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Bidding to destroy vital Amur tiger habitat

Corruption and loopholes permit timber mafia to clear forests in Russian Far East

Update: Public outcry derailed the auction scheduled to be held earlier this week that would have opened up critical Amur tiger habitats for logging. Negative reactions from WWF experts, the public in Russia and abroad and the representative from the Primorsky Province in Russia all contributed to a no-show from the commission that was scheduled to conduct the auction.

Russia’s Far East is the homeland of two of the most charismatic examples of global biodiversity—the Amur tiger and the Korean pine. Both are under assault as the forestry administration of Primorsky Province in the Russian Far East moves to open critical Amur tiger habitat for logging.

The auction comes less than a month away from the global Tiger Summit hosted by Russia where world leaders will gather to agree upon a range-wide recovery plan for the endangered big cats.

Today, the Forest Management Agency of Primorsky Province will auction logging rights for “intermediate harvesting”—a legal loophole that allows loggers to cut valuable Korean pine, oak and ash timbers in protected forests—in 16 sites, including two pine nut harvesting zones, and the proposed Middle Ussuri wildlife reserve.

 “It seems inexplicable that a corrupt provincial Primorsky official can go ahead with such a damaging course of action at a time when the world is coming together to save wild tigers,” said Dr. Sybille Klenzendorf, Managing Director of WWF’s Species Conservation program. “WWF is tackling this issue through a two-pronged approach: lobbying against auctions that will destroy irreplaceable tiger habitat in Russia and working closely with global business and industry to ensure that commodities—like wood and pine nuts—do not cost wild tigers their survival.”

Such logging increases poaching as access roads are cut into remote tiger forests. It destroys key breeding, feeding and winter habitat for tigers and their prey, and significantly reduces the supply of pine nuts and acorns on which tiger prey species survive. The logging rights will destroy forests vital to salmon breeding grounds and violate the rights of indigenous people  who hold legal management rights to some of the auction territory.

“The Forest Management Agency of Primorsky Province has openly demonstrated its ‘untouchable’ status and stands in opposition to everyone,” commented Denis Smirnov, director of the forest program at WWF Russia. “It has ignored the public outcry that resulted after the documentary Dark Forest in which the agency’s director Pyotr Diukopenly describes a plan to cut the pine nut harvesting zone of Pozharsky County in just two years.”

Dark Forest, an undercover investigation of the timber mafia in Russia, put a spotlight on the high-level corruption prevalent in the system, allowing for illegal deforestation in protected areas and fake auctions in the Russian Far East.  The documentary aired on Russian state television, reaching a wide national audience that included decision-makers in the Kremlin. 

The documentary confirmed several WWF reports that much of the logging in the region is illegal. Most of the wood harvested from the Russian Far East is exported to China where it is turned into furniture that makes its way into major markets, including the United States, Europe and Japan.

Watch Dark Forest Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3