Russian Far East includes boreal \ coniferous (on the north – 195 mln ha or 70 % of forest cover) and temperate \ mixed (on the south) forest zones. Amongst coniferous 60 % are larch forests, 7,8 % - birch and 5.4 % - fir-spruce forests. Most valuable complex temperate ecosystem with dominating Korean pine and up to 20 other species is located at the most south, Primorye and part of Khabarovski region. It occupies 1.2 % of the whole RFE forest cover and presents the highest capacity of the natural restoration – 1.5 cu m per ha. These cedar-broadleaf forests are rich with Korean pine, fir, spruce, different birches, linden, oak, ash, poplar, aspen, elm, maples, Manchurian endemic species like nut tree, velvet tree, set of wines etc. To the other hand, about 3/4 of the whole RFE forests grow on the permafrost lands with very low capacity for both natural restoration (about 0.5 cu m per ha) and silviculture. Therefore silviculture here, as more expensive practice, is generally much less popular than activities to maintain natural restoration (enlightening, rejuvenation, passage, salvage logging, fire and pests protection etc.). To compare, in Primorye silviculture was conducted on 4300 ha in 2003 whilst natural restoration maintained on 63000 ha; accordingly, in Khabarovsk region it was 9200 and 181000 hectars.
But, during last 20 years activities to maintain natural restoration changed initial target from improvement forest quality to making more money for poorly financed foresters. And it was not primitive commercialization of the forest maintenance – motivation to prefer maintenance of natural restoration as the key model versus active silviculture was scientifically reasonable. It was based upon specifics of regional ecosystems, their capacity of natural restoration on the south, problems with catastrophic fires and permafrost on the north. But practically, maintenance of natural restoration as a way to get commercial timber turned to large scale destructive logging, legalized with this tricky game of “restoration” logo. In the maritime monsoon type of climate with regular catastrophic floods and typhoons in summer it creates a huge problem for both forest environment, local economy and traditionally sustainable lifestyle in the forest communities.
Sikhote-Alin mountains, administratively including part of Primorye and south of Khabarovsk region, is the most populated and economically developed area of the whole Far East, having some settlements of concentrated inhabitance of indigenous people udege and nanai. Since 1991 when total economic failure of Soviet economy started, population only on Primorye reduced from 2.4 million officially to less than 2 million. With failure of the group of huge shipyards, machine-constructing, fish processing, agricultural factories and lumber plants as well as highly developed system of harvesting and marketing of non timber forest products, army of unemployed members of forest dependent communities began logging in favor of army of Chinese timber entrepreneurs. They moved to Russia in framework of Chinese state strategy of economic occupation of south RFE, and helped forest communities to survive by presenting the only market for local timber. It has happened on the background of total ignorance in Russian government to the destiny of RFE. To the other hand, Asian guests fed their Chinese North-East with a flood of cheep timber, initiated unprecedented timber processing and economic boom there. Significant, that since 2000 when labour import from China had been organized and controlled by governmental quotas by the special appeals, many Chinese workers, who came for agricultural activity on the empty fields of Primorye, were found on primitive sawmills in remote forest towns very soon
Since 2009 when Russian government blocked raw logs export by high taxes simultaneously with the same blockade of the other self-developed business of the RFE – second hand Japanese cars trade and service – size of unemployment in the region increased further and began politically dangerous. Not many timber businesses succeeded to develop processing, and even for them global market of timber products became closed by the global sales crisis. Thus the major traditional incentives to develop logging, timber trade and lumber activities met a set of problems. Despite that deep reform of the forest sector reduced volume of operations and production, companies continue trying to get forests leased for the complex use including NTFP, which was forgotten during last 15 years. But, with regards to the total market crisis and continued growing of “maintenance” logging it seems highly problematic to wait for any serious activities target on reforestation or even real maintenance of natural restoration of forests. There is also a deep crisis of forest inspection, control, fire monitoring and prevention, which makes any talks on restoration senseless for quite long time.
MODELS AND RESPONSIBILITIES
Currently there are two main responsible players in the process of restoration. On the leased forest area it is company-leaser, which creates a basic project of long term forest use on the area. The project is an object of state expertise and provides all the restoration activities as a strict rule to be inspected regularly. Second player is specialized, usually municipal forest maintenance enterprise, which almost unavoidably win the bidding of getting rights to conduct forest maintenance operations upon non-leased forest areas, including restricted, protected, reserved and other forests. This is the most dangerous model of “maintenance”, which is obviously under very symbolic control and clearly is a target of making profit from restricted, high conservation value forests. Most specialists of these enterprises, created in 2007, came from the local stations of former state forest service. Theoretically they were always legally responsible for protection HCVF, but always, up to now are doing their best to make profit from them by timber sales
Forest restoration on Sikhote-Alin is based upon traditional scientific knowledge, collected by generations of foresters of Russian Academy and RFE Forestry institutions, and also upon knowledge of practical forest users. Since 2009 all basic operations target forest restoration are determined by regional Forest Plans of Primorye and Khabarovsk regions, as well as forest reglaments – basic inventory and strategic documents of municipal forest service offices, named lesnichestva. Both documents are adopted by governors and accorded with State Forest Service. But, these documents are huge and too complex for public scrutiny, they were created very fast in 2008 by compilation of different sources and databases, from old and inappropriate forest inventory to some economic dreams. Therefore, there are many contradicting announcements and visions inside them: declaring verbally conservation and sustainable complex use strategy, documents designate intensely increasing logging operations, including so called “maintenance’.
INCENTIVES AND CAPACITY FOR RESTORATION
Now, as soon as leaser became fully responsible for restoration legally, he should select – either to keep company live and survive by ignorance to any efforts on restoration, or to be honest and attentive to the valuable forests as climate regulator and biodiversity storage, but to run bankruptcy and give forest lease up to more barbarian colleagues. Those who have capacity and will to make restoration efficient, have no interest and incentive, besides still quite rare cases when companies plan to run FSC certification to enter new environmentally sensitive markets of EU and USA. Green purchasing policies, being developed under FLEG initiative since 2006 in Japan, EU and now in USA in framework of updated Lacey Act, together with rapid growing of COC (Chain for Custody) certification in the rest of Russia, still is a very exotic case for timber suppliers from RFE – the region with total resource concerned corruption and very low level of stakeholders’ activity. As IUCN based ENPI-FLEG project demonstrated recently, local companies prefer to keep status quo, supplying raw logs or primitive boards to Chinese middlemen and deep processing facilities. Finally, green purchasing policy in the global furniture, pulp and paper trade becomes less significant than low prices for the final wood products from China with foggy and suspicious source of raw timber. Even few FSC certified companies on the RFE, affiliated to bigger regional and international holdings like Dallesprom-EurAs or Terneyles-Sumitomo, can not warrantee and demonstrate clearly honest and environmentally responsible origin of all their timber. And regular capitalistic greed is not the only reason for that: another one is growing level of corruptive payments to all the vertical of power in Russia.
FOREST PEOPLE AND TRADITIONAL CULTURE
Forest people, which spiritually have incentives for that, have no capacity and opportunity for conservation and protection, since they are hardly enforced to take care of their livelihoods by themselves – they can rely on zero support from any municipal or governmental agency for that. There is also no hope for different communities, separated from each other by hundreds kilometres of dirty roads, to unite and collaborate – this is a key result in Russia of so called “perestroika”, which was really capitalistic revolution of a gangsters’ type. Former Soviet and Communist leaders, which were anyhow obliged by the Party to take care of territorial social and economic development, since 1990 immediately turned they ideology to self enrichment, and under Putin’s governance to now this new “culture” and lifestyle became totally dominating. This became a perfect ground for corruption in all the models of community based forest use – either for firewood, for private construction needs or for small business. You may easy get all you need in the forest, from documents and rights to lease and access to reserved area, if you share your profit with appropriate officials. And you are determined as illegal logger immediately if you refuse to share – your illegal timber will be anyhow confiscated in favour of the same officials, and your destiny may be quite doubtful on the border of court case – jail, or penalty, or full freedom. All is dependent on the price which you pay to determined officials.
We have one perfect illustration of such paradox kind of local forest economy. One brave local hunter in remote poor village on the middle Sikhote-Alin in 1990-s created good organized professional logging brigade and applied to local forest service office to get forest lease. But they suggested him to share future profits by shady mode to feed governor’s vertical of power. As soon as this guy rudely refused, he lost a chance for legal logging and began to log illegally. And he succeeded to defend his illegal business from local inspectors and militia, demonstrating his investments into infrastructure of his poor village, completely forgotten by municipal officials. He upgraded diesel power station, roads and bridges around, repaired library and school, cleaned up the whole village, opened public shop and bakery there. Inspectors usually understood that he is more right than those who get legal logging permits and get timber profits out of this area, or enrich themselves. Thus he remained legalized illegal logger, demonstrating craziness of regular practice. Now his brigade entered big timber company and is working outside of his village, which is getting back more and more poverty without his support. Primorye and municipal officials located Chinese sawmill there, which is fed with timber from surrounding forests, where loggers from outside make profits for outside capitalists. The nowadays destiny of this community is sorrow – alcohol, drugs and total unemployment, as everywhere in Russia outside of big cities.
PRICE FOR SUSTAINABILITY
As we can see, although paradox and crazy, existing corruptive system is extremely sustainable and thus should be considered as the most perfect one in the forest management practice. One may like it or hate, participate or fight, but each player of timber business area clearly understand how strong it is. And a key essence of the system is deeply cultural approach: people in the forest never trust thievish managers. And people always understand that there is enough forest around for any local use, and that officials will always present privilege for that to outside users, including Chinese sawmill workers, which are closer to and more dependent on the upper level officials. That’s why, by my perception, there is absolutely no sense to fight corruption: we should learn from it’s system and try to organize legal management by the same model, simultaneously conducting our educational and enlightening activities amongst criminal management, logging and market community. With this approach we should keep in mind that in corrupted country anything legal means done in favour of gangsters. And, vice versa, anything illegal MAY and often happens in favour of local community, and MAY be turned in favour of the forest environment. Local people, working for themselves, not for Moscow or Vladivostok based mafia, more often are sensitive to environmental needs as their families’ future, than official loggers, giving most of their profits up to corrupted vertical.
SOLUTIONS AND EFFORTS
The only opportunity to change this situation at least locally at the South Far East and entire Russia is to make situation broadly known by strengthening local NGOs and communities, supporting their efforts on public monitoring of forest use practices, forest certification and media campaigning on the issue. The key point in this process is getting equal trust amongst forest community members, which are traditionally afraid of being publicly identified as illegal loggers-users-traders and accused anyhow. This is very delicate and long process, target to insert into public consciousness real understanding that you, journalist of NGO activist, are not their enemy, but first ally, trying to help adapt to complex situation and overcome real enemies and opponents of community and forest, which are located in official agencies, including law enforcement ones. This approach will help slowly overcome very deep traditional slavery and fear in Russian spirit and begin feel more personal responsibility for what person is doing in the forest. This will also help reduce regular hatred of poor community members to official thieves and softly forgive them as weak people, located into hard position without any choice.
This also becomes hard in contemporary totalitarian Russia, where NGOs meet problems in attracting foreign support and in criticizing destructive state forest policy. So, it is once more a very hot agenda for global environmental community if it needs to keep the rest of vast Siberian forests live and rich of biodiversity. It is significant, that in 1990-th there was quite active and fruitful set of local NGO groups, conducted public control and monitoring of logging activities and presented all the violations to the regional and municipal media. Since then we lost most of them as well as the most municipal papers lost opportunity to publish any critics on local authorities and significant businessmen. We lost “Taiga Ranger” in Komsomolsk, group “Taiga” in Krasnoarmeiski municipality, “Eco-patrol” in Vladivostok, “Noosphere” in Shkotovski municipality, groups of public rangers in Pozharski, Chuguevski, Dalnerechenski municipalities. Their activists are still there, but they have almost zero chance to get financial support from anywhere, and thus are losing hope and incentives to do anything against corruptive system of forestry. So, if we dream to conduct any form of the forest restoration and protection, we first have to think about restoration of our public civic energy and environmental consciousness.
Non-government organization BROC, 63 Pologaya street, Vladivostok, 690600 Russia,
email: email@example.com, http://ngo-broc.org