There are very few people in the vast Russia, which are aware that Siberia is a territory of many indigenous forest and tundra tribes, colonized by brave Slavic сossacks 3-4 centuries ago, just in time of American colonization by Europeans. Basically this Siberian colonization was far not that aggressive and bloody as in Americas, since Cossacks were runaway former peasant serfs and understood the cost of freedom. Nonetheless, as soon as indigenous tribes used to be turned to orthodox Christian church, recognized by emperor as fur taxpayers, and since emperor’s staff recognized unlimited volume of timber, coal and gold on Siberian lands, colonial behavior of emperor’s viceroys turned more aggressive.
Different emperors, including Stalin in 20 century, demonstrated more or less respectable policy regarding indigenous cultures, resources and religions in Siberia. But Russia never even tried to recognize traditional land and resource rights of indigenous tribes and communities on their territories – they always were centralized and owned by businesses, close to Russian emperor. New capitalist revolution of 1990-1993 did not change anything essentially for indigenous Siberians, besides tragic loss of Soviet attention to their cultures and traditional resource use, which were always supported by Communist party. Revolution of 1993 opened the free gate for new Russian and Chinese oligarchs to the key mineral resources of Siberia – oil-gas, gold and timber as a core economic groundof national budget and personal enrichment.
Intense extraction of those resources began to seriously grow particularly since Putin’s era of 2000-th, coinciding with step-by-step reduction and weakening of strong environmental legislation, created during 1990-s with an active help of global environmental community. The key legal point in the new mode of resource use since 2000 is that gold, oil and gas deposits lease right has a top priority over traditional fish, game, forest and tundra grazing lease rights, essential for indigenous communities. Underlying cause of such model of tenure is that gold and oil-gas as key budget feeders remain under federal property and management, while forest, fish and game are managed regionally. And federal interests in Russian empire are always a first priority and let such resource users to easy ignore any local interests, if there is a conflict between forest, fish and game use from one side and extraction of mineral deposits from another side.
As a result of existing resource hierarchy, gold or coal miners, getting their federal license, can easy take valuable and even protected forest plot off from logging company or from local community.They are doing that broadly everywhere in Siberia, causing destructive forest fires, contamination of clean salmon rivers and destroying traditional reindeer grazing areas. And logging monopolies, from their side, have a legal right to log intact forests, being the only source of traditional livelihood for indigenous tribes, dependent on fish, game and reindeer herding. The same happens with salmon on the Far East coastal rivers, primarily distributed officially between regional or national fishing monopolies, which local communities financially can not compete with in the bidding process.
Separate set of problems for the forest dependent Siberian communities came with the last Forest code of 2008, which, despite all extreme efforts of environmental community, saved wrong and dangerous paradigm of forestry, which consider forest not as ecosystem and essential environment for local communities, but as timber deposit for feeding federal budget. The more, during decades Russian government continued to successfully feed border concerned Chinese lumber industry with Siberian raw logs, constantly declaring inadmissibility of such national model of such extensive forest use. By our expert in BROC, such business desertifies vast Siberian taiga, brings nothing to budgets and local communities. It develops only Chinese lumber industry and enrich few Russian oligarchs. Recent Putin’s hard statement on the need to urgently stop export of raw logs in one year was accepted by environmental community as a brutal joke: president himself and his government tried to do it several times during last 20 years by different ways, and never got success. The only they succeeded was the loss of some external markets for our timber, which were immediately replaced by the equal timber species from other countries.
Nonetheless, our forest community and NGOs are ready to use this new presidential statement as much as possible to insert the most positive global experience of our colleagues in GFC to try change and improve our forestry legislation and regulations In favor of environment and local communities. With regards to forest concerned tourism in favor of local communities we shall continue our work in Expert group under Ministry of nature resources to mare tourism concerned regulations for protected forests more environmentally friendly and community focused.