Russian Far East temperate forests

December 31, 2010

Russia has about 750 million ha of forest – over 20% of the world's total. Some 20% of the Russian forests occur in the Russian Far East (134 million ha, or 1% of the earth's land area) which on its own is about 100 times larger than the plantation forestry area in South Africa.

by Michal Brink, Forestry Solutions

Michal at a Russian logging operation
Michal (left) on a field visit to a Russian logging operation.
Natural birch in Russia A skidder in Russian forests
A natural birch stand. Skidder based on military technology.

 

The southern parts of this region comprise one of the largest regions where ancient coniferous and broad-leaf forests still exist. This region deserves unwavering attention due to its unbelievably rich biodiversity, and unique plants, animals and natural ecosystems. These vast landscapes represent one of the last opportunities to conserve relatively intact ecosystems large enough to allow ecological processes and wildlife populations to fluctuate naturally.

Around 70% of forest lands are covered with coniferous species, with larch the most commonly occurring species, followed by birch spp., fir and spruce. However, the most economically valuable habitat is where Korean pine (Pinus koraiensis) occurs, named 'cedar' in Russian. There are also mixed forests that are oak dominated. One of the most impressive sites I have encountered was a Quercus mongoliensis stand. These beautiful tree spp. are not as large as the oaks that we are used to, but growing naturally in a forest they offer an impressive display of natural beauty.

The animals
The region maintains a very large number of rare and endangered species, many of which do not occur elsewhere. Amur tigers and musk deer still roam freely in areas with relatively low human impacts. This region still harbours large areas of intact habitats where environmental processes, such as predator-prey relations, seasonal migrations, and large-scale natural flooding regimes occur without human interference. The Amur tiger is perhaps the most prominent symbol of conservation efforts in the Russian Far East. This cat is the largest remaining tiger spp. in the world and is a keystone species in the Russian Far East. It plays an important role in the ecosystem and also requires substantial areas of intact habitat. By protecting the tiger, a suite of other natural resources will be protected simultaneously. In the 1940s, there were fewer than 40 individual Amur tigers left in the wild. Today, nearly 90% of the world’s Amur tiger population lives in the Russian Far East, where there are approximately 500 individuals.

The trade in traditional Chinese medicines not only threatens the existence of the African rhino, but it also threatens the future of the Amur tiger, as the animal’s body parts fetch good prices. The demand for tiger pelts is growing with the emergence of a Chinese middle class and sell for over $5 000, and tiger bones sell for up to $2 600 per kg.

Forestry activities
Forest concessions, which are granted to successful bidders, need to be managed according to the Russian Forest Act, which has quite restrictive forestry practices. Forests are exposed to selective cutting and managed relatively sustainably, as long as concessionaires comply with the legal requirements. However, policing of these laws is not always effective, unless a concession is FSC certified. Tree-length harvesting systems mostly use old military-style extraction equipment, while the cut-to-length systems consist of the modern-day harvester/forwarder combination that is prevalent throughout the world. Logs and processed wood are commonly sold to Japan and China.

Published in December 2010

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