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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May, 2005, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
Fire threat to Siberia's forests
Russian TV pictures of forest fire in Kurgan region
Forest fires have surged in Siberia in recent decades
Siberia's forests are facing an unprecedented threat from fire, according to Russian scientists.

The taiga, which accounts for one-fifth of the world's forested land, has seen a tenfold increase in the rate of deforestation in recent decades.

Last year 22m hectares (54m acres) - half the area of France - was lost.

The scientists say global warming and lack of funding, which has left foresters ill-equipped to combat fires, are the main factors behind the loss.

Loggers have also been accused of starting some fires, which enable them to trade in timber which is cheap but still usable.

The warnings came amid increased scientific debate over climate change in Russia as the British Council opened Zero Carbon City, a touring exhibition on global warming, in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk.

Plea for funds

Siberians are now bracing themselves for the new fire season, which normally starts in late June.

It looks to me like these huge forests are currently being devoured by a powerful lung cancer
Anatoly Sukhinin
Krasnoyarsk forest fire laboratory

Correspondents say that while attention has focused on the destruction of rain forests, the partly evergreen Siberian boreal forests are equally vital to the planet.

Anatoly Sukhinin, head of the Krasnoyarsk forest fire laboratory, told journalists that there was no doubt that the problem was getting worse.

"It looks to me like these huge forests are currently being devoured by a powerful lung cancer," he said.

Mr Sukhinin said the forests were protected by the government, and it was up to Moscow to makes funds available for their preservation.

'Good money'

The scientist added that his laboratory had to manage with outdated equipment and had no aircraft of its own.

But he said that part of the reason for the problem was arson by people seeking to exploit lax logging licensing laws.

The government issues cheaper licences for areas scarred by fire, even though timber quality is not usually affected.

"After a fire, the timber improves and is even better... and that is the time when people can come in, fell the trees and sell the timber to China and get good money," Mr Sukhinin said.

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22 Jul 03 |  Europe

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