Illegal logging destroying Russian forests

22 Apr 2013

Siberian tigers

Illegal logging in the Russian Far East, thumb seek some of which could be imported into the EU via China in various forms of packaging, treat is pushing forests and species in the region to the brink of destruction, a report by WWF has found.

Large-scale illegal logging, mainly to supply Chinese industry, is endangering the long-term survival of species such as the endangered Amur tiger and Himalayan bear and effecting indigenous communities in the Ussuri Taiga region.

Russia?s forest sector has become deeply criminalized with poor law enforcement allowing illegal loggers to plunder valuable timber stocks of oak, ash, elm and linden. Analysis of export data show that from 2004?2011 between two and four times more oak timber was logged for export to China than was legally permitted.

The illegal timber then finds its way into the United States, European and Japanese markets. The UK is the largest European trader in timber and wood products from China.

?The scope and scale of illegal logging in the Ussuri Taiga is imperiling the long-term survival of the Amur tiger and the livelihoods of thousands of forest villagers and indigenous peoples,? said WWF-Russia forest policy projects coordinator Nikolay Shmatkov. ?With minimal resources in place to detect and prosecute illegal logging throughout the region, the sheer scale of violations has reached epidemic proportions.?

The report, Illegal Logging in the Russian Far East: Global Demand and Taiga Destruction, found that in 2010, the volume of Mongolian oak logged for export was twice the amount legally authorized for harvest from the region–meaning that at least half of the oak shipped across the border to China was stolen. But in 2007 and 2008 the oak harvest was four times as large.

Cases of illegal logging leading to a conviction remain low. In 2011, only 16 percent of the 691 registered cases in Primorsky Province were brought to trial ? the lowest figure in the past 10 years.

New EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), introduced last month, is intended to make companies accountable for the timber and wood products they buy and use. But WWF?s own research shows that just 47 of the 150 subheadings of timber-based products are within the scope of the EUTR. Therefore, EU companies must be sure of the forest origin, legality and traceability of their wood, paper and carton products.

?There is a significant risk that EU companies and consumers could be purchasing products made with wood from illegal sources that is unwittingly contributing to the trade,? said Beatrix Richards, forest campaigner at WWF-UK. ?It?s critical for companies to ensure that they are sourcing wood products from legal and responsible sources, or they risk losing their customers? trust while contributing to the destruction of natural habitats.?

While WWF is working in Russia to suggest measures the government can take to end illegal logging from the supply side, importing nations must take action as well. The European Union and other countries with timber legality legislation such as EUTR must ensure that those laws are adequately enforced.

Illegal logging destroys vital habitat for Amur tigers and their prey. Scientists estimate around 450 Amur tigers remain in the wild. Over harvesting limits the supply of pine nuts and acorns?a main food source for their prey. As timber supplies dwindle, ecologically sensitive forests like wildlife reserves are increasingly threatened.

The report urges importers of Chinese or Russian hardwood furniture and flooring to confirm the species and country of wood origin, as Russian species can be mislabeled as originating from other countries. For products made with Russian oak, ash, elm, or linden, companies should exclusively purchase Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified products. If FSC-certified products are not available, companies should establish rigorous legality and traceability confirmation systems. If neither approach is possible, buyers should avoid any products made from Russian Far East hardwoods due to the high risks of illegality.

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