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Belarus environmental protection minister about Emerald Network

Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Andrei Kovkhuto came to our studio today. He is ready to answer the questions of the TV program Picture of the World.

Yuri Koziyatko: Mr Kovkhuto, thanks for coming!

Andrey Kovkhuto, Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus:
Good afternoon.

Yuri Koziyatko: This week Christmas tree sales started, those traditional Christmas markets. I always think what if we harm the environment by cutting down these trees?  

Andrei Kovkhuto:
I must say that specialists cut down trees only in the places where they are too close to each other or where they have no prospects of growth. Therefore, in principle, this is not harm.

Yuri Koziyatko: How can we in principle save the forest?  There is such a term "commercial timber". We must earn currency by producing the furniture. There have been much controversy about the Forest Code.

Andrei Kovkhuto:
We have proposed changes in the Forest Code. The changes must improve the composition of our forests, species composition and age structure. Of course, with age, the quality of wood improves, therefore much attention is paid to that merchantable timber. And, of course, we must pay attention to the valuable species of trees in our country.

Yuri Koziyatko: Thank God, we don't include forests into the Red Book. Only a few species of plants. Incidentally, bison - once the most popular Belarusian Red Book animals - have spread across Belarus and now there are a lot of them. And you're offering to resettle them all over Belarus. Should we remove them from the Red Book?

Andrei Kovkhuto:
I must say that there are recovery programs with regard to bison population, there are plans of action to ensure that the species remains safe. Because there are problems. The recovery process was very difficult.  We are still concerned about preservation of the species. There are several populations of bison now in Belarus. This was done on purpose so that they grow in a variety of conditions and have a strong genotype. And I must say that this resettlement is underway not only in Belarus. We also sell them abroad.

Yuri Koziyatko: Some foreigners would like to come here to hunt them. I personally oppose to the shooting of animals: I feel sorry for them, but it is also foreign currency for Belarus! And all states of the world make money in such a way.

Andrei Kovkhuto:
I must say that the issues related to bison hunting are very strictly controlled. And the hunt is only with specialists, who choose animals who could be shot for some legal reason.

Yuri Koziyatko: May something new appear?  We are not a maritime power, but we still can breed and sell eel, salmon and so on.

Andrei Kovkhuto:
There are some rare species that exist on the territory of Belarus and are really under threat of extermination. Eel is a special fish that spawns far beyond the borders of Belarus. And with regard to salmon, trout and sturgeon... These are types of fish from the Red Book, but there are also programs that provide for the artificial breeding and resettlement of these fish, which once inhabited Belarusian rivers.

Yuri Koziyatko: What about salmon in our rivers?

Andrei Kovkhuto:
There are rivers, especially in the north of Belarus, in the west. These places were the habitat of these fish earlier.

Yuri Koziyatko: There is a nice concept "Emerald Network". What is it? Belarus now would like to join it.

Andrei Kovkhuto:
Emerald Network is a concept from Europe. These are protected areas subjected to a more cautious, careful attitude and protection. Belarus is also joining European countries in this part. 16 of our objects have been nominated for the emerald network titles, and further 40 of them are being prepared to be included in the emerald network.

Yuri Koziyatko: Soon all the forests will be included in that network, right? Will there be restrictions connected with these forests?

Andrei Kovkhuto:
Speaking about this "emerald network" ones means in the first place the preservation of natural areas and natural resources that exist there. On the other hand, eco-tourism will be developing in those areas. This is one of the areas, very promising, with regard to environmental protection. We are talking about some eco-trails so that tourists can see wildlife as it without harming it.

Yuri Koziyatko: In terms of rural tourism Belarus took second place in the world, according to the National Geographic Traveler Awards 2015. Italy is first.

Andrei Kovkhuto: 
Now we already have natural trails in the Berezinsky Reserve. One can see animals in their natural habitat during such tours. There are also observation decks, binoculars, telescopes and so on.

Yuri Koziyatko: A week ago, the President held a meeting on minerals. What tasks did he set before you? Should we look for some new fields of oil or gas?

Andrei Kovkhuto:
We need to expand the existing mineral resource base of the country. We know that the most valuable minerals are potash, salt, oil, dolomite, construction materials, groundwater (fresh, mineral), bentonite clay and some other minerals. The head of state set the task to expand the existing base so that we can increase commercial reserves to be able to expand production. On the other hand, of course, it is very important to expand this base by identifying new mineral deposits. The object of research is such a large scale will be the northern part of Belarus, the western and the central. The southern part of Belarus, where the famous Pripyat Trough is located, is less explored but it is that part with which many known deposits of oil, salt and other minerals are associated.

Yuri Koziyatko: What should we expect then?

Andrei Kovkhuto:
We have, for example, some rare earth elements. We have also revealed potential oil deposits.

Yuri Koziyatko: What do you mean by rare, just for our audience?

Andrei Kovkhuto:
Rare earth minerals are used in precision engineering, in strategic kinds of industry, which are very expensive. A gram can cost thousands of dollars. On the one hand, we need to maximize the use of our natural wealth, to create the material basis for the development of the economy, which is very important especially now, in the global crisis. And reliance on own resources is of course very important for the development of the industry. On the other hand, all these activities must take into account the strict conservation of natural resources and their favorable use in terms of human environment.

Yuri Koziyatko: There is such a strategic task - to move from traditional to renewable energy sources. And we are still trying to find oil. Maybe it is necessary to look for ways to use the sun, the wind?

Andrei Kovkhuto:
Of course, this direction of renewable energy is very promising. Because, first, they do not cost anything, in general. But, of course, it is too early to say that these renewable sources of energy will prevail in the near future.

Yuri Koziyatko: In the coming years, perhaps even decades, they will not replace the nuclear power plant.

Andrei Kovkhuto:
No.

Koziyatko Yuri: We must build it, mustn't we?

Andrei Kovkhuto:
Yes.

Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Andrei Kovkhuto