Russian protected forests sold for logging

Posted: 26 February 2009

Protected forest in Russia including a "maternity hospital" for the Amur tiger and unique Korean pine stands have been sold for logging in controversial circumstances and in the face of protests by WWF-Russia and the local population.

Last week the Forestry Agency of Primorskii Province in south-eastern Russia auctioned off more than 400 forest plots, covering four wildlife refuges and five Korean pine nut harvesting zones.

The auction, which for unknown reasons was held two days before the scheduled date, ignored new regulations on three regional and one federal wildlife refuge.

Also ignored were long standing appeals by local people asking to lease two of the pine nut harvesting zones to collect nuts, medical and edible plants and conduct responsible hunting, appeals which had the support of WWF and Ministry of Naturó Resources and Ecology of Russia.

"Unfortunately we cannot prevent tending cutting in protective forests by simply pointing to the the breaches of the law," said Denis Smirnov, forest program coordinator, WWF Russia Amur branch. "Tending of forest in Primorye has been long a loophole for conducting large-scale illegal cutting."

Pavel Sulyandziga, first vice-president of the Association of Indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East of Russia, said: "In the village of Krasnyi Yar local aboriginal tribes cannot get permission to cut trees for construction of houses or for firewood.

"This is at a time when the Korean pine nut harvesting zone is being prescribed for logging. This zone belongs to us but over 15 years we have not been able to get approval to establish the territory for traditional nature use. The auction demonstrates a cynical attitude of authorities to the issues of aboriginal people."

The areas sold include areas in the Chyornye Skaly refuge that are habitat for goral - small hoofed animals with a goat-like appearance that are enlisted in the Russian Red data book. The Amur "maternity hospital" is in the Tayozhnyi refuge, the Korean pine stands in five Korean pine nut harvesting zones including one in the Bikin River.

Amur leopard

The federal wildlife refuge Leopardovyi - a key habitat for the Amur leopard - just established in October 2008, was withdrawn from sale following an official demand from Yurii Trutnev, Russia's Minister of Nature Resources and Ecology, to Sergei Darkin, Governor of Primorskii Province.

As in 2008, a contract for forest protection, maintenance, restoration and tending cutting in 12 Primorye forestries will be signed in 2009, with the only claimant being the governmental organization Primorskii Forestry Enterprise. WWF-Russia alleges that the enterprise and its contractors have conducted illegal logging disguised as tending cutting.

"Having taken the decision to sell plots of protected forest to the Primorskii Forestry Enterprise, the Forestry Agency of Primorskii Province has turned a blind eye to the enterprise's participation in illegal logging," said Smirnov. "Probably the Forestry Agency has weighty reasons to once again give a green light to dishonest forest users."

WWF-Russia is asking law enforcement bodies to recognize as invalid the decision of the Forestry Agency to place orders for forest protection, maintenance, restoration and tending cutting with the Primorskii Forestry Enterprise in 2009.

"We predict this sale will precipitate a new round of illegal logging in Primorye and devastate areas important to wildlife and local indigenous people," said Smirnov.

Source: WWF