RussiasSiberian Forests Falling to Illegal Logging
publishedby Agence France-Presse, 2 May 2004
KRASNOYARSK,Russia – Illegal logging and controversial business plans have ecologistsraising the alarm in Siberias scenic Krasnoyarsk region, Russias primeforestry area and vital to a country struggling under massive air pollution.
FromKrasnoyarsk to Irkutsk, the taiga stretches without limit. Does it have an end? When you are on the top of a mountain, you seemountains all around… And all is covered by a dense forest. It gives youshivers, Anton Chekhov wrote in the 1890s. But thefamed writers days are past, and now the sight is differentcriminallogging and arson gnaw at the sea of trees.
InRussia, up to 30 percent of tree logging is illegal. Depending on the region,the wood then goes to Scandinavian countries or China. Theydo it quickly, a team of five or six people take a big truck, cut a large areaand send the wood to China. It makes a good profit, lamented Galina Kuzmina,deputy head of Krasnoyarsks forest protection center.
In addition, 2,000 fires last yearalonemost of them due to arsonand the Siberian bombyx parasite hasdevastated entire swaths of the regions forest, she said.
But thegovernments new forestry code, which is still being drafted and allows theregions to privatise forest zones, is what troubles Russian ecologists most.
TheRussian forest is currently almost entirely managed by the leskhozes,local forestry administrations, which hand out licences to the lumberjacks andtheir firms.
Afterthe privatisation experience of the 1990s, public opinion will not stand forprivatisation of forests, Shvarts fumed.
Environmentalistsalso fear that the new code would bar millions of Russians from the forests, whomake their living by collecting cedar kernels, mushrooms and berries.
Theysay here that Russal, the giant Krasnoyarsk-based aluminum producer, isready to buy up the regions entire forest, Kuznina said.
Thegovernment in turn hopes to encourage the creation of wood refining factoriesand paper and cellulose plants.
Russia,70 percent of whose massive territory is covered by forests, nets 4.5 billiondollars (3.8 billion euros) annually from wood exports, but could profit more ifit could refine wood at home rather than ship the raw material to be treatedabroad.
Theregions governor Alexander Khloponin has ambitious plans to chop down 49million cubic meters (1715 million cubic feet) of wood annually where only fivemillion cubic meters are now harvested.
Thiswould require important forestry territories and big investors who would buildroads and replant forests as needed, like they do in Finland, he noted.
Thegovernor hopes to attract enough capital to set up a cellulose factory, whichwould profit from the regions low energy prices.
However,he said he thought privatisation plans were too hasty, arguing that the industrycould pass into the private sector only after the state set up efficient controlsystemswhich could take up to 15 years.