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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 12:29 GMT
On the trail of the illegal loggers
DalnereshenskTmber yard
Timber yards show "evidence" of illegal logging
In a series of special reports from Russia's Far East, BBC East Asia Today reporter Francis Markus examines the identity, the problems and the potential of this unique region.

An early morning passenger train pulls out of the small station on the mainline at Dalnereshensk, about 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of Vladivostok.

Once it has gone, we can see a long line of flatbed goods wagons on the track behind. Many of them are stacked with timber. And on one of them, local environmentalist Arthur Romanenko finds crystal-clear evidence of illegal logging.

Francis Markus(L) with environmentalist Arthur Romanenko
Francis Markus(L) with environmentalist Arthur Romanenko
"This is the Korean pine and all logging of this tree in Russian territory is illegal. But the customs authorities are not aware of these exports or if they are, they're not doing anything to stop them," he says.

In a carefully guarded nearby yard by the railway line and another siding, we find six more wagons stacked with Korean pine among the timber.

But next comes the harder part - trying to pin down where it is going and who is behind the illegal logging.

Click here for a map

When we go to the local trade office an indignant official tells us she is in charge of the train with the six Korean pine stacked wagons, and they are none of our business.

'Inexhaustible supply'

At one of the several Chinese-run sawmills in the town, we are more politely treated but not much the wiser after talking to a company official

Economic and social problems push people to work illegally

Environmentalist Anatoly Lebedev
"The timber we buy is all legally documented. There's no Korean pine here; the wood we're exporting is only willow," he says.

Among Chinese visiting or working in this part of Russia, the perception seems to be that the country offers an ideal source to complement China's hard-pressed natural resources.

"The timber industry here is really well developed," says a Chinese labourer as he shovels gravel on a building site near Dalnereshenk's busy market.

"Russia has so much timber, the supply of it is inexhaustible."

'Fire and destruction'

But the fact that an increasing volume of timber - much of it, activists say, illegally logged - is being transported on goods trains across the border is worrying Russian environmentalists like Anatoly Lebedev, who heads the Vladivostok-based group BROC.

The ancient forest, the taiga, is under threat
The ancient forest, the taiga, is under threat
"It's mainly economic and social problems which push people to work illegally, for the promotion of the Chinese processing economy," he says.

"This is a disaster because these people bring fires to the forest, they bring destruction, they don't care. They take care of only their pockets."

Amid the stillness of the ancient forest, the taiga, the evidence is clear that despite the legal protection which the forest should enjoy, logging is going on.

"This illegal logging started when the border with China was opened," says Alexander Samuelenko, a government ranger who has lived close to the taiga all his life and has made a personal crusade out of trying to protect the forest.

"First they started poaching for ginseng - both Russians and Chinese. Then it must have been since 1996 that this illegal logging started on such a scale. The loggers established contacts with those supposed to protect the forests and who instead have provided cover for illegal operations because they know everything about the forest."

Local concerns

Many of his concerns seem to be shared by other local people.

"It's a disaster because the illegal logging and poaching of Korean pine nuts is very, very bad for the next generation," said one woman working in a transport café on the road to Vladivostok, lamenting the general degradation of the environment.

"When I was little, the rivers were clean but now they're full of oil pollution. Whatever is going to happen in the future?"

What does happen in the future may depend on how the local government tackles the issue. Anatoly Lebedev of BROC says the first step is for government departments to talk to each other.

"The governor of any territory has special departments of timber, water, wildlife, social issues, whatever - and those departments have no joint language.

"And it's our concern to help those departments to negotiate with each other, to understand and to create a common language."

Click to return

You can listen to Francis Markus' reports in full at the pages of BBC East Asia Today.

See also:

04 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Vladivostok at the crossroads
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