Public opinion against logging in key tiger habitats
On October 20 WWF Russia held an emergency press conference demanding the exemption of protective forests in the Bikin River Basin of northern Primorsky Province from a timber auction authorized by the provincial Forest Management Department. Commentary on this pressing issue was provided by WWF Russia experts Denis Smirnov and Anatoliy Kabanets, by WWF USA expert Michael Stuewe, and by representative to the Legislative Assembly Aleksandr Ermolayev. Testimony was sent to the Forest Management Department and Primorsky Province Ecological Prosecutor’s office on the illegality of including in the auction logging sites in the Bikin River Basin, which since 2009 have been held under lease by the indigenous peoples community enterprise “Tiger.”
The scheduled auction would open up three key Amur tiger habitats for logging: the Pozharsky and Bikinsky Pine Nut Harvesting Zones and the proposed “Middle Ussuri” wildlife refuge, which would protect a key tiger migration corridor from Russia to China. Public reaction to the auction, in Russia and abroad, was universally negative, all the more because Prime Minister Putin has invited all heads of state of tiger-inhabited countries to participate in the International Forum on Tiger Conservation in St. Petersburg. In the run-up to this summit, the public was anticipating news of a different sort. The Prime Minister’s press secretary Dmitriy Pyeskov responded that questions of Amur tiger research and protection are under the direct control of Mr. Putin, but that a full public statement was pending investigation of the circumstances surrounding the auction.
As a result, as announced by the communications department of “Primorye Forest Management Association” – the main bidder for the so-called “sanitary logging” rights - the scheduled auction was not held. More than 30 logging sites that were to be opened up for intermediate logging were not offered, despite considerable pressure from interested parties to make them available. As the Forest Management Department explained, its director Pyotr Diuk departed yesterday on holiday, and the commission responsible for conducting the auction simply did not appear.