No Pines, No Tigers
Russia’s Nut Harvesting Zones (NHZs) flow across the Russian Far East. NHZs are leased by the provincial government to private entities; in the past five to six years, says Evgeny Lepeshkin, head of the forest program at WWF’s Amur office, most of these 50-year leases have gone to community cooperatives and companies that work closely with WWF.
The NHZs are some of the last remaining optimal tiger habitats and, as the map on the opposite page shows, these NHZs are among the core zones where tigers are found in the highest density. WWF scientists hope nut harvesting will offer more villagers a viable way to earn a living, an economic alternative to illegal logging and the poaching of tigers and tiger prey.
There are now eight NHZs working toward sustainability in the Amur tiger’s range, and four other NHZs will likely be leased as conservation concessions by the end of 2014. “WWF covered the first year’s rent fees and paid for forest inventories and development of recommendations for sustainable forest use,” says Darman. “We also support NHZ owners in hiring and training special brigades to control illegal logging in cooperation with forest rangers and police.”
Milakovsky explains the need for such cooperation in this way: In 2007, townspeople in the village of Ariadnoe staged public protests and organized logging patrols in an effort to halt illegal logging of Korean pine trees. They spoke out to protect pine nuts for the income the nuts provide. They also raised their voices because abundant nuts ensure stable populations of important game animals, including wild boars, sables and red deer. “The situation at one point got very tense, with shots being fired into windows and at the cars of the movement’s organizers,” he says, “but no one was hurt.”
Ariadnoe was just one expression of the widespread desire of forest village residents to have Korean pine trees protected from logging. The communities made it clear that Russia’s people want their forests, pine nut income and tigers to be protected. This may have played a key role in Russia’s decision to ban logging of Korean pines. And as Igor Chestin, CEO of WWF-Russia, points out, tiger advocates should be happy too. “No Korean pine, no Amur tigers,” he says.
That is indeed the crux of the matter, believes Darman: finding a path to coexistence for people and tigers and the forests they both need to survive. Folk wisdom, international partnerships and modern science are merging to protect forest incomes and Amur tigers in Russia’s farthest wooded reaches—a storied landscape with trees that reach toward the clouds, a tiny nut that feeds an interconnected food web, and a carved-out niche in which Amur tigers can roam.