Breakthrough for safeguarding wildlife and natural resources in the southern Russian Far East
Ternei County in the Russian Province of Primorye represents some of the best Amur tiger habitat in the world, with dense forests of oak and pine teeming with deer, boar, and other tiger prey species. Except for protected areas (where the ban on logging has always been strictly enforced), the region has been targeted by logging companies over the last thirty years, with the development of a dense network of logging roads to access and remove timber. While selective logging can actually be good for tigers (by opening up the understory and promoting vegetative growth that attracts ungulates and thus tigers), the roads network left behind after loggers leave has serious impacts on wildlife and biodiversity preservation. Tigers, who often use such roads as travel corridors, are easy victims to poachers who travel the same roads in vehicles armed with spotlights and high-powered rifles. And tigers are not the only victims: ungulates, including key prey species for tigers, are common targets, and species like Blakiston’s fish owl, mandarin ducks, and a vast array of fish also suffer from the impacts of these roads. Meanwhile, the number of logging roads are increasing exponentially. In 1984, there were an estimated 228 km of logging roads in Terney County (home of Sikhote-Alin Zapovednik); in 2014 there were an estimated 6,278 km of such roads, all open to the public with hardly any capacity to halt the poaching that commonly occurs on these unofficial roads. Additionally, the increased traffic brings more human-caused fires. Most frustrating is the fact that most logging roads are not being used by the logging companies – they are abandoned forever or for years at a time in a rotational cutting scheme – thus inviting illegal usages (like illegal tree harvest) that even the logging companies are concerned about
In late May, 2015, representatives of the Ternei County Forest Service and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Russia Program convened a meeting at the headquarters of TerneiLes (the largest logging company in the region) in the village of Plastun (Ternei County, Primorskii Krai, Russia) to discuss the negative impact that unused logging roads have on wildlife as well on the logging companies themselves. The meeting was attended by representatives from six of the seven logging companies that operate in the County, along with Ternei County Administration head Vladimir Izgorodin, and Ivan Ampleev, the Deputy Director of Protection at the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve (which occupies approximate 8% of Ternei County).
A series of presentations were made by WCS staff to explain the value of riparian habitats (where most roads are constructed) for wildlife, to explain the negative impacts of roads on wildlife, and the relationship between roads and fires. After these presentations a lively discussion focused on the legal aspects of closing roads, the value of doing so for logging companies, and the limitations that have prevented road closures in the past.
Towards the end of the meeting TerneiLes, who has built most of the logging roads in the region, stepped forward to express their desire to begin a road closure program in association with WCS and other interest groups. Administration head Mr. Izgorodin also expressed his concern over the illegal activities perpetrated on logging roads, and urged groups to action. The next step will be to establish a Working Group to prioritize regions for road closures and to strategize for specific closures, which are expected to begin this summer. This development is a tremendously important step towards reducing vulnerability of tigers and the unique wildlife and natural places in the southern Russian Far East outside of protected areas.
Figure 1. An abandoned logging road in the southern Russian Far East. Photograph © J. Slaght, WCS Russia
Figure 2. Poachers spotlight for deer along an abandoned logging road in Primorye, Russia.
Photograph © WCS Russia.
Figure 3. The proliferation of roads in Ternei County, Primorye, from 1984-2014.