Deforestation in Siberia and the Russian Far East

Kronoki Volcano on the coast of Kamchatka peninsula, Russian Far East (Knystautas, p.25).

Site Outline:
Background Information
Types of Deforestation
Links and References
Contact Information

Background Information:

Outline of Background Information:
General Information:
General Location
Actual Location
Types of Forest
Statement of Problem

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General Information:

General Location:
    Siberia and the Russian Far East are located east of an imaginary line drawn down from the Arctic Ocean past the east side of Perm, Yekaterinburg, and Chelyabinsk to the border with Kazakhstan (see map below for general location).  All of the lands east of this imaginary line fall under the umbrella of being Siberia or the Russian Far East.


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Actual Location:
    The map below shows the actual locations of Siberia and the Russian Far East.

The three divisions of the area are: Western Siberia Eastern Siberia    Russian Far East.

The area of Siberia and the Russian Far East is divided up into three different regions.  They are: Western Siberia, Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East.

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Types of Forest:
    The over-all type of forest cover is the boreal forest.  The boreal forest is also known as the taiga (Knystautas, p.91).  This forest type is classified as the most northern type of forest dominated by conifers (Bizioukin, Glossary).  The taiga stretches all the way from the west coast of Russia to the east coast (see map). 
                                                                                 The green is taiga and the black is broad-leaf forest (Knystautas, p. 32).

    The taiga contains one fifth of the trees and one quarter of all of the conifers in the world (Heeter, A-1; Shivdasani).  It is twice the size of the Amazon rainforest of Brazil (Centeno; Chatterjee).  It is composed mostly of different species of pine (Pinus), spruce (Picea), fir (Abies), and larch (Larix).  The taiga varies in its distribution of plant species from north to south.  In the northern reaches, the trees are not dense with the understory and ground cover resembling that of the tundra (mosses and lichens).  The middle reaches have dense trees with little or no understory and mosses for ground cover.  Lichens only appear in the ground cover in the pine forests.  The southern reaches of the taiga have dense trees with little ground cover [Note: No mention is made of the understory.] (Knystautas,  p. 35).  The taiga also divides east west.  The western part is called the nemoral forest where the steppe meets the taiga.  This forest consists of mainly broad leaf species and is a transition zone (Bizioukin, Glossary).  There is also a small broadleaf zone in Ussuriland, north of the Chinese border, near the coast of the Sea of japan (Knystautas,  p. 36; World Resources Institute [WRI]; Hays, 11).  These forests consist of hornbeam (Caripinus), lime (Tilia), and maple (Acer) along with many climbing plants and others in the understory (Knystautas,  p. 36).  One third of these plants are endemic to the Russian Far East (Knystautas,  p. 36).  The main eastern part is the taiga.  There is also altitudinal variations in the taiga.  The light taiga is located on the slopes of mountains in the low areas.  this type of taiga consists of pine and larch species (Bizioukin, Glossary and 2.1).  The dark taiga is above the light taiga on the mountain slopes (middle area) and consists of spruce, fir, and pine species (Bizioukin, Glossary and 2.1).

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Statement of Problem:
    Forests in Siberia and the Russian Far East are experiencing few sustainable forestry management practices.

Picture of a logged hillside, Murmansk Region, Russian Far East.  (

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Types of Deforestation:

Outline of Types of Deforestation:
Forest Fires

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    One type of deforestation is logging.  This is the greatest threat to the taiga (Hays, 2).  Logging in itself is not a problem, but rather how it is being accomplished.  There are many unsustainable activities taking place.  They are:
                                                                                               A. Forest Management Options
                                                                                               B. Inefficient and Costly Operations
                                                                                                C. Centralized Power

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A. Forest Management Options:
    There are many different ways to manage a forest, however, some are more sustainable than others.  Management practices happening in Siberia and the Russian Far East lean toward the unsustainable methods.  Old growth forests are being cut down (Bizioukin,, 6.1; MacArthur Foundation).  These forests provide biodiversity, animal habitat, tourism, and ecosystem protection (Bizioukin,, 6.1; MacArthur Foundation).  The largest DBH (diameter at breast height) trees are being selected and the smaller trees left (Bizioukin,, 6.1).  This may or may not be sustainable, depending on how, where, and why the largest trees are cut.  The equipment being used is geared more towards clear cut/large tree harvesting than for selection harvesting and thinnings (Bizioukin, et. al., 3.3)  There is also low tending rates for both the regeneration and thinning periods after a cut (Bizioukin, et. al., 4.5)  If selection harvests are used and tending rates improved, it is a step towards sustainable forestry (Bizioukin, et. al., 3.3, 4.5, and 6.2).   The best/highest value trees are also selected, such as cedar, Korean pine, elm, and ash (Centeno; Shivdasani; Chatterjee).  A small piece of ash can "fetch up to $800..., says Vladimir Stein, director of the Primorsky regional government's Department of International Economic Relations in Vladivostok (Centeno)."  [Note: The article does not say how big or quality of the small piece of ash, so the monetary value is mentioned here to give the reader a sense of the value of the wood being discussed.]  This cutting of the most valuable timber leads to high grading.

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B. Inefficient and Costly Operations:
    Current logging practices are inefficient due to a number of reasons.  The first is the equipment used for harvesting.  The equipment is outdated and not suited for intermediate cuts (Bizioukin, et. al., 3.3; Newell, p.15).  However, there is concern over introducing new logging equipment because it may induce harvesting of trees on steep slopes that have previously been untouched due to the lack of appropriate equipment (WRI; Pacific Environment and Resources Center and Friends of the Earth-Japan [PERC and FoE-J]).  Once the trees are cut, there is waste of timber at every step along the way to the final product or market.  In some instances, after a clear cut, only the best logs are taken, leaving the rest or too many trees were originally cut and the ones that do not fit on the trucks for transportation are left behind (Shivdasani; Newell, p. 15; Biziokin, et. al., 6.1).  If the timber goes on to a mill, the mill equipment is also outdated and there ae very few processes to recycle the mill waste into other goods (Bizioukin, et. al., 6.1; Newell, p. 15; WRI).  Another inefficiency is exporting raw logs instead of value-added timber (Bizioukin, et. al., 6.1; Strieker; WRI; PERC and FoE-J; Newell, p. 6).
    The cost of operations tends to be on the high side because of the lack of infrastructure.  This means that the hauling costs eat up what would otherwise be a profit (WRI; Bizioukin, et. al., 6.1; Newell, pp. 6 and 10).  This lack of roads also means that there are large tracts of forest that have not been harvested because there is no access to them as compared to the areas with access, that have been heavily logged.  If the inaccessible areas were to have roads constructed, this would open them up for logging (WRI; Bizioukin, et. al., 3.3; Newell, pp. 6 and 10).

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C. Centralized Power:
    Centralized power has also had an impact on deforestation.  The former centralized economy has many policies concerning all aspects of logging.  These policies are hard to implement due to the number of them and how people view them.  Policies concerning management [Note: Assuming all levels of management literature reviewed is unclear as to what specific management policies are being referred too.] seem to be under special scruitiny as to their ineffectiveness (WRI; Bizioukin, et. al., Foreword and 6.1).  It needs to be understood that management plans and policies, in general, need to be updated to reflect and fit with the current economic situation and more policies need to be made at the local level rather than the federal level (WRI; Bizioukin, et. al., Foreword, 6.1, and 6.2).  Another issue that has arisen since the break up of the centralized economy is land tenure.  The question of who owns the land reflects on how it is managed.  As seen in the case of the Udegei and Nanai fighting logging companies for land and land use rights (Heeter, A.2; Chatterjee).  Clear titles to tenure will improve management and in the case of native peoples, sustain their traditions and livelihoods (Bizioukin, et. al., 6.2; Hays, VI.25 and VI.27; Heeter, A.2, D.12, E.22, VI.25, and VI.26).

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    Pollution of the air, water, and soil all affect flora, as well as fauna.  Air pollution from nickel smelters in Norilsk have put out enough sulfur into the air that the flora around the city has died (Rabi, 2).  Another aspect of pollution causing deforestation has already been touched on through a different aspect -mills.  The Paper-and Pulp Mill in Baikalsk -on Lake Baikal's shoreline- has an indirect surrounding parks and reserves.  The mill pollutes the lake.  The animals in the lake and outlet cannot survive, like the nerpa seals (Van Allen; Dead Seals...).  If the animals are not there for tourists to see, they will not come, so the money that they generate for the local parks and reserves is not there.  This leads to not enough protection from outside sources (Dead Seals...).  However, tourism also has its own form of pollution (Van Allen).  There are also other types of factories in the area which lead to air pollution and acid rain (Van Allen).  The air pollution around Baikalsk is one of the worst cases in Russia (Van Allen).  If the mill is closed, there will be high rates of unemployment, but if it is kept open, it will continue polluting which will continue deforestation (Van Allen).  Along with the other types of factories polluting the environment, are nuclear reactors.  For example: the Siberian Chemical Combine in Seversk exploded in 1993 releasing different types of radiation into the environment.  This coupled with various other types of accidents and leaks have lead to extremely high contamination levels in the region (Goulet).  Radiation contamination in living organisms affects the genes, so future generations may very well show effects of contamination (Goulet).  Along with this is the long lifetime of the radioactive waste.  This all means that it may well be centuries before the affects of the radiation are gone (Goulet).  As local animals show radiation levels in them, it also can be inferred that the forests may have radiation levels, too.  The question of timber handling safety then becomes an issue [Note: Goulet does not mention what the affects of handling may be.] (Goulet).  The sources used do not mention how this contamination would have on the forests and logging if these forests, but one would think that radiation would bring about large numbers of health issues in the trees, as it does with people and animals, reducing their value and possibly levels of forested land cover.  On the other hand, if the trees and resulting products are not safe to handle, then that would stop the deforestation, because there would not be a market for the timber due to health reasons (Author's theories).  Overall, pollution leads to unhealthy forests and deforestation, either directly or indirectly (Van Allen; Goulet; Rabi; WRI).

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Forest Fires:
    Forest fires are another form of deforestation and affect both Siberia and the Russian Far East (Bizioukin, et. al., 2.3; Russian Forest Fires...; Centeno).  Forest fires occur naturally about every 100 years in the taiga (Pregitzer).  They are destructive, but when fires occur naturally, they are part of the successional stage of the forest (Bizioukin, et. al., 2.3).  90% of the current fires do not occur naturally; they are caused by man (Bizioukin, 2.3).  There are two types of forest fires.  Small ground fires which burn off the bottom understories and cause small scale cycle development versus high fires which burn everything and cause large scale cycle developments (Bizioukin, et. al., 2.3).  With high fires, the type of forest will change from conifers to broadleaves (Bizioukin, et. al., 2.3).  Small ground fires can have the same results as thinnings, but if they happen too frequently, they may result in the loss od the humus layer which leads to soil erosion and or site infertility (Bizioukin, et. al., 2.3).  Regeneration on burnt areas also happens at a slower rate than cut areas (Bizioukin, et. al., 2.3).  In the Russian Far East, forest fires happen very summer and are caused by both humans and nature (Centeno).  Some of these fires have been called global disasters (Centeno).  The number os fires occuring is also on the rise: 839 in 1999 versus 157 in 1998 during the same time frame (Russian Forest Fires...).  These forest fires are difficult to control due to lack of equipment, roads/towns, money, and training (Russian Forest Fires...; Centeno; Goldammer).

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    There are even more reasons for deforestation, such as: mining, oil/gas activities, and lack of capital which leads to trees being treated as a quick cash crop, equipment not being up-grades, and processes and policies not being improved, among others (Sheilds; Linden; Hays; Van Allen; Bizioukin, et. al., 6.2).  All of these ways of deforestation are tied together.
    I am a Peace Corps Masters International student at Michigan Technological University and all of my classes have discussed how everything is interrelated and how we, as Peace Corps Volunteers cannot change everything.  Nothing has made this concept more clearer to me than the assignment of creating this web page.  I believed the deforestation of Siberia and the Russian Far East to be simple, but it has turned out to be far more complex than I could have ever imagined.
    On this page, I have tried to introduce what I see as some of the main problems of deforestation and some of the pros and cons selected solutions.  I have oversimplified much of the information by not going into all of the reasons and connections behind all of the issues.  There are many more things that can be said about this topic, but my page is long enough... for now.

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Links and References:

Bizioukin, V.I., N.J. Bech, V.V. Bizioukin, and P. Veijola.  Sustainable Forestry in the Baikal Basin.  TACIS Report.  April, 1999.

Centeno, Julio Cesar.  "Arden Los Bosques En Siberia".  October 23, 1998.

Chatterjee, Pratap.  "East Asian Companie Log Siberia - draft article".  August 28, 1994.

Goldammer, Johann G.  "GFMC concerned about abolishment of the Federal Forest Service of Russia".  June 6, 2000.

Goulet, Michael.  "Siberia Nuclear Waste".  Case Number: 393.  TED Case Study.  December, 1996.

Hays, Forbes W.  "Taiga Forest and Weyerhaeuser".  Case Number: 67.  TED Case Study.  January, 1993.

Heeter, Lisel.  "Siberia Logging Controversy".  Case Number: 63.  TED Case Study.  January, 1993.

Knystautas, Algirdas.  The Natural History of the USSR.  McGraw-Hill Book Company:New York.  1987.   219 pages.

Linden, Eugene.  "The Tortured Land".  TIME Magazine.  September 4, 1995 Volume 146, No. 10.

MacArthur Foundation.  "Demonstrating Sustainable Forestry in Russia".

Newell, Josh and Anatoly Lebedev.  Plundering Russia's Far Eastern Taiga.  Friends of the Earth-Japan, Bureau for Regional Oriental Campaigns, and Pacific
     Environment and Resources Center.  2000.

Pacific Environment and Resources Center and Friends of the Earth-Japan.  Press Releases >From Summit Highlight Russian Enviro Issues.  June, 1997.

Pregitzer, Kurt S.  FW2010:Vegetation of North America.  Lecture: November 7, 2000.

Rabi, Marcela.  "Russian Air Pollution".  Case Number: 386.  TED Case Study.  Fall, 1996.

Shields, Sarah.  "Khanty Mansi Oil Development".  Case Number: 499.  TED Case Study.  June, 1998.

Shivdasani, Sacha.  "Corruption and illegal logging in Russian forests threaten the sustainability of 25 percent of the world's forests".  Earth Times News Service.

Strieker, Gary.  "Thieves plunder 'protected' forests in Russia".  November 3, 2000.

Van Allen, Amy.  "Baikal Wood Pulp and Pollution".  Case Number: 232.  TED Case Study.  January, 1996.

World Resource Institute.  "Box 9.1 Are Russia's Forests Threatened?"  1996.

_____.  "Dead Seals Wash Up on Lake Baikal Shores".  Environment News Services.  June 8, 1999.

_____.  "Russian Forest Fires Raging Out of Control".  Environment News Services.  August 4, 1999.

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Contact Information:

K. Filius
School of Forest Resources & Environmental Science
Michigan Technological University
1400 Townsend Drive
Houghton, Michigan 49931

Back to Kara's Peace Corps Kazakhstan Web Page.

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