Public outcry fells Russia auction for logging rights in key tiger habitats

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Public outcry derailed an auction scheduled to be held earlier this week by the forestry administration of Primorsky Province in the Russian Far East that would have opened up critical Amur tiger habitats for logging.

The Forest Management Department said that its director Pyotr Diuk departed Tuesday on holiday, and the commission responsible for conducting the auction was a no-show.

The Forest Management Agency of Primorsky Province had announced earlier this month that it would conduct an auction on Oct. 26 for logging rights for 16 harvest sites in the Bikinsky and Pozharsky Korean Pine Nut Harvesting Zones, and the proposed Middle Ussuri wildlife refuge, by making them available for so-called intermediate harvesting.

The failed auction comes after WWF Russia held an emergency press conference on Oct. 20 demanding the exemption of protected forests in the Bikin River Basin of northern Primorsky Province from a timber auction authorized by the provincial Forest Management Department.

WWF experts and representative to the Legislative Assembly Aleksandr Ermolayev spoke out against the proposed auction. Their testimony then was sent to the Forest Management Department and Primorsky Province Ecological Prosecutor’s office for review.

Public reaction to the auction, in Russia and abroad, was universally negative, especially because Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has invited all heads of government from tiger range states to participate next month in the Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Putin said that a full public statement was pending an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the auction, according to WWF-Russia. Also, the Russian Federal Forest Agency sent a telegram to Primorskii Province’s governor with a request to investigate within 10 days the legality of the proposed logging of Korean pine stands.

Intermediate harvesting is a widely abused legal loophole which allows loggers to cut valuable Korean pine, oak and ash timber in protected forests. This practice greatly increases poaching access to remote tiger territories (through forest road building), destroys key breeding, feeding and overwintering habitat for tigers and their prey, and significantly reduces the supply of pine nuts and acorns on which tiger prey species survive.

The logging rights up for auction would have allowed loggers to cut down forests that protect salmon breeding grounds and are crucial habitats for Amur tigers.

The endangered Amur tiger, numbering fewer than 500 in the wild, is found primarily in southeastern Russia and northern China.

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