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Monday, 20 May, 2002, 21:53 GMT 22:53 UK
Last stand for Russia's tigers
Aerial view of taiga   Earth Report
Russia's remote wilderness: The taiga is irreplaceable

Conservationists say the unique taiga forest of Russia's far east is being destroyed by rapacious logging.

Siberian tiger in water   AP
Very few Amur tigers are left
At risk are the indigenous Udege people, and the few remaining Amur tigers.

A UK-made television programme says reports of intimidation and corruption are widespread.

It says the activities of the emerging private logging interests in the area are highly destructive and go largely unregulated.

The programme is Tiger Taiga, made by Television Trust for the Environment (TVE). It is part of TVE's Earth Report series, shown on BBC World.

It says Russia harvests less of its forests than Finland, which is far smaller. But the old-growth trees of the taiga, species like Manchurian oak and Korean pine, fetch the highest prices on the export markets.

 Click here to watch BBC World and its report on the Russian far east.

"One truckload of old-growth timber is worth thousands of dollars - a fortune in post-Soviet Russia. The loggers' assault is relentless," TVE says.

Dmitry Efremov, of the Forestry Policy Institute, Khabarovsk, says: "From the perspective of global interests, it's very important to conserve these forests.

"But national interests require local logging concerns to constantly expand their forest resource base, to bring more and more new areas under exploitation."

The taiga or boreal forest
The band of subarctic coniferous forests that stretch across the top of North America, northern Europe, and Asia. Taiga is the Russian name for this biome, which covers a great swathe of the country
On paper, TVE says, Russia has some of the world's strictest logging laws. But in practice, nothing can protect the forest once a logging road is opened up.

It says one of Russia's biggest logging firms, Primorlesprom, is preparing to build a road through the Sikhote-Alin, one of the last untouched forests.

The firm says the road will let fire-fighting vehicles into the forest and allow rangers to protect the tigers. But the local Udege people and the forest rangers say the area is inaccessible to both loggers and poachers.

Vassily Botaneevich, a Bikin Udege, tells TVE: "It's a road for poachers; a road to cut more wood."

And once the road is built, the Udege say, no amount of legal protection will stop the logging or protect the tigers, which now number probably fewer than 500 animals.

They say another group, the Uman Udege, were forced out of their home 40 years ago by the destruction of the taiga.

The logging of the oaks and pines removes the food supply on which the area's wild boars depend. The boars are the tigers' main prey.

Sold abroad

TVE says Primorlesprom refused to discuss the issue with Earth Report. It says the company exports millions of dollars' worth of old-growth timber annually.

The film says: "Over the last decade the Russian far east has become increasingly dependent on the export of its natural resources to Japan and China.

Timber pile   Earth Report
Timber fuels the far east's boom
"This new influx of capital, much of it illegal, has fuelled a massive boom in the region's cities, Khabarovsk and Vladivostok."

Aleksandr Samoilenko is the forest ranger in Dalnerechensk, known as "the capital of the timber mafia".

He tells TVE: "The economic situation in this region has got to the stage that the majority of the population don't have any work.

"People have no other option than to steal timber to earn themselves a living."

He believes police corruption is the fundamental problem. He has no authority to arrest illegal loggers, but says the police, who can, choose not to do so.

Mr Samoilenko says: "Everyone's up to his neck in corruption around here. The money generated from illegal timber is huge - tens of millions of dollars."

TVE says the accessible timber in the region is coming to an end, and pressure is growing to exploit the last areas of untouched taiga, threatening extinction for the tigers, and for the Udege way of life.

Map, BBC
See also:

18 Feb 02 | Europe
18 Feb 02 | Science/Nature
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