- The Russian Far East is home to the Siberian tiger, which is endangered due to habitat loss and poaching.
- A major logging company, local conservation officials, and international NGO announced plans to dismantle logging roads in Terney County in Primorsky Krai.
- Proponents say the move will help reduce poaching of the area’s Siberian tigers.
A win for Siberian tigers came last week as a major logging company, together with local authorities and an international conservation NGO, announced plans to dismantle unused logging roads in part of the Russian Far East. They hope this move will make it harder for poachers to access one of the last refuges of the world’s largest cat.
Fewer than 400 adult and subadult Siberian tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) are thought to exist in the wild, many in Russia’s eastern province of Primorsky Krai – informally known as Primorye. While this number represents a significant recovery from the 1930s when the subspecies hit a low of around 20 or 30 animals, threats to the tigers remain high, leaving them with an IUCN status of Endangered. Logging has quickly become one of the biggest pressures on the population, with timber companies targeting economically valuable Korean pine and other tree species that form vital tiger habitat.
Primorye is one of the most biologically-rich temperate forest zones in the world, and it contains 30 percent of Russia’s endangered species. The province supports vital Siberian tiger habitat, with a 2011 study listing it as a X2 Tiger Conservation Landscape, which means that the number of its tigers could double with proper management. But logging has taken a toll on the province, with Global Forest Watch data showing it lost nearly 9 percent of its tree cover from 2001 through 2013. Protected areas were not immune, losing 73,800 hectares during that period. Intact Forest Landscapes – areas of undisturbed primary forest large enough to retain their original biodiversity levels – have lost 110,000 hectares of tree cover since 2000.
Logging roads also open up areas to poachers, who drive the roads with high-powered rifles looking for tigers, as well as other species like red deer and wild boar.
Terney County, which occupies much of Primorye, has seen a huge increase in logging roads in the past few decades. According to analysis of satellite imagery by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the estimated 141 miles (228 kilometers) of roads in Terney in 1984 grew to 3,900 miles (6,278 kilometers) by 2014. Not all of these roads are still used today, but even the abandoned ones provide forest access to poachers and others.
However, the tide may be changing for Terney’s tigers. Terney County Forest Service, WCS, and TerneyLes, the largest logging company in the region, have all agreed to dismantle abandoned logging roads in the county. The project is slated to start later this summer, and the roads will be made impassible through the digging of trenches, bulldozing, and bridge removal.
“We at TerneyLes recognize the value of Primorye’s forests as a reservoir of biological diversity, and we take our responsibility to help manage these resources seriously,” said Aleksandr Levchenko, Head of the Department of Forest Management for TerneyLes.”Closing roads is just one of many things we do to help protect these resources while providing sustainable employment to the citizens of Terney County.”
The project will also involve monitoring, and WCS and the Provincial Wildlife Department will keep an eye on the closed roads to ensure poachers don’t try to force access around the roadblocks.
“This development is a tremendously important step towards reducing vulnerability of tigers and the unique wildlife and natural places in the southern Russian Far East outside of protected areas, and we applaud TerneyLes for their efforts,” said Jonathan Slaght of WCS’s Russia Program.
Greenpeace, University of Maryland, World Resources Institute and Transparent World. 2014. Intact Forest Landscapes: update and reduction in extent from 2000-2013. Accessed through Global Forest Watch on July 29, 2015. www.globalforestwatch.org
Hansen, M. C., P. V. Potapov, R. Moore, M. Hancher, S. A. Turubanova, A. Tyukavina, D. Thau, S. V. Stehman, S. J. Goetz, T. R. Loveland, A. Kommareddy, A. Egorov, L. Chini, C. O. Justice, and J. R. G. Townshend. 2013. “Hansen/UMD/Google/USGS/NASA Tree Cover Loss and Gain Area.” University of Maryland, Google, USGS, and NASA. Accessed through Global Forest Watch on July 29, 2015. www.globalforestwatch.org.
IUCN and UNEP-WCMC, The World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) [On-line], accessed on [insert month/year], Cambridge, UK: UNEP-WCMC. Available at:www.protectedplanet.net.
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Top photo: An Amur tiger walks along a forest road in Primorye, Russia. Photograph © WCS Russia and Institute of Biology and Soil Science, FEBRAS.