by WWF. Alexander Belokurov is currently responsible for accepting gifts of forestland.
"During the World Parks Congress in Durban," he says, "the president of Madagascar, Mark Ravalomanana, announced that he would be tripling the amount of protected land in his country, which will place more than two-thirds of the remaining forests under formal protection. This is really significant, since Madagascar has already lost 80 percent of its natural areas and continues to be deforested at a terrifying ter·ri·fy
tr.v. ter·ri·fied, ter·ri·fy·ing, ter·ri·fies
1. To fill with terror; make deeply afraid. See Synonyms at frighten.
2. To menace or threaten; intimidate. rate. Because it has been an island for so long, Madagascar has an amazing a·maze
v. a·mazed, a·maz·ing, a·maz·es
1. To affect with great wonder; astonish. See Synonyms at surprise.
2. Obsolete To bewilder; perplex.
v.intr. biodiversity and houses lots of rare animal species--lemurs, birds, turtles, and others--many of which only exist in that one region. So the additional five million hectares that the president has promised to protect are very important."
As a Russian, Belokurov was also delighted by the Gifts of more than three million new hectares of protected forestland in the fareastern Russian regions of Amur and Primorsky, celebrated in 2002. The Gift to the Earth's very first year had brought another Russian success. The president of the Republic of Yakutia-Sakha made a 'gift' of 70 million hectares of virgin taiga taiga (tī`gə), northern coniferous-forest belt of Eurasia, bordered on the north by the treeless tundra and on the south by the steppe. forest and tundra--an area twice the size of Germany.
"Yakutia--or Sakha, as it is called in the local language--isn't going to turn into a Russian Yellowstone any time soon," laughs Belokurov. "After all, almost half of the republic falls inside the Arctic Circle Arctic Circle, imaginary circle on the surface of the earth at 66 1-2°N latitude, i.e., 23 1-2° south of the North Pole. It marks the northernmost point at which the sun can be seen at the winter solstice (about Dec. . But I do believe that someday campers and hikers from all over the world will venture into these breathtaking areas and be able to enjoy their beauty, without disturbing the balance of nature. That's something for its to work rewards."
Inspired by Siberia
Alexander Belokurov grew up in modest circumstances in Moscow with his parents and sister. Most of his summers were spent on his maternal grandparents' farm in Siberia, helping with the farm work and enjoying the countryside.
"I loved being there," he remembers. "You can't imagine how incredibly vast it is--and beautiful. I'm sure my desire to protect the environment grew out of those summers in Siberia."
Belokurov began his university career as an experimental nuclear physicist Nu´cle`ar phys´i`cist
n. 1. A scientist specializing in nuclear physics.
Noun 1. nuclear physicist - a physicist who specializes in nuclear physics
physicist - a scientist trained in physics , not an ecologist. But by the fourth year of his program, when he had to do an internship internship /in·tern·ship/ (in´tern-ship) the position or term of service of an intern in a hospital.
n the course work or practicum conducted in a professional dental clinic. , he was interested enough in environmental issues to take a position at the State Institute for Applied Ecology Applied ecology is a subfield within ecology which considers the application of the science of ecology to real-world (usually management) questions. It is also called ecological or environmental technology. in Moscow. His master's thesis on radioactive pollution allowed him to combine his growing interest in conservation with his nuclear-science expertise.
"After I got my degree in 1994," he says, "I stayed at the Institute for Applied Ecology, which was small and had an excellent group of people. I really enjoyed working there, but I wanted other kinds of training. So in 1997 I started a European Postgraduate Course in Environmental Management at the University of Amsterdam. During the second half of the program, I was part of a seven-people team that developed a proposal for how the Republic of Belarus could sustainably manage its wetlands. Out of that research came an opportunity for me to do a one-year internship at the secretariat of the Ramsar Convention The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands, i.e. to stem the progressive encroachment on and loss of wetlands now and in the future, recognizing the fundamental ecological functions of wetlands and their economic, on Wetlands, which is located here in Gland. And in January 2001, I started work at WWF in the Forests for Life program."
Possessed by the Past
Belokurov enjoys his work and his life in Gland, but he admits that he misses his Russian friends, not to mention Russian parties.
"We love parties, and that means lots of vodka, singing, and dancing. But I don't think you could call us a cheerful group of people, even if we are friendly and approachable. I think a lot of our sadness as a nation comes from our history, particularly our experiences in the Second World War. I have the feeling that most of the Europeans I meet have put the war behind them, but we have not. It's still part of every, family's memory. I don't think there can be a single Russian household that didn't have dead or wounded, and we carry that around with us."
At 32, Belokurov is old enough to remember the Soviet Union before Glasnost glasnost (gläs`nōst), Soviet cultural and social policy of the late 1980s. Following his ascension to the leadership of the USSR in 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev began to promote a policy of openness in public discussions about current and , followed by Gorbachev's breakthroughs and the years of changes, sometimes chaotic, under Yeltsin.
"I can still recall sitting with my parents in front of the TV and listening to the first speech in which Gorbacbev criticised the Soviet regime. We couldn't believe our ers--it was the first time we'd ever heard an official admit that the government could make mistakes."
"Of course I've benefited a lot from all the freedom and openness the last 15 years have brought us," he continues. "But we have also lost a lot: free education, free health care, stable salaries and pensions that are actually big enough to live on. My family is not rich, so--who knows?--maybe I wouldn't have been able to go to university under this new system. But we Russians will adapt to these changes--we always do. That's one of our strengths. With our history, we have had to learn to turn a difficult situation into a victory."
"I don't know Don't know (DK, DKed)
"Don't know the trade." A Street expression used whenever one party lacks knowledge of a trade or receives conflicting instructions from the other party. ," he adds. "Maybe it isn't brooding on the past that keeps Russians from smiling. But one thing I am certain of--if you see a Russian smiling, you can be sure it comes from the heart."
Alexander Belokurov's satisfaction also comes from the heart. He is busy helping Russia--and many other countries--to build a better and greener future.