Conflicts in the Russian Far East: Forests, tigers and the Udege people

Originally posted in the spring 2011 newsletter by Katy

The Udege Legend National Park is situated in the Krasnoarmeiskiy Region of the Sikhote Alin Mountains, Russian Far East. The area is mountainous temperate forest with Korean pine (Pinus koraiensis) as a key species and has a rich biodiversity. It is home to some of the few remaining Siberian tigers.

The area occupies the vast Iman-Armu watershed, which has traditionally been used for harvesting and hunting activities by the local indigenous Udege tribes. Udege people now live alongside Russians in the nearby village of Roschino, but still carry out traditional activities such as hunting.

The National Park was created in 2007, following a ten-year legal battle with forestry companies over logging rights to the area. Significant business interests still oppose the park and legal cases between the park administration, logging companies and local Udege communes are ongoing.

Although the park bears the name ‘Udege’, the local Udege people, who live in villages alongside local Russian inhabitants, are not necessarily all in favour of the park – its creation has made hunting by local people illegal, as well as (theoretically) preventing most logging. Plans were in place to create specific zones permitting traditional hunting by Udege people, but due to conflicts over management of the park, these have not yet been implemented.

katy spring 2011 newsletter

 

The National Park management structures are not yet in charge of forest management in the park, due to ongoing court cases over logging rights. Nor can the forests be leased to logging companies or indigenous Udege communes – they are ‘in limbo’, unmanaged and unpatrolled, an ideal territory for illegal logging and other unlicensed activity.. The state forestry service carries out regular ‘maintenance loggings’, supposedly for forest management purposes, but it is clear to those who visit the area that significant money is being earned from the logging carried out. It appears that, while a legal deadlock holds up a decision on the future of this area, the forest itself is slowly disappearing into the pockets of local business people and bureaucrats.

The conflicts between the needs of local people, nature conservationists and logging companies echo other similar conflicts in the region. Recently WWF Russia called for key Siberian tiger habitats in the Bikin river basin, a remote, untouched area of the northern Sikhote Alin mountains, also inhabited by indigenous Udege communities, to be excluded from new logging plans.

Confusing forestry legislation since the introduction of the new Forest Code in 2006, lack of respect for the law in a region that is many thousands of miles from Moscow policy-makers and the ever-increasing demand for timber from nearby China makes forest conservation here a difficult business. Yet there is much to be lost in this highly biodiverse and beautiful region. And so the battles continue.

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