Russia, Tigers and the Urgency of Responsible Wood SourcingIn October, I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the effects of illegal and unsustainable logging as I visited forests throughout the Russian Far East, one of the world’s remaining forest frontiers—home to fewer than 500 remaining Amur tigers and a global hotspot for illegal logging. I accompanied forestry experts from the Amur Branch of WWF Russia to wildlife refuges and protected forests, which were being stripped of their last mature Mongolian oak, ash and Korean pine trees by illegal loggers.
Under broad daylight—in the Tayozhny Wildlife Refuge-—we witnessed illegal loggers extracting large diameter Mongolian oak and ash. Unfortunately, high levels of corruption within the regional forest authorities allow the actions of those who can legitimately be described as timber “mafia” to proceed unchecked.
At the Amur River Protected Forest, we visited a logging site where more than six times the permitted volume of Korean pine had been removed. The threats to Korean pine are so severe that the tree has now been listed on CITES Appendix III, and in November 2010, the Russian government added Korean pine to its list of trees that are banned from logging.
Last year, it was estimated that as much as three quarters of all oak, ash and Korean pine from the Russian Far East was harvested illegally. These species are often harvested without a permit, in strict, “no-harvest” areas or others’ concessions. When permits do exist, it is common for harvesting to extend outside of delineated areas, to exceed the allowable volume to be cut or to underreport the amount extracted. In many instances, companies receive a permit for “intermediate logging”, which is intended to improve forest stands by removing uncompetitive, poorly-formed trees, but instead practice “high-grading”—taking the best, oldest trees. Oak and pine provide key food for tigers’ prey, which include deer and boar. No prey, no tigers.
According to Dr. Yuri Darman, Head of WWF-Russia’s Amur office, at current rates of logging, much of the mature oak and ash present in these temperate forests could be gone in as little as two years, jeopardizing not only the health of these forests but the endangered species like the Amur tiger that depend on them for survival. Faced with these imminent threats and little hope in political will and governance stepping in on time to solve this immense problem, Darman shares that the region’s only immediate hope lies in companies committed to responsible sourcing who demand legality, traceability and FSC-certified products.
Part of the Solution
Now sitting more than 8,000 miles away, I am keenly conscious of the problem of illegal logging in the Russian Far East, which can seem distant and insurmountable. But for any company sourcing products from China made with oak, ash or pine, this is a challenge that cannot be ignored.
In the 1990s, China enacted a logging ban in most of its natural forests, so most natural forest species such as oak and ash used in Chinese-manufactured products must be imported. Russia is the primary exporter of roundwood to the Chinese industry, providing more than 50 per cent of the annual supply. These Russian log imports are particularly desirable to manufacturers in northeast China’s Heilongjiang province, where furniture and flooring is the dominant industry. With such high levels of demand across the border, illegal logs can often find a willing buyer that is ready to manufacture it into a product that ultimately reaches an unwitting end consumer.
However, you can be part of the solution. By preferably demanding independent legality verification and, better yet, FSC chain-of-custody certification, you can mitigate the potential legal and reputational risks inherent in sourcing wood from this part of the world. Especially for oak, ash and pine, if suppliers cannot or will not provide you with traceability documentation that includes country and region of origin, this presents an extremely high risk to your company in light of the Lacey Act. GFTN Managers and WWF staff in the region can provide guidance on risk mitigation measures, including alternative sources available. Similarly, by shortening the supply chain between the Russian Far East, China and your company, you can improve the potential for establishing traceability through an intact chain of custody.
With a complex and continually evolving landscape governing trade in timber and timber products, it is more important than ever before to have clear visibility into your supply chains and establish systems to track the timber used in your products from the forest floor to your door. Avail yourself of resources such as the country guides in GFTN’s Guide to Legal and Responsible Sourcing and the expertise available on the ground from GFTN and WWF forestry staff across the globe, and together, we can make a lasting change and help protect some of the world’s richest and most vulnerable forests.
For more information, contact:
Linda Kramme (firstname.lastname@example.org)