English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов - живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World - Living Arctic) No. 8, 2001

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The Samarga forests threatened to be cut down

Arkadiy Kaza, Chairman, Public Organisation of Hunters and Fishermen of the “Agzu” kinship nomadic community

In accordance with Order # 13 dated 27 February 2001, given by the Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee of the Primorskiy Territory’s administration, the concession to the exploitation rights to the Samarga state forestry station’s area of 428,100 hectares, covered with virgin forests, was put up for auction and granted on lease to “Terneiles” for a period of 25 years (minutes of the auction commission of 9 March 2001, Chairman E.S. Stomatyuk).

Taking these actions, the Territory’s administration has violated a number of articles of the Russian Federation's Constitution envisaging concerning the rights of a population to use their territory’s resources, as well as having infringed federal and territorial laws – its own regulations preserving the natural environment and traditional subsistence territories of indigenous peoples.

First and foremost, in accordance with RF Presidential Ordinance # 397 (22 April 1992) “On Urgent Measures to Protect Areas of Inhabitance and Economic Activities of Numerically Small Peoples of the North” and “The System of Protected Natural Territories” adopted by the session of the Territorial Council on 28 June 1991 (Decision M 145), the Samarga River basin in the river’s upper and middle stream covering the area of 660,000 hectares is protected and included in a special nature reserve in order to give the ethnic territory a special status. In accordance with the above documents, no economic activity is admissible in this territory without prior content of specially authorised environmental protection bodies and authoritative agencies of indigenous peoples of the North.

Further, on 15 October 1998, the Territory’s Acting Governor signed Enactment M 511 concerning adoption of the Territory’s “Strategy to Preserve the Biodiversity of Sikhote-Alin”, recommending that “the organs of state power and local self-governance, while carrying out the activities having any impact on biodiversity of ecosystems…, to be guided strictly by the given strategy”. This strategy, on page 92, states the availability of “a prospective ethnic territory “Samarginskaya” of 634,000 hectares”.

In accordance with federal law “On Guarantees of Rights of Indigenous Numerically Small Peoples of the Russian Federation” # 82-F3 (30 April 1999), the local offices of self-governance in the residence areas of Northern indigenous peoples are authorized to “to take part… in supervision over the use of land in the localities of traditional inhabitance and economic activities” (Article 7, Paragraph 2). In accordance with Article 8 of the above law, “associations of indigenous peoples have the right to own and use gratuitously the land of various categories needed for their traditional activities and subsistence occupations in the localities of their traditional inhabitance and economic activities (Paragraph 1.1), participate in supervision over the use of land of various categories (Paragraph 1.2), participate in supervision over the observance of federal laws and those of the Russian Federation's units on protection of the natural environment (Paragraph 1.3), participate in environmental and ethnological investigations during the elaboration of natural resources development programs” (Paragraph 1.6).

In its reply to the enquiry of the “Agzu” kinship nomadic community about the legitimacy of the given lease of the forest in the reserved territory (Letter # 69/4-15, dated 6 June 2001) the Primorskiy Territory’s Natural Resources Committee stated that the “Agzu” kinship community already had the legally guaranteed right to use hunting grounds in the area concerned (the agreement with the territorial administration for a period of 25 years and the license to harvest the fauna). This, however, did not exclude the possibility of leasing the area for other kinds of use without any coordination with the previous lessee. In legal terms, it is evidently correct. However, in accordance with common sense, the owner of the forest has hardly any grounds to lease the area for an additional type of land use that unconditionally destroys the very object of the primary agreement – the fauna and the entire ecosystem. It is all the more objectionable that it happened without the primary leaseholder being informed. The RF law “On Environmental Investigations” (adopted on 23 November 1995), making obligatory the environmental impact assessment (EIA) before planned economic activity, including large-scale tree felling, should have eased the problem since it is mandatory, during EIA operations carried out at every stage of a project, including the preparation of materials for the concession auction, to take into account all possible environmental, economic and social consequences. However, in this particular case, there has been neither an EIA nor any other investigation. This, in itself, is ample grounds to find the whole auction precedure and leasehold agreement legally objectionable.

It is also mentioned in the reply of the Primorskiy Territory’s Natural Resources Committee to the Chairman of the “Agzu” community that all the forest sections of the previously unregistered area in the Samarga River basin “have been leased out to “Terneiles” and “Primorskiye lesopromyshlenniki” companies with the right to hold them for a single purpose – felling. In this connection, it’s a bit of a puzzle why the Natural Resources Committee of the Territorial Administration, putting up the already leased forest sections for auction, restricts in advance the type of land use exclusively to felling as the main activity and even determines the volume of output. Moreover, in spite of the comprehensive nature use ideology, which has existed in Russia for a long time, the available leasehold mechanisms, and assessed volumes of extraction of non-lumber forest products, the given and the only sustainable type of resource exploitation is being bluntly ignored, thus infringing at least the RF Presidential Ordinance “On Securing Sustainable Development”.

Reference was made by the Natural Resources Committee to the fact that the “Agzu” community has not so far concluded an agreement about its own type of land use (hunting) with the Samarginskiy forestry station, as stipulated by the Territorial Administration Natural Resources Committee’s order # 240 (27 December 1999). As a result, the community is subject to withdrawal of its leasehold right and even to paying the damages springing up from God knows where, allegedly caused to traditional economic activities on its own reserved area. This is a mere indication that the territorial authorities, being ready to carry the situation to the point of absurdity, would not stir a finger to render even negligible assistance to people deprived of their means of existence. In our view, both Committees, the territorial and federal, should patiently bring their information to the attention of the remote village of Agzu (whose only means of communication with the mainland is extremely expensive helicopter), explain the rapidly changing rules currently in force to the inadequately informed people, and look for any ways and means to fulfill the obligations once assumed by the state to preserve the traditional environment of the indigenous population of Samarga.

Editor’s Remarks (by RAIPON)

On receiving the above information, with attached documents substantiating its context from the Udege village of Agzu, RAIPON, in the person of its President, S.N. Kharyuchi, has approached the Government and the Primorskiy Territory’s Administration with a letter emphasizing, in particular, the following: “The events going on in the area concerned can be considered as a blunt violation of the rights of indigenous peoples of the North as contained in Articles 2, 7, 9, 15, 18, 20, 69 of the RF Constitution as well the federal law “On Guarantees of Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the RF”.

In reply to this appeal to the state authorities, RAIPON has received the following letter from the RF Ministry of Natural Resources:

“There have been no violations of requirements laid down in the enforceable legal enactments of the Russian Federation by leasing out forest sections to the “Terneiles” and “Primorskiye lesopromyshlenniki” open joint stock companies for lumber production in the Samarginskiy forestry station, within the administrative boundaries of the Terneiskiy District. According to the Primorskiy Territory’s Natural Resources Committee, no traditional subsistence territories of the Udege people have been established in the forest sections leased.

To introduce a special legal regime stipulated by the federal law “On Territories of Traditional Nature Use (TTPs) of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation” in the area inhabited by the Udege in the Terneiskiy District of the Primorskiy Territory it is necessary to establish, according to procedure, a traditional subsistence territory of the Udege, specifying its precise boundaries.

There are no legal grounds for cancellation or changing any agreements about leasing forest sections in the territory inhabited by the Udege as established by the legislation of the Russian Federation until the adoption of above decision."

Signed by N.A. Andreev, Head of Forest Use and Rehabilitation Department

It is worthwhile examining this written answer closely. It follows from its context that all the decisions of the Territorial Administration and the Council of Peoples’ Deputies previously adopted in the 1991-1998 period concerning the territory of Samarga forests and about “its inclusion in a special nature reserve until granting it a special status of an ethnic territory” are considered by the today’s Ministry of Natural Resources to be null and void, apparently due to the fact that these regional decisions have not been approved at the federal level. Only this interpretation would allow the Ministry of Natural Resources to assert that “there have been no violations of requirements of the enforceable legal enactments of the Russian Federation” in leasing out these forests for lumber production.

In its answer the Ministry of Natural Resources also recommends the Udege of Agzu to establish a Territory of Traditional Nature Use (TTP) in accordance with the law “On Territories of Traditional Nature Use of Indigenous Numerically Small Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation” so as to create legal grounds for cancellation of the leasing agreement with “Terneiles”.

The case in question has proved once again that all the previous forms of using natural resources and legally establishing TTPs at a regional level as ethnic territories, kinship grounds, peasant/farming units may be declared null and void at any time. Therefore, indigenous peoples of the North should approach the authorities as soon as possible with a demand to establish traditional subsistence territories in accordance with the federal law on TTPs. Meanwhile, it is expedient to find out what lands and natural resources are included in the planned TTPs, and, in case federally owned land is a part of TTPs, to apply for the establishment of TTPs at a federal level.