A Practical Means to Protecting Tiger Prey Populations in Primorye, Russia
Previous research by the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Russia Program has demonstrated that mortality rates of Amur tigers are higher wherever there is road access. These results mirror similar findings around the world: wherever there are roads, exploitation of wildlife increases, often resulting in the “empty forest” syndrome, where habitat appears suitable but the forest is devoid of wildlife. Given the rugged terrain of the Sikhote-Alin Mountains in Primorye, Russia, roads are typically constructed within valleys along biodiversity-rich riparian zones which are important wintering grounds for ungulates such as red deer, wild boar, and roe deer, and common travel corridors for tigers. Hence, roads have a disproportionate impact on tigers by degrading winter ungulate habitat, facilitating decreased prey numbers via poaching, and increasing the chances of tigers themselves being poached. Given that 41% (66,750 km2) of Primorye’s territory is leased to logging concessions (another 20% is protected), mitigating the negative impacts of logging roads on tigers and their prey is an important component of tiger conservation.
In winter 2012 we initiated a roads closure project to achieve two goals; 1) assess the feasibility of closing logging roads on a single timber lease and 2) assess the impact of road closure on wildlife species as a foundation for arguing for the need of a region-wide road closure program. We are focusing on a timber lease just north of the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Zapovednik and surrounding the proposed Kema-Amginskii Nature Park. Hunting and poaching represent an important source of income and protein for people in the few settlements north of the zapovednik, but the placement of logging roads largely dictates access by poachers in this wild area. We are working with a logging leaseholder in Amgu to close roads and design a before-after, control-impact study where forests are surveyed before and after road closures to assess changes in ungulate densities over a 3-4 year period. This study will provide the scientific basis for the creation of specific recommendations for road development (and particularly closure) that clearly outline how a leaseholder is to manage their roads network following construction. Ideally, such recommendations would be integrated into lease contracts, therefore making the leaseholder aware of and responsible for road closures. Ultimately, such road management can ease poaching pressure on tigers and their ungulate prey.