The forests of the Russian Far East are some of the most diverse in the temperate zone, providing a habitat for a wide range of species, including one of the world’s most magnificent predators – the Amur tiger (also known as the Siberian tiger). Sadly, this biodiversity hotspot is threatened: illegal logging is rampant and legal logging destructive, while logging roads allow poachers’ access to the forests.
FSC certification is, however, offering hope for the protection of large areas of this beautiful area, and ensuring responsible management of extensive production forests in the region.
What is the threat?
Despite their vast scale, these forests are under threat and scientists estimate there are only around 450 Amur tigers left in the wild.
WWF Russia report that illegal logging has reached “epidemic proportions” in the Ussuri Taiga (temperate boreal forest) and that Russia’s timber industry has become deeply criminalised. Illegal loggers cut the healthiest trees, diminishing the food supply for the tigers’ prey species. Riparian forests (forested areas of land adjacent to a body of water) that tigers use as dispersal corridors are targeted for timber theft; and logging roads increase poaching access, leading to sharp population declines of both tigers and their prey.
A lack of law enforcement has enabled illegal loggers to plunder valuable stocks of oak, ash, elm and linden. From 2004–2011, between two and four times more oak timber was cut down and exported to China than legally permitted.
The products made from this illegal wood end up in global markets. The UK is the largest trader in timber and wood products from China.
Authorised timber harvesting by forest leaseholders is not always better. Large-scale industrial exploitation is fed by the continuous expansion into previously untouched old-growth forests. Protection of key habitats for native species is practically non-existent.
FSC certified companies maintain tiger habitats
Forestry on the FSC model is providing an alternative to illegal logging and uncontrolled exploitation.
Certified timber leases now cover 3,773,000 hectares in the Primorye and Khabarovsk Provinces, and the region’s largest leaseholder hopes to achieve certification for another 6.5 million hectares.
In this biodiversity hotspot, the delineation of High Conservation Value Forests or HCVFs (forests with high conservation values) is a key benefit of FSC certification. Nongovernmental organisations such as WWF Russia and Transparent World have used remote sensing and field verification to delineate large, roadless blocks of natural forests and help FSC certified companies develop management strategies.
Certified companies have agreed to permanently exclude 125,728 hectares from logging and road building, and to adapt logging practices protecting key habitat areas in a further 92,314 hectares.
Look for the FSC logo
FSC certification has brought great advancements for conserving biodiversity in the forests of the Russian Far East.
Denis Smirnov, Head of Forest Program, Amur Branch of WWF Russia: FSC certification has given us the leverage to convince forest leaseholders to forego logging in more than 100,000 hectares of old-growth forests. These massifs provide habitat for the full range of native species in our region, including the Amur tiger. There is still much work to be done, but this is already major progress for biodiversity conservation in the Russian Far East.
Knowing where your wood comes from is more important than ever.
Look for the FSC logo to ensure that your purchases are not contributing to destruction of Amur tiger forests.