MOSCOW, September 11 (RIA Novosti) – Greenpeace called on Russians on Wednesday to sign an online petition against a parliament bill that could leave their nation’s nature reserves “defenseless” against destruction by “unprincipled” officials and entrepreneurs.
The group said that the bill, to be considered next month by the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, will change the federal law on protected national reserves by simplifying the procedures of turning protected forests and other territories into average land lots that could then become recreational areas or used for construction.
The bill says that the limits of protected areas could be changed following “the loss of special environmental, scientific or other value,” according to the bill’s text on the Duma website.
Greenpeace said that such a definition would enable corrupt officials and entrepreneurs to abuse the law and expropriate pieces of protected areas.
“It means that if some unprincipled official or entrepreneur wants to build a cottage in a nature reserve, nothing can prevent him from arranging a small fire in the area of his liking and then prove that the area has lost any value,” Greenpeace said in a statement posted on its website. “A legally prescribed ecological evaluation will not solve the problem because it is very unlikely to prevent the exclusion of the land from the [list] of protected areas.”
The legislation has been submitted by Vladimir Kashin, chairman of the Duma’s committee on natural resources, Greenpeace said. The group urged Russians to sign an online petition pushing for Kashin to revoke the bill.
If the amendment is adopted, unique natural preserves, “including world heritage sites, will be defenseless,” Greenpeace said.
The group said on Twitter that 10,000 people had signed the petition by late Wednesday afternoon.
Russia is home to more than a fifth of the world’s forest areas, occupying about 7.63 million square kilometers (2.9 million square miles) of land, an area slightly smaller than Australia, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The forests are at risk because of extensive logging, including illegal deforestation, and wildfires, the conservation charity said.