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Thieves plunder 'protected' forests in Russia

logged forest
Russia's protected eastern forests are being plundered for timber, threatening endangered tree populations  

November 3, 2000
Web posted at: 1:02 PM EST (1802 GMT)

KHABAROVSK, Russia (CNN) -- Outlaws are plundering protected forests, cutting timber without licenses and targeting endangered tree species in the Far East of Russia.

Federal authorities are unable, or unwilling, to stop it. But some Russians bear public witness to what's happening to their forests. One is Anatoly Lebedev, an environmental activist with his own TV show on a local network. He believes organized crime and corruption are behind the alarming increase in illegal logging.

Authorities here have confiscated a truckload of a rare pine prized for furniture making, cut illegally from a protected reserve. But it's unlikely the lawbreakers will be punished, according to Lebedev.

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"It means that just the people concerned with this timber, including officials and illegal loggers, will share the money which comes from the selling of the timber," he said.

There is little control and much corruption. Even Chinese logging crews have been able to cross the border to steal timber from Russia's forests.

Conservationists say this is like other crime waves in Russia, resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"What has happened since the decline of the Soviet Union is the absence of state control and the breakup of large timber enterprises that were under state ownership," said Lebedev, an activist with the Bureau for Regional Public Campaigns.

Bankrupt state logging enterprises, including their processing mills, are now history, replaced by hundreds of small operators focused on exporting raw timber to hungry markets in Asia.

lumber mill
Some legal lumber mills in the region are providing new jobs and supporting the local economy  

Exporting raw logs is the sole source of revenue for most timber companies in Russia's Far East. Some 90 percent of timber production here is exported as unprocessed logs to Japan, China or South Korea.

There is a new processing mill in the region, one of few, that provides jobs and tax revenues without exporting raw timber.

Lebedev says expanding such timber processing operations is one way to curb illegal logging.

"We hope that as soon as logging companies will invest more money to processing they will create new jobs and turn people from illegal operations to the processing facilities," he said.

Others say Russian authorities must attack corruption and re-assert control over timber resources.

"That's really the crisis. It's a crisis of control. It's a lack of control in the forest, and it's devastating the ecosystems here," said Josh Newell of Friends of the Earth, an international environmental activist group.

He and other environmentalists say sustainable use of Russia's forests could eliminate widespread poverty and drive economic growth in this region. But the alternative -- what's happening now -- is a worsening environmental disaster.



RELATED STORIES:
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October 20, 2000
Monkey's extinction may be a sign
September 13, 2000
Timber industry takes a turn south
July 20, 2000
Logging ban no great loss to timber communities
June 19, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Wild Russia/Center for Russian Nature Conservation


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