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Russian locals trying to stop major road from being built into their wilderness area
Reprint from "The Timber Trap", by Paul Brown, The Manchester Guardian Weekly, January 15, 2003
The Russian Udege forest hunters stood at the border of their traditional Russian territories and threatened to shoot the Russian road workers if they crossed the line that represents the last frontier of the pristine forest protecting the game on which the Udege depend. To the outside world, a defeat for the Udege will see the dashing of hopes for the survival in the wild of the Siberian tiger -- but for the Udege it is also their survival as a separate people. The Russian Government building of the 1,000 km road has stopped. It was started at each end -- on the coast and deep in the interior of eastern Siberia – with a plan to meet in the middle, in order to bring out the logs from the last 30km of untouched forests in the region. The 30 km needed to join the two ends of this vast project run through tiger country at the headwaters of the Bikin river. This is the most biodiverse virgin forest in Russia with 380-year-old cedar trees and giant blue subtropical butterflies. It was here that the road builders met the hunters and stopped work. Twice the Udege people have lost their two District Court battles to stop the road. The villagers discovered just in time that the developers had not done an environmental impact assessment of the road, something required under Russian law.
The road could yet be declared illegal. The fate of the Udege and the tiger is a modern parable of the disaster that is overtaking the natural world. Desire for short-term profit from local timber merchants, selling logs to feed the appetite for expensive hardwood furniture from the developed world, leads to the destruction of the tiger's last habitat in the Asia Region. The traditional Udege hunters today include Russians and another native people called Nanai. They belong to a cooperative that has a quota for sable, red squirrel, mink, elk, moose, wild boar, bears, badgers and otters. The main income is the money for the skins the hunters sell at the St. Petersburg fur market. Illegal logging is rife. The halted road in the north of the territory is just part of the problem. The company that owns it, Porzcharski, has contracts to supply the Japanese, and is hungry for the ancient cedar trees. In the south a second large company, Terneyles, runs a sawmill and has already taken down 10% of the forest -- which is supposed to be kept exclusively for game and hunting. Other smaller companies, some of which only exist for a few days, cut a lorry-load of trees and then disappear -- making them impossible to prosecute. Rewards are high: cedar is worth $ 19 a cubic metre, so one tree can command $ 480.
For material on this issue see also:
ANSIPRA Bulletin No. 1, Indigenous peoples and sustainable development: Community-oriented strategy (P. Sulyandziga)
ANSIPRA Bulletin No. 5A, The Udege are forest people, and they protect their forest (P. Sulyandziga, T. Køhler & O. Murashko)
ANSIPRA Bulletin No. 5B, History and culture of the Bikin Udege (N. Pionka)