English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов - живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World - Living Arctic) No. 13, 2003
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This material is prepared on the basis of a publication by N. Aleshina, “Moscow Intercedes for Bikin”, “Ezhednevnye novosti” (Vladivostok), 24 June 2003, as well as video taped materials from the press conference on 17 June 2003 provided by the Public Television from Primorskiy Kray.
The Verkhnebikinskiy Nature Reserve in the Primorskiy Kray was established in 1998. The decision was made as a result of the struggle waged for many years by the public environmental organisations and local, indigenous inhabitants for the preservation of forests in the upper reaches of the Bikin River. The fact that the Bikin forests were the area of habitation and traditional subsistence activities for the indigenous peoples of the Far East the Udege, Nanai, and Orochi played a significant role in this struggle. The upper reaches of the Bikin River is a hunting area, and therefore timber felling not only threatens to destroy the unique flora and fauna and the very existence of the river, but is likely to cause damage to the entire nature of the Sikhote Alin mountain range and deprive indigenous people inhabiting the area of their subsistence basis. In April 2003, a meeting was held at the Chief Directorate for Natural Resources and Environmental Protection (CDNR) in the Primorskiy Kray for Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources to discuss the Verkhnebikinskiy Nature Reserve. Apart from top executives from CDNR and the Forestry Service of the Primorskiy Kray, the meeting was attended by top-level representatives from “Primorsklesprom” and “Terneyles”, the Territory’s major timber companies.
We have received the minutes of the meeting. B.V. Tsoy, Deputy Head of CDNR, emphasised in his report that the nature reserve’s territory included natural landscapes of the Central Sikhote Alin as an area of worldwide significance from both esthetic and scientific points of view as well as homelands for endangered species of animals and plants of importance for the preservation of biodiversity. K.M. Kuchenko, another Deputy Head of CDNR responsible for the Primorskiy Kray, recalled that “while carrying out environmental expert evaluations of the documents pertinent to the alteration of the reserve boundaries it would be necessary to submit materials of discussions by citizens and social organisations”. He expressed apprehension about the idea of changing the reserve boundaries as it would not be well received by the general public or by the territory’s population.
Despite the reports of these high-ranking officials from CDNR the following decisions were made (the reasons are not reflected in the meetings minutes):
“(1) To substantiate the expediency of changing the nature reserve boundaries in accordance with the order set forth by the existing legislation;
(2) Primorskiy Kray’s CDNR State Forestry Service is to prepare a substantiated conclusion, including economic considerations, for natural resource use and the efficiency of using areas related to the forest fund of the Verkhnebikinskiy Nature Reserve within the framework of Primorskiy Kray’s timber and woodworking industry’s comprehensive development programme for the period up to 2010”.
This decision once again threatens both the existence of forests with the Bikin River basin itself and the possibility to preserve the primordial habitat and traditional lifestyle of indigenous people inhabiting this area. Let us remind ourselves that both issues are responsibilities of the state authorities of the Russian Federation and its subunits.
The Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) has approached the state authorities with a letter demanding protection of the natural environment and the indigenous population of Bikin, and not to permit violation of indigenous peoples’ rights and environmental legislation.
The Association also appeals to all international organisations wishing to help preserve this natural area with its wild, native flora and fauna of Russia’s Far East, and the unique culture of the indigenous people inhabiting the region for future generations, and requests them to send the following letter to representatives of authorities of the Russian Federation and the Primorskiy Kray.
V.V. Putin, President of the Russian Federation;
M.M. Kasyanov, Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation;
V.G. Artyukhov, Minister of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation;
S.M. Darkin, Governor of the Primorskiy Kray;
V.A. Shestun, Head, Chief Directorate for the Primorskiy Kray’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation;
P.G. Korchagin, Head, Department of Forestry Sector of the Primorskiy Kray’s Administration
As we have learned, the Directorate of the Primorskiy Kray’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Agency (CDNR) is preparing explanatory documents to support changing the boundaries of the Verkhnebikinskiy Nature Reserve with the aim to use parts of the territory within the framework of the development programme of the Primorskiy Kray’s timber and woodworking industry during the period up to 2010.
RAIPON finds the changes in the boundaries of the Verkhnebikinskiy Nature Reserve, with the exclusion of some part of the forest area for the purposes of industrial timber felling in the upper reaches of the Bikin River, unsupportable for the following reasons:
(1) The Verkhnebikinskiy Nature Reserve is an integral part of the “Strategy to Preserve Sikhote Alin’s biodiversity”.
A large-scale block of the original cedar broad-leaved forest, which has the status of a commercial nut-gathering zone, has been preserved in this territory. There are also five standard genetic pool areas of tree species characteristic of the region.
The reproductive nucleus of the Northern subpopulation of the Amur tiger has survived in the territory of the Upper Bikin and the major part of the population of the (lepidote) fish duck and the fish owl have built their nests there as well as 60 other rare and endangered species of terrestrial vertebrates and higher vascular plants have been distributed there.
Actually, the whole territory is in a state specified as “virgin” or “deteriorated to a negligible extent”. It is that very natural “state” which should be preserved for the future irrespective of political and economic difficulties. Compared with any other regions of Russia, this territory is known to have the greatest number of rare and diminishing species with many of them (excluding large predators) having the resources within the territory sufficient to maintain minimum viable populations.
(2) The given territory is the area of habitation and traditional subsistence activities of indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation the Udege, the Orochi and the Nanai.
The above-mentioned unique features of the natural environment and resource potential of the Verkhnebikinskiy Nature Reserve have been conducive to preserving the territory as an area of habitation and traditional subsistence activities of the Udege, Orochi and Nanai (included in the “Unified List of Indigenous Numerically Small Peoples of the Russian Federation”) whose traditional way of life is protected by the state in compliance with the Constitution of the Russian Federation, and the federal laws “On Guarantees of the Rights of Indigenous Numerically Small Peoples of the Russian Federation”, and “On Territories of Traditional Natural Use”. A distinctive way of life and pattern of economic activities have taken shape in the basin of the Middle and Upper Bikin. They are known to have an optimum degree of adaptation to natural conditions, which is conducive to the sustainable use of resources and the preservation of biodiversity on various levels. This territory is the subsistence basis of the largest group of the Udege people in the country.
(3) The intentions to use the areas of the forest fund for industrial timber felling are in conflict with all the environmental efforts which have been carried out in the territory for many years.
The attempt of the territory’s administration to hand over this area to timber merchants in the late 1980s triggered a powerful public protest campaign. This campaign was crowned by the rejection of timber cutting plans involving the upper reaches of the Bikin. It resulted in a number of enactments, including Enactment # 4537-1 dated 24 February 1992 of the Nationalities Council of the RF Supreme Soviet “Concerning the Preservation of the Natural Habitat of the Udege, the Nanai and the Orochi in the Pozharskiy District of the Primorskiy Kray”. Following Enactment # 31 dated 25 August 1992 of the Small Council of the Territory’s Council of Peoples’ Deputies, the territory of the upper and middle parts of the Bikin River basin (totaling 1,250,000 hectares) was allocated for establishing a traditional subsistence territory of the Primorskiy Kray’s indigenous peoples. In accordance with this Enactment a special regime of forest utilisation was established, while the forests in the upper part of the Bikin River basin covering the area of 689,252 hectares of the Hunting Forestry Section of the Verkhne-Perevalninskiy state forestry station (leskhoz) were subject to be transferred to group 1. In 1991-1993, proposals were elaborated about the inclusion of the entire territory of the upper part of the Bikin River basin in the traditional subsistence territory of the Bikin indigenous population.
(4) There are prospects for the inclusion of the entire territory in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
In September 1995, the documents on Russia’s natural features, including the forests of the Bikin River basin, were submitted to the UNESCO World Heritage Center (Letter #825 dated 18 October 1995 of Russia’s Permanent Representation at UNESCO) and accepted for consideration by the World Heritage Committee. A representative of UNESCO has inspected the area, but it is essential to finalise the preparation of all the documentation before it might be included in the World Heritage List.
(5) At the same time this territory is considered for the establishment of a Territory of Traditional Nature Use (TTNU) of indigenous peoples of the Far East.
In accordance with the federal law “On Territories of Traditional Nature Use…”, effective from 11 May 2001, indigenous peoples have convened general meetings and prepared documents concerning the establishment of the Bikin Territory of Traditional Nature Use. The establishment of the Bikin TTNU has been hindered due to the required legislation and procedures which are still being worked out by the government of the Russian Federation.
The alteration of the boundaries of the Verkhnebikinskiy Nature Reserve and the subsequent utilisation of sections of it within the framework of a comprehensive development programme of the Primorskiy Kray’s timber and woodworking industry will be a violation of environmental legislation of the Russian Federation prohibiting timber cutting in the areas of rare species of flora and fauna. Timber cutting on the above territory will also be an infringement of the rights of indigenous peoples inhabiting the territory to use its natural resources for the purposes of traditional subsistence, as guaranteed to these peoples by federal law.
In connection with the aforementioned, we demand:
(1) rejection of the idea of revising the boundaries of the Verkhnebikinskiy Nature Reserve and using sections of forest within the framework of the comprehensive development programme of the Primorskiy Kray’s timber and woodworking industry;
(2) reinforcing the protected status of this unique natural territory by setting up administration of the nature reserve and a public board of trustees;
(3) continuing the efforts to include this territory in UNESCO’s World Heritage List, and establishing a traditional subsistence territory for indigenous people inhabiting the area.
President of RAIPON
The editorial board’s note:
The Directorate of the Primorskiy Kray’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Agency (CDNR) of Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and representatives of environmental organisations and indigenous peoples’ organisations of the territory held a press conference on 17 June 2003 entitled “Bikin should be preserved”. Various, including conflicting, opinions were heard at the press conference.
Boris Tsoy, CDNR Deputy Head, a chief executive of the CDNR, stated his Directorate’s position: “We are in favour of a comprehensive utilisation of this territory. However, the decision about the economic development of the nature reserve should be well-balanced and scientifically substantiated”. According to the representative of the territory’s administration, some part of the nature reserve can be utilised: forestry work should be carried out there; otherwise there would be no one to put out forest fires.
Denis Smirnov, WWF’s Far Eastern section’s project coordinator for sustainable forest utilisation , said that more than one million cubic meters of felled timber rot in the felling areas: “If more procured timber were processed in the Primorskiy Kray than the mere 10 percent or so as it happens today, there would be no need to fell the remaining virgin forests… As to forest fires and poachers, they follow timber cutters who build roads and make the territory accessible.”
P.V. Sulyandziga, President of the Primorskiy Kray’s Association of Indigenous Peoples, said: “The indigenous population of Bikin knows quite well that it will survive as an ethnic unit only if the taiga is preserved. Therefore, if the authorities ignore the opinion of indigenous peoples regarding the problems of preserving the Bikin forests, then the residents of Krasnyy Yar will uphold firmly and strictly their rights to preserving Bikin for its inhabitants, for our children and our descendents… In the opinion of RAIPON there is an alternative way of Bikin’s development quite able to improve the socio-economic position of indigenous peoples the development of their traditional natural resource use and occupations”.
The attendees failed to agree, but the public organisations did not allow the problem of encroachment on the nature reserve to be hushed up.
According to the report of the newspaper “Ezhednevnye novosti” (Vladivostok) published on 24 June 2003 Victor Shastun, Head of Primorskiy Kray’s CDNR, had received a letter from Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources signed by Deputy Minister K.V. Yankov with the instruction not to permit the abolition of the state nature reserve Verkhnebikinskiy and timber felling on its territory.
 The centre of the Udege population in the Bikin River basin (The editor)