A logging company, working with local authorities and WCS, has agreed to begin dismantling abandoned logging roads currently being used by poachers to access prime Amur (Siberian) tiger habitat in the Russian Far East.
The agreement was made by the Terney County Forest Service, WCS, and the largest logging company in the region, TerneyLes. The roads will be made impassable through a combination of bridge removals, trenches, and bulldozing bottlenecks such as where a road runs between a river and cliff.
The roads crisscross Terney County in the Russian Province of Primorye, a coastal region that borders China, North Korea, and the Sea of Japan. Primorye -- only one percent of Russa's total area -- is one of the most biologically-rich temperate forest zones in the world, and 30 percent of all endangered species in Russia (including Amur tigers) are concentrated there. In fact, Primorye contains some of the best Amur tiger habitat in the world, with dense forests of oak and pine teeming with deer, boar, and other tiger prey species.
Tigers often use such roads as travel corridors and therefore are easy victims to poachers who drive the same roads in vehicles armed with spotlights and high-powered rifles. And tigers are not the only victims: ungulates such as red deer and wild boar (key prey species for tigers) are common targets, and northeast Asian endemic species like Blakiston's fish owl, mandarin ducks, and a vast array of fish also suffer from the impacts of these roads. Additionally, the increased traffic brings more human-caused fires.
Except for in protected areas, the region has been targeted by logging companies over the last thirty years. Subsequently, logging roads have grown exponentially. According to a recent WCS satellite analysis of the region, in 1984 there were an estimated 141 miles (228 km) of roads in Terney County (home of Sikhote-Alin Reserve), and in 2014 this had ballooned to an estimated 3,900 miles (6,278 km) of roads, nearly all of them built to facilitate logging.
While selective logging can actually be good for tigers by opening up the understory and promoting vegetative growth that attracts ungulates and thus tigers, the network of roads left behind after loggers leave has serious impacts on wildlife and biodiversity preservation.
The process of dismantling the first roads will begin later this summer.
Aleksandr Levchenko, Head of the Department of Forest Management for TerneyLes, said, "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. 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."
WCS and the Provincial Wildlife Department will monitor the closed roads to make sure that poachers do not detour around them.
"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.
This important work was funded by International Programs of the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Agriculture; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Rhinoceros & Tiger Conservation Fund; Keidanren Nature Conservation Fund; and The Baobab Fund.