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10 Years of Conservation Concessions: How Collecting Non-wood Products and Game Management Help Conserve Amur Tiger

09 july 2020
The Russian Far East. WWF sums up the results of ten-years-long experience of the conservation concession managed by a partner, a hunting and fishing club “Sidatun”. This local NGO managed to organize the collection of non-wood forest products (NWFP) in Melnichnaya Korean pine nuts harvesting zone and to raise the Amur tiger number from 4 to 15 in the club’s lease area.

22 000 hectares of Melnichnaya Korean pine nuts harvesting zone are one of five pilot forest plots in Primorye where back in 2010, a new strategic approach for conservation of valuable forests in the Amur tiger range was introduced. Conservation concession is a long-term, up to 49 years, lease of the valuable forests by the local communities where instead of logging people collect pine nuts, berries, mushrooms, herbs, and other NWFP.

It is worth mentioning that WWF started applying the conservation concession mechanism at a time when logging of protective forest became widely spread. The loss of protective forests had a negative impact on the environment and caused social tension in the region. Loggers actively encroached into intact Korean pine nuts harvesting zones that caused riots among local people protesting against Korean pine cutting.

According to Evgeny Lepyoshkin, senior forest projects coordinator at WWF Russia Amur branch, “Under the circumstances when even the special status of protective forests did not safeguard the Korean pine stands from destruction WWF regarded the long-term lease for collecting NWFP the only possible way to conserve them. In this case, a lease holder became vitally concerned in protecting “bread-giving” trees from logging and fires. Therefore, WWF Russia decided to experiment with this “tool” using the opportunities of the updated Forest Code of Russia and the determination of local people to fight for their Korean pine stands”. “WWF proposed to the interested local business owners and hunters to lease Korean pine nuts harvesting zones for collecting edible forest resources and medicinal herbs. This practice did not allow the entry of logging companies into the tiger habitats and provided local people with income”.

As of 2020, both in Khabarovsky and Primorsky Provinces there are about 330 000 hectares of valuable Korean pine forests leased as the conservation concessions. Here the people collect non-wood forest products instead of logging. Melnichnaya in the northern Primorye is one of these zones. It connects Sikhote-Alinsky NR, Udegeiskaya Legenda NP, Tayozhny WR and is key for tiger conservation.

In 2010, with the support of WWF, “Sidatun” club leased this area for 49 years. In fact, it was for the first time in the Russian Far East when the withdraw the lands from industrial exploitation use of game resources and harvesting food forest resources were done by one owner and in one territory. “Sidatun” became in fact the town-forming enterprise in Melnichnoye village.

Over the past ten years, complex nature use and skillful management have helped to achieve good results both in nature conservation and a social sphere. “Sidatun” created over 20 regular jobs and up to 300 seasonal ones, delivered fire wood for the villagers, provided funds for the local roads maintenance and to the pre-school and secondary school.

Results on nature conservation are even more outstanding:

·        To stop poaching, illegal logging, and wildfires, “Sidatun” has formed an anti-poaching group and equipped it. Over ten years not a single fire or illicit felling has been allowed! The group issued 156 protocols on illegal hunt, confiscated 67 arms, the law enforcement bodies initiated 39 administrative and criminal cases.

·        To prevent wildfires, the club laid 183 kilometers of anti-fire roads and mineral fire breaks that are also used for collecting and transportation of nuts.

·        Thanks to the combination of all conservation measures the overall ungulates number in the leased area has doubled having reached 7000 animals by 2020.

·        As a result, the tiger number has rocketed from 4 in 2010 to 15 0n 2019. 

WWF Russia finds the Sidatun’s model of complex use of nature resources the most perspective for the replication across the Amur tiger home range, in valuable forests. It is possible to achieve remarkable conservation result with no need to declare a PA or to withdraw the lands from industrial development.