Protecting Kazakhstan’s Vital Forests

October 17, 2014


World Bank Group

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The World Bank supports Kazakhstan in protecting its forests and implementing reforestation activities.
  • This partnership helps develop cost effective and sustainable environmental rehabilitation and management of forest lands and associated rangelands.

Kazakhstan is blessed by vast but fragile spaces. The country is ninth in terms of total size, and though it boasts the third largest forest area in Europe and Central Asia, trees make up less than five percent of the overall landscape.

That’s why the saplings, seed laboratories and firefighters in Semey, Kazakhstan, are so important. Semey, in the eastern part of the country, sits next to the Irtysh Pine Forest, nearly 700,000 hectares of fragile, yet important, land.

“The biggest part of this project is the money spent on new firefighting equipment, to cut down on illegal logging, and to detect lightning strikes,” says Murat Baimukhametov, who is working with the World Bank to help re-plant and restore the forest.

Protecting the Forest with a Computer Screen

The most revolutionary part of the project moves fire detection from the casual glance to a state-of-the-art computer system. Technicians now monitor the forest via computer, looking for lightning strikes, smoke, or any activity out of the ordinary. The system relies on a series of cameras mounted on watchtowers and sprinkled throughout the forest.

What it means is that firefighters can respond to trouble with greater speed and accuracy than in the recent past, explains Vladimir Kurmangaliyev, who works at the forestry fire station. “The new equipment allows us to move more quickly, and once we get to the fire, we can deploy faster.”


" The biggest part of this project is the money spent on new firefighting equipment, to cut down on illegal logging, and to detect lightning strikes. "

Murat Baimukhametov

Forest Protection and Reforestation Project

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Despite Kazakhstan’s large size, trees make up less than five percent of the overall landscape.  So forest protection is a key concern.

World Bank

New trucks, helicopters, gear and tools are also crucial to the effort.  And, during the dry months from April to November, the risk is high. A fire nearly ten years ago burned 20 percent of the forest, and the burnt land is still, slowly, recovering, though even now it contains very few mature trees. “After the collapse of the Soviet Union,” says Jumagali Sagadiyev, of the Semey Forest Nature Preserve, “because of the fires, we lost 160,000 hectares of fires. That’s 20 percent of the total forestland.”

Prevention and Regrowth

The forest’s future also lies in seedbeds, where pine trees go from seed to sapling in about two years. The sandy soil here makes regrowth difficult, and forestry scientists are trying to speed up the growth process. Thanks to the project, they’ve learned a new “closed root ball” planting technique, which will, they hope, get small trees out of the laboratory and into the forest faster.


" On the area of 56,000 hectares the movement of sand and salt dust has stopped. This positively influenced the air condition in the region which is good for the health of the local population. "

Yuzan Tairbergenov

Forest protection specialist, Aral Sea area

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With help from the World Bank, the country is investing in seed farms and improved firefighting techniques in order to protect fragile forest land. 

World Bank

The forest is, of course, a key part of Kazakhstan’s ecosystem. Tree roots prevent erosion, and the forest itself helps preserve watersheds and is home to wide variety of plants and animals, including lynx, boars, wolves and, closer to the mountains, bear. So protecting it now is vital, says Nariman Sagindykov, who is the acting head of the Semey Seed Complex. “If we don’t take care of this now, in 15 years we’ll face a desert, and it’ll be a catastrophe.”

The project also addresses the death of the Aral Sea, about 3,000 kilometers from Semey. Salty, poisonous dust from the dried-up sea bottom poses a long-term threat to crops and animals as it blows across the land. Planting trees and bushes traps the soil and stabilizes the dry seabed. Yuzan Tairbergenov, a forest protection specialist, explains the impact of the planting. "On the area of 56,000 hectares the movement of sand and salt dust has stopped. This positively influenced the air condition in the region which is good for the health of the local population.” And the planting will continue, in 10-15 years the area protected should grow to 100,000 hectares.


" Workers plant 5,000 hectares of saxaul a year. Before planting saxaul forests, there was a bare steppe and desert here. There was nothing except for some dried vegetation. Today there is a thick saxaul forest. In winter we've even seen kulans here! "

Faizulla Smagulov

Director of the Aral State Enterprise for the Protection of Forests and Wildlife

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New investments in old fashioned strategies, like people and trucks, fit with state-of-the-art computer programs, which search for lightning strikes and prevent fires with the click of a mouse.

World Bank

Rangeland and Horses

Restoring the indigenous saxaul rangelands is also part of the project. Saxaul is a native Central Asian desert plant, and, like the rest of the project, keeping the  rangelands healthy has broad national and international implications. Working with the project, says Faizulla Smagulov, the Director of the Aral State Enterprise for the Protection of Forests and Wildlife, workers plant 5,000 hectares of saxaul a year. "Before planting saxaul forests, there was a bare steppe and desert here. There was nothing except for some dried vegetation. Today there is a thick saxaul forest. In winter we've even seen kulans here!” Kulan, or Equus hemionus, is a large and rare horse native to the deserts of Syria, Iran, Pakistan, India, Israel, Central Asia, and Mongolia.

Across the country, the work is employing about 5,000 people, but its real importance is clear to those who live near the forest, the Aral Sea and the rangelands. In Semey, the forest is beloved both for itself and for what it provides. “The forest is very important for us local people,” says Lyudmila Rybnikova. “We get mushrooms, berries, timber and charcoal from it.”

So far, workers have planted over 33,000 hectares of forestland, and while this is the first such project in Kazakhstan, Murat Baimukhametov hopes it won’t be the last. “There are a couple of new projects on biodiversity and forest conservation in Kazakhstan,” he says. “I’m hopeful there will be more of them in the future.”

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Over 33,000
hectares of forestland has been planted under the Forest Protection and Reforestation Project.