Northern Eurasia Earth Science Partnership Initiative

Environmental News From Northern Eurasia

The information provided on this page is for the general interest of NEESPI participants. These items have been selected from various Russian, US and other news sources. Anyone who would like to contribute such news, which would be of broad interest, may submit them to

[The News Archive Page]

Thaw Will Speed Change, August 11, 2005
Siberia Three Degrees Warmer Than 45 Years Ago, July 14, 2005
Russian, Chinese Scientists to do Joint Research of Lake Baikal, July 16, 2005
Russian, Chinese Regions Agree To Protect Hanka Lake, July 14, 2005
2005 Fires Destroy Vast Areas of Forest in Eastern Russia, July 5, 2005
Rosleskhoz Worried Over Scope of Illegal Lumbering, June 29, 2005
Parched For Water: Dangerous Shortage Facing Resource-Rich Central Asia, June 3, 2005
Russia Annually Suffers $180 Million Damage from Illegal Tree Felling, June 03, 2005
Fiddling While Siberia Burns; Russia's Pristine Forests Are The Lungs Of Europe, May 31, 2005
Researcher Caught in FSB Probe, March 18, 2005
World Bank Supports Modernization of the Russian Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring, March 18, 2005
Reindeer People, March 19, 2005
China's Surging Demand for Wood Threatens Forests Worldwide, March 8, 2005
Russian Volcanoes Spew Rock and Ash into the Sky, March 8, 2005
Russia to Develop Forestry Cooperation with Canada, March 8, 2005
Pros and Cons of Oil Firm Activities for Indigenous People of One Russian Region, March 7, 2005

Thaw Will Speed Change
The Guardian (London), August 11, 2005
By Ian Sample

Siberia's peatbogs have been churning out methane for 11,000 years but billions of tonnes of the gas has remained locked within the permafrost that covers it.

Because the permafrost is coated in snow and ice, it reflects sunlight before it can be warmed up.

But in recent decades, as the temperature of the globe has risen, the vast expanse of western Siberia has begun a slow thaw.

The melting of the permafrost is more than a mere indication of climate change. It is an example of a finely balanced environmental system that when upset by global warming can trigger a dramatic reaction that drives global temperatures up further.

If the permafrost thaws and the meltwater drains away, the bogs will dry out, leaving the methane to oxidise into carbon dioxide and escape into the atmosphere.

If the bogs stay wet, as is the case for most in the region, the gas will bubble up as methane. Because methane can absorb more heat than carbon dioxide, it is a far more potent greenhouse gas and contributes more to global warming.

Some scientists estimate that the vast west Siberian peatbog holds around 70bn tonnes of methane.

Climate scientists fear that as the Siberian permafrost and similar "tipping points" around the world are triggered by warming, they will cause knock-on effects that make temperatures around the world rise faster and faster, leading to runaway global warming that could have devastating consequences for the world's economy and environment.

Scientists only identified such delicate, but potentially devastating, environmental systems in the past five years or so and because current models do not take them into account, it is highly likely that estimates of future warming will have to be revised upwards.

Siberia Three Degrees Warmer Than 45 Years Ago, Study Warns
Agence France Presse, July 14, 2005

Jena, Germany -- Average temperatures in Siberia have risen by three degrees Celsius since 1960, research by a team of German scientists has found.

Furthermore the forests in the region are less effective in soaking up greenhouse gases than previously believed.

Snow and ice are melting earlier, according to the scientists, from the University of Jena in eastern Germany who used data from European, Japanese and US satellites.

Because of the rise in temperatures in the taiga (coniferous forests) there has been an increase in the release of organic carbon from decomposition and in the production of methane, a greenhouse gas.

"All that leads us to believe that the taiga overall absorbs less greenhouse gas than we were supposing until now," Professor Christiane Schmullius said.

She thought her team's findings could also apply to other major northern hemisphere forests such as those in Canada and the United States.

The taiga only soaks up 20 percent of Russia's output of carbon dioxide of human origin and only 10 percent of European output, according to Martin Heimann of the Max-Planck Institute.

The scientists say their findings contradict the idea put forward by supporters of the Kyoto agreement on cutting greenhouse gases that tree planting could help.

The Kyoto protocol, agreed in 1997 but shunned by the United States, the world's biggest producer of greenhouse gases, aims to cut emissions by five percent by 2012 from their 1990 levels.

Russian, Chinese Scientists to do Joint Research of Lake Baikal
ITAR-TASS, July 16, 2005
By Alexei Morozov

Beijing, China -- Chinese and Russian scientists will do joint research of Lake Baikal, the world's largest natural reservoir of fresh water, Xinhua news agency said Saturday quoting the Vice-President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chen Zhou.

An action that is due to last 23 days begins in August and it is destined to become the biggest bilateral ecological venture in the history of Russian-Chinese relations.

The scientists will study the biological environment and geology of Lake Baikal, as well as ecological and economic situation in the Trans-Baikal area.

China delegates 15 researchers who are expected to fly to Irkutsk August 9.

On the Russian side, researchers from a number of institutes of the Siberian branch of the Academy of Sciences will take part in the expedition.

Russian, Chinese Regions Agree To Protect Hanka Lake
ITAR-TASS, July 14, 2005

Vladivostok -- Authorities of the Russian Far Eastern region of Primorye and of neighboring Chinese Heilongjiang province agreed to jointly protect the unique Hanka Lake and ban fishing and wood felling around it.

On Friday Primorye lawmakers and representatives of the Lake Hanka commission from Heilongjiang province agreed to design environmental protection measures for the lake and adjacent territories.

In 1996 Russia and China signed an intergovernmental agreement on the creation of the international Lake Hanka nature preserve that unites Russia's Hankaiski and China's Sinkai Hu reserves.

In June UNESCO granted the biosphere status to Hankaiski reserve, while Sinkai Hu is expected to enjoy it in a year or two.

Fires Destroy Vast Areas of Forest in Eastern Russia
Agence France Presse, July 5, 2005

Vladivostok -- Three national parks are under threat and more than 15,000 hectares of forest have already been destroyed by raging fires which broke out in Russia's Far East region two weeks ago, forest protection officials said Tuesday.

The famous Sikote-Alin national park, home to several Siberian tigers, was particularly at risk, the officials at the Forest Protection Office's air division said.

Nearly 800 firemen and 130 air units have been mobilised to battle the blazes over the past two weeks.

Forest protection specialists, however, warned more action needs to be taken.

The Yakutsk, Khabarovsk and Primorsky regions have been the worst hit by the fires.

Since April, 564 fires have destroyed 28,000 hectares (69,000 acres) of forest and 19,000 hectares of steppe across the regions.

Rosleskhoz Worried Over Scope of Illegal Lumbering
ITAR-TASS, June 29, 2005

Moscow -- Rosselkhoz, Russia's federal agency for agriculture, expressed alarm Wednesday over the scope of illegal lumbering by licensed producers which beats timber poaching.

"We have found illegal felling of 529,000 cubic meters of timber by eight large companies in the Irkutsk region since the beginning of this year. The volume of timber poached in Russia each year does not exceed 750,000 cubic meters," Rosleskhoz deputy director Mikhail Giryayev said in a report on the results of aerial monitoring in the province.

Timber undercut which totaled 857,000 cubic meters was another violation detected by aerial photography, Giryayev said. Forest guards are seriously concerned over the felling of young forests which shrank by 2,500 hectares in the Irkutsk region alone.

Ditched timber is another major problem in lumbering and a prime factor in forest fires and the spreading of forest diseases, Rosleskhoz said.

In mid-June, the State Duma lower house of the Russian parliament approved amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses which toughens penalties for illegal lumbering and damage to forest by 1.5 times.

According to law-enforcement bodies, direct loss from illegal lumbering in Russia totals five to six billion roubles a year. The scope of illegal lumbering in the country has expanded four-fold in the past 15 years.

Russia is in the group of countries with the worst illegal lumbering record, together with Brazil, Cameroon, Gabon, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Rosleskhoz will conduct aerial photography of timber felling areas in the republic of Komi, the Perm and Arkhangelsk regions, and the Krasnoyarsk, Maritime and Khabarovsk territories in the second half of this year.

Russia Annually Suffers $180 Million Damage from Illegal Tree Felling
RIA Novosti, June 03, 2005

Moscow -- The damage from illegal tree felling in Russia comes up to 5 billion rubles (some $180 million) annually, the Russian Natural Resources Ministry said on Friday.

"Together with Brazil, Cameroon, Gabon, Indonesia and Malaysia, Russia is among the leaders in illegal tree felling," the ministry said.

Since 1992 the annual volume of tree felling has almost doubled to reach 700,000 cubic meters and the damage inflicted on forestry has come up to % billion rubles annually, the ministry said.

According to the ministry, illegal felling accounts for 89% of violations of the Russian forest legislation, with only 10% of cases of illegal use of the forest resources reaching the court.

Illegal felling and other key problems of forest use will be considered in Moscow on June 6-8 at an international intergovernmental conference. It will officially launch the European-North Asian ministerial negotiations on the problems of law enforcement and management in the forest sector.

Parched For Water: Dangerous Shortage Facing Resource-Rich Central Asia
Agence France Presse, June 3, 2005
By Akbar Borisov

Dushanbe -- Drinking water could become so scarce in Central Asia that it could rank alongside oil or gold in terms of importance for the resource-rich region, local experts say.

"In perspective there will be a great problem with drinking water in this region, where the demand for it has doubled," Tajikistan's Water Industry Minister Abdukodir Nazirov noted.

"Population figures have doubled over the past 30 years and may reach 72 million by 2025 as compared to today's 56 million," Nazirov said, adding that irrigation projects in ex-Soviet Central Asia are also to blame.

"These factors guarantee that water deficit will grow and if Central Asian states are unable to address this deficit adequately, it will lead to an inevitable conflict," executive chief of the Central Asia regional ecologic center Bulat Esekin warned.

The area takes its water mostly from the great rivers of Amudarya and Syrdarya, with over 80 percent of Central Asia's water reserves concentrated in the mountains of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Conversely, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are shut out of the growing oil and gas trade in Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

"Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are interested in building new hydro power stations and selling electricity, while the countries downriver -- Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan -- would use the water to irrigate their fields in summer," Tajik energy expert Georgy Petrov said.

Tajikistan had recently hosted a UN-sponsored international conference to boost regional cooperation as issues of pollution and distribution of water required new approaches since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought independence to the Central Asian republics.

According to experts at the conference, 37 violent conflicts had been sparked in the world over the past 50 years by water shortages, with over a billion people having insufficient access to drinking water.

"We often hear that water is God's gift to people, but this does not mean that what is given freely has no value. Oil, gas, diamonds and gold are also God's gift, and there was a time when humanity did without them, but never without water, we must not forget that," Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov told the conference.

"The Aral Sea is a sad example of what happens when each consumer on its banks takes as much water as he wants. Thoughtless use of Aral lands not only dried up a once-living sea, but caused a tragedy for thousands of people who lost their future," Rakhmonov recalled.

The inland Aral Sea, which lies both in Uzbekistan and Kazkhstan, has shrunk dramatically since the 1960s, when Soviet planners diverted local rivers to irrigate millions of hectares of new cotton fields, prompting an ecological catastrophe.

Fiddling While Siberia Burns; Russia's Pristine Forests Are The Lungs Of Europe. But Vast Swathes. The Independent (London), May 31, 2005
By Steve Connor

The vast forests of northern Russia are one of the last great wilderness areas of the world. They are the lungs of the northern hemisphere, soaking up the carbon dioxide emissions that float across Siberia on the prevailing winds from the industrial regions to the west. Yet they are also under threat from an unprecedented surge in the number, frequency and scale of forest fires.

Twenty years ago forest fires destroyed about two million hectares of Siberian forests " the loss of an area the size of Wales. Last year 22 million hectares " about half the size of France " were lost to fire. Russian forestry scientists said they were bracing themselves for this year's fire season, which starts in late June.

Siberia's largest forest, the taiga, accounts for one fifth of the world's total forested land and contains half of the planet's evergreen forest. Yet in the space of a couple of decades this seemingly unlimited expanse of trees has suffered an unprecedented tenfold increase in the rate of deforestation caused by fire.

Lightning strikes in the dry summer months have meant that forest fires have always been a natural feature of the Siberian taiga. But Anatoly Sukhinin, head of the forest fire laboratory at the Sukachev Institute of Forest in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, said that global warming, government underfunding and arson by loggers had caused a dramatic and unnatural surge in the number of fires.

'Late June and early July is when fires are most likely to occur and we are expecting some very fierce fires then,' Dr Sukhinin said. 'It is getting worse and it is a fact. The extent of fires and the extent of emissions is on the rise in the Russian federation,' he said.

'There has been at least a tenfold increase in the size of the area. You ask me about why this is happening? There are two factors in play here. One factor is global warming, and there is absolutely no doubt that this is happening. Global warming results in more extreme droughts, greater droughts, longer droughts, and more frequent droughts,' Dr Sukhinin added.

'The other factor is underfunding. We are critically underfunded. We cannot do a good job to preserve and protect our forests. There is very little money to fund such work. We have some equipment left from the old times, we have some organisational support, but they are critically underfunded by the government. We are practically penniless. There is not enough money,' Dr Sukhinin said.

In Russia, forests are under federal protection and it is up to the government in Moscow to make all the important funding decisions, he said.

'One of the reasons why the federal government is not doing a good job putting out all these forest fires is that our timber does not cost that much. Our forests are pretty inexpensive, at least in comparison to foreign timber and foreign markets, and once there is a fire, the area affected by the fire costs nothing and is of minimal market value,' he said.

But part of the reason for the explosive growth in the number of forest fires in Siberia is also due to deliberate arson by criminals who use fires as an excuse to exploit the system of logging licences. The federal government in Moscow issues cheaper licences when the land has already been scarred by a fire, even though much of the timber is still perfectly useable " often only the foliage and undergrowth is destroyed, which makes tree-felling even easier.

'After a fire, the timber improves and is even better, it comes in better quality after a fire, and that is the time when people can come in, fell the trees, and sell the timber to China and get good money,' Dr Sukhinin said.

'The Chinese pay good money, and they pay the same money for timber from affected areas as for timber from unaffected areas, and that is the reason for the arson. If you want to fell good forests that have not been affected by fires, you have to pay a lot for the licence. But affected-area licences are pretty cheap,' he said. The Sukachev Institute of Forest in Krasnoyarsk " where the British Council last week launched an exhibition on global warming called Zero Carbon City " is Russia's pre-eminent centre for forestry research. Yet the institute has seen its resources dwindle since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992. Even though Russia has developed its own fire-fighting aircraft for the export market, the institute has none of its own planes and has had to resort to expensive leasing arrangements, often with foreign companies.

'If we have to use an aircraft we have to pay for the lease of the aircraft. We don't own our own aircraft fleet. The leasing is pricey, that's why we don't have enough aircraft at our disposal to be effective against forest fires,' Dr Sukhinin said.

'Most of the time we have to lease these aircraft from abroad, not locally. Russia leases and sells these aircraft to foreign countries but doesn't have any of its own,' he said.

One practical development since the fall of the Soviet Union has been the dramatic increase in active collaboration between the Sukachev Institute and Western scientists. The American space agency, Nasa, has for instance supplied vital satellite data to help the Russians to track forest fires in the remoter regions of Siberia.

In one satellite image taken in June 2003, for instance, some 157 fires across an area of 11 million hectares could be monitored simultaneously. The smoke plumes from this conflagration reached Kyoto in Japan, about 5,000 miles away.

But the effects of Siberia's gigantic fires can be felt much further afield. In the same year, smoke from Siberian forest fires affected the air quality in the west coast American city of Seattle across the Pacific Ocean. In the first week of June, Seattle's air monitors recorded levels of ground-level ozone that were 17 parts per billion by volume higher that they would otherwise have been, pushing levels over the health limits set by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Dan Jaffe, an environmental scientist at the University of Washington, Bothell, said that in the past the possibility of long-range transport of pollutants was not considered to be particularly significant. 'What we're finding is that these events can bring in significant levels of pollution, even to urban areas where the levels already are relatively high,' Dr Jaffe said.

'Siberia has perhaps warmed more than anywhere else on the planet in the past 50 years. If there is increasing burning in Siberia, then we will see higher levels of ozone [in Seattle],' he said.

It may seem strange that a forest fire in one part of the world can cause effects in another, but weather patterns do not respect national boundaries and the size of the Siberian forests means that fires can run out of control for weeks on end.

It is difficult to comprehend the sheer scale of the Siberian forests, which extend from the Urals in the west to the Pacific coast of the Kamchatka peninsula in the Russian far east. Some of the forests are so remote that they have been barely explored, let alone exploited.

The trees range from evergreens such as larch, pine, spruce, fir and Siberian pine to deciduous species such as lime, oak and birch, which grow mainly in southern regions. Long winters and short summers mean that trees are slow growing and even a 200-year-old larch can have a slender trunk.

Eyvgeni Petrenko, a former director of the Sukachev Institute and veteran forester of 50 years standing, estimates that between 30 and 50 per cent of the Siberian forests are completely pristine and untouched by human activities. Most of these regions are in the north and north-eastern Russia, where larch trees are even able to grow on the permafrost, which extends for between 100 and 300 metres below the ground.

A distinctive feature of Siberia's forests is that most of them " some 70 per cent " grow on ground that is permanently frozen. In principle this should make them more resistant to fires because the ground remains soggy during the summer months, yet with warmer, drier summers even this has not made them immune to fire.

And when fires do begin in these permafrost regions, the ground is changed permanently. Trees are unable to grow back as easily as in the warmer regions to the south. 'Forest fires have always been a natural feature of Siberia and they have in the past been of little concern. But we know that people set fire to the forest intentionally. We see a lot of it on the border with China and Korea,' Dr Petrenko said.

The link between people and forest fires was confirmed earlier this year in a landmark study conducted by Nasa scientists using an imaging instrument on board the space agency's Terra satellite. The moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer instrument was able to compare the location of forest fires in central Siberia over a three-year period with the position of roads, railways, towns, cities and other industrial sites. The scientists found a clear correlation, which suggested human activities rather than lightning strikes were responsible for many of the worst forest fires.

Katalin Kovacs, a scientist at Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, who led the study which was published in the journal Earth Interactions, said that there was some anecdotal evidence to suggest that many fires were caused when people built small fires to temporarily stay warm outdoors, keep insects away from cattle, cook, or burn rubbish. One speculative suggestion is that the wind may carry the sparks from these fires by accident to a nearby forest area.

The researchers, however, also found a strong correlation between the location of forest fires and areas of agricultural land where farmers deliberately set fire to the stubble. Forest fires were much more likely in these regions than in forested areas well away from farmland. Although Russia has signed up to the Kyoto agreement on climate change, there is still a feeling in the higher echelons of its national academy of sciences that global warming is part of a natural cycle of climate change rather than a man-made phenomenon. This mood emerged last week during a scientific debate in Krasnoyarsk between Russian and British scientists organised by the British Council as part of its Zero Carbon City exhibition. Some senior Russian scientists said that the Kyoto agreement was part of an attempt by Western countries to stifle Russia's economic development by penalising its use of energy.

However, other scientists in Russia clearly see Kyoto as an opportunity rather than a threat. They want to deal in carbon credits, the 'currency' devised under the agreement where countries with large forests and relatively small industrial emissions " such as Russia " can sell their credits on the open market.

Anatoly Sukhinin of the Sukachev Institute said that carbon trading should be exploited by Russia as a means of supporting the protection of its forests. Dr Sukhinin said: 'Our industry is not that large, really, so we are not polluting that much. We are lucky to have our forests and forest preservation should really be a priority.

'We should try to protect our forests, because they are the lungs of the planet: they absorb carbon dioxide, and it looks to me like these huge forests are currently being devoured by a powerful lung cancer.'

Researcher Caught in FSB Probe
Moscow Times, March 18, 2005

The Federal Security Service's Buryatia branch is investigating how a classified map ended up in a computer at a research center at Eastern-Siberian Technological University in the region's capital, Ulan -Ude, a local FSB spokeswoman said Thursday. The FSB has questioned the center's director, Sergei Shapkhayev, but he has not been charged with divulging state secrets because investigators have determined that he did not have access to classified information, spokeswoman Olga Yakovleva said by telephone from Ulan-Ude.

The FSB has accused several researchers of passing classified information to foreign clients in recent years, and most of its investigations have resulted in convictions.

Shapkhayev's center researches environmental issues connected to the Selenga River and the Baikal district and receives grants from U.S.-based foundations, according to the university's web site.

Seven FSB investigators searched the center on March 9 and seized the hard drive of a computer containing a classified map of the Kabansky district on the banks of lake Baikal, Yakovleva said. The FSB's Buryatia branch has opened a criminal case in connection with the disclosure of state secrets, she said.

Shapkhayev and his laboratory researchers could not be reached for comment Thursday, but Shapkhayev told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the map was probably sent along with other documents to the center for research it was carrying out for a local client., a web site that follows FSB activities, said Shapkhayev had signed a document promising not to discuss the case.

Shapkhayev has taught at the university for more than 30 years.

World Bank Supports Modernization of the Russian Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring
M2 Presswire, March 18, 2005

Washington -- The World Bank's Board of Executive Directors today approved a US$80 million loan for the National Hydromet Modernization Project to the Russian Federation. The primary objective of the project is to mitigate loss of human life and economic cost from adverse weather conditions through improved weather forecasts and traditional public service delivery. The will be achieved by modernizing key elements of RosHydromet's technical base and strengthening its institutional arrangements. Annual economic losses associated with dangerous weather and hydrological events (such as floods, avalanches and torrential storms) in Russia are estimated to be between US$1-2 billion. RosHydromet's capacity to provide accurate weather services has steadily declined over the last decade. Moreover, RosHydromet's capacity to provide accurate weather forecasts that help mitigate weather-related losses has fallen behind standards set by other national weather services, leaving important sectors such as aviation, shipping, agriculture, water resources management, forestry, fuel transport, and construction with a competitive disadvantage. The National Hydromet Modernization Project, which will be implemented in the cities of Moscow, Khabarovsk, Novosibirsk, Obninsk, as well as in the Northern Caucasus and Far East of Russia, has three main components: * Modernization of computing, archiving and telecommunications facilities. * Upgrading of the observational networks, including surface network of meteorological stations, aerological network, meteorological radars, selected regional hydro meteorological centers and of the pilot river basin hydrological networks. * Institutional strengthening, improvement in information dissemination and emergency preparedness. The project also has a global significance as the data from Russia comprises about 10 percent of worldwide data supplied via the World Meteorological Organization network as the basis for the world's daily weather forecasts. Moscow World Meteorological Center is one of the three worldwide centers that are charged with computing and distributing daily global forecasts to initialize the world's regional weather models, as well as developing new techniques in support of worldwide forecasting. The five-year project is a Specific Investment Loan and has a total cost of US$133.3 million, of which IBRD will finance US$80.0 million. Counterpart financing from the Russian Federation will total US$53.33 million. The terms of the loan include a 5-year grace period and 17 years maturity. The Russian Federation joined the World Bank in 1992. Since then, commitments to the country total to more than US$13.5 billion for 60 operations. For more information on the World Bank's work in Russia, please visit

Reindeer People
Financial Times (London, England), March 19, 2005
By Piers Vitebsky

The Eveny are a tribal people who live in the north-eastern Siberian mountains, the coldest inhabited place on earth, where winter temperatures fall as low as minus 96 deg F. (To get an idea of how cold that is, if you were to throw the contents of a hot cup of tea in the air at temperatures below minus 40 deg F, the liquid would freeze before hitting the ground.)

Piers Vitebsky, an anthropologist, has spent almost 20 years visiting an Eveny community. They live as nomads, leading their reindeer herds to pasture during the short Arctic summer and living off their meat during winter, much as their ancestors did thousands of years ago. They still inhabit what prehistorians call "the Age of Reindeer" - a time when reindeer were the far northern hemisphere's main source of food and transport.

The Eveny's traditions and rituals are ancient (the word "shaman" derives from their language) but their way of life in one of the world's harshest environments is far from assured. Soviet attempts to "civilise" Siberia's indigenous population saw tribes such as these being corralled into state-built villages where they were forced to supply reindeer meat to industrial settlements. The economic and social collapse of the Russian north - home to 186,000 native people, a third of whose deaths are through accident, murder or suicide - makes the Eveny's existence appear all the more precarious and remarkable.

China's Surging Demand for Wood Threatens Forests Worldwide: WWF
Agence France Presse, March 8, 2005

Bejing -- China's surging demand for wood spurred by its rapid economic growth threatens to have a devastating impact on forests around the world, the WWF warned in a report Tuesday.

China has become a major importer of timber and pulp from countries like Russia, Malaysia and Indonesia and is now one of the major destinations for wood that may be illegally harvested or traded, the conservation group said.

In a new report entitled "Chinas Wood Market, Trade and the Environment", it said the countries China imports from are all struggling with problems such as over-harvesting, conservation of natural forests and illegal logging.

"While the average Chinese citizen uses 17 times less wood than a person in the United States, China's wood imports have dramatically increased over the past 10 years and will continue to do so to meet the demand of the country's huge population and rapid economic growth," WWF said.

While construction and regional development programmes aimed at boosting economic development are increasing China's consumption of wood, its forest preservation programmes are limiting domestic harvesting, the report said.

"Measures taken by the Chinese government to protect its forests -- including a ban on logging -- after the 1998 devastating Yangtze River flooding have resulted in a significant drop in China's domestic wood production," it said.

The country's forests and plantations will provide less than half of China's expected total industrial wood demand by 2010.

According to China's forestry administration, the country legally imported 25.5 million cubic meters of timber in 2003, the latest figures available.

With the liberalisation of timber market trade, China's policies have effectively limited domestic wood production while encouraging imports of wood and wood products, it said.

"But logging bans in China should not lead to forest loss in other parts of the world," said WWF International director general Claude Martin.

"Decisive action is needed to ensure that supply chains leading to or through China begin with well-managed forests." WWF said that China could cut its reliance on imports by developing environmentally-friendly wood production in its forests where logging is banned.

It also suggested that incentives are created to improve the efficiency of wood production and use, and to reduce the waste of timber.

The report called on governments worldwide to take measures to promote imports of wood from well-managed forests by implementing responsible procurement policies.

It also urged the enforcement of policies to prevent the import of products containing illegally-sourced wood.

Russian Volcanoes Spew Rock and Ash into the Sky
BBC Monitoring International Reports, March 8, 2005

Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy -- The Klyuchevskaya Sopka volcano in Kamchatka is hurling "volcanic bombs" a kilometre into the air. A column of gas and ash, about two kilometres high, has formed over the giant's summit. The volcano is constantly discharging columns of gas and steam mixed up with volcanic dust. A cloud of ash is hanging over the summit. A lava flow is emerging from the crater, melting the glacier. Yuriy Demyanchuk, the head of the volcanological station at the town of Klyuchi, roughly 30 km from the giant, informed an ITAR-TASS correspondent of this today by telephone.

A cinder cone is growing in the crater, whose diameter and depth reaches 400 metres. The cone is being formed out of ash, cooling lava and huge volcanic "bombs" up to 10 metres in diameter, which are landing in the crater. Since January, when the eruption started, the volcano has "grown" by 20-30 metres.

A similar phenomenon was observed during the 1994 eruption, when the volcano reached a height of 4,822 metres above sea level as a result of cinder cones growing in its crater. However, when the cones were destroyed by volcanic activity, its height fell back to 4,750 metres. Now the giant, which is regarded as the highest active volcano in Eurasia, is once again increasing its height.

The neighbouring Shiveluch volcano is maintaining high activity. A mighty column of gas and steam is rising to a height of up to 2.5 km above its active dome, which was partially destroyed by volcanic explosions on 28 February.

In the town of Klyuchi, which is situated between the giants, snow, mixed up with volcanic ash, is constantly falling. However, this poses no threat to the inhabitants. Nevertheless, it is dangerous to approach the erupting volcanoes, specialists warn.

Russia to Develop Forestry Cooperation with Canada
ITAR-TASS News Agency, March 8, 2005
By Rafael Bikbayev

Toronto -- Russia will develop forestry cooperation with Canada, Russian cochairman of the mining industry group in the Russian-Canadian economic commission Nikita Bantsekin told Itar-Tass on Tuesday.

The mining industry group, which convened in Toronto on Tuesday, will discuss its reform. Russia has suggested establishment of a nature-administering group, including mineral development, forestry and environmental protection subgroups.

"We could cooperate in lawmaking as well. Russia is going to adopt a forestry code," Bantsekin said. He said that Russia and Canada could coordinate their efforts on the international level, including the UN Forum on Forests.

Measures against illegal tree felling are another sphere for bilateral cooperation, he said. An international ministerial conference on this problem will be held in St. Petersburg in November, and Canadians have been invited to attend.

Russia can also adopt the Canadian experience of processing timber industry waste into plywood and cellulose.

Pros and Cons of Oil Firm Activities for Indigenous People of One Russian Region BBC Monitoring International Reports, March 7, 2005

Khanty-Mansiysk -- The notion that "the indigenous peoples of the north are dying out is no longer a reality in West Siberia", claims the governor of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area, Aleksandr Filippenko.

The Khanty and Mansi peoples still make up no more than 1.5 per cent of the area's 1.5m-strong population. However, this figure has been increasing steadily in recent years. At the same time, the efforts of the authorities to secure the indigenous people's way of life is giving rise to new problems. "We must not cross the line to where dependency begins," the governor said at a meeting with journalists.

The authorities are forced even now to subsidize every kilo of fish or game procured. The reindeer hunting of the Khanty people also survives on subsidies. According to Filippenko, this is the only way in current conditions to preserve traditional skills.

The market transformations of the 90s left the Khanty, who live by hunting, fishing and gathering, without their customary salaries which had been paid by procurement organizations that worked to a set plan. "It has not yet been possible to organize the links that would allow people to sell their own produce independently under new conditions," the governor admitted.

The Khanty people's relations with the oil workers appear even more complex. The area still remembers Khanty gatherings at the start of the 90s when the oil firms began massive development of new oil fields. The Khanty blocked approaches to the Tyanskoye field, forcing Surgutneftegaz to suspend work. The situation was resolved following a directive from the head of the area administration "on the special procedure for developing the Tyanskoye oil field by the open-type joint-stock company Surgutneftegaz". The document obliged the oil workers to include in an agreement with the indigenous population clearly-defined conditions for working in places inhabited by the Khanty, as well as the amounts of compensation for damage to their native lands.

The Surgutneftegaz licensed areas cover the property of 260 Khanty families. The company has been concluding agreements with the heads of each of family for nearly 10 years. Between 1m and 1.5m dollars are set aside every year towards support for the indigenous population, the ITAR-TASS correspondent was told by the company management.

In addition to substantial sums of money, hunters and reindeer herders receive snowmobiles, outboard engines, fuel and lubricants, work clothes and help in housing construction. The Khanty use vehicles and helicopters provided by the companies to ship out their finished goods. The oil workers take children to school and even pay for further education. "Wherever we damage Khanty land, we offer full compensation and, of course, help with fuel and building materials," said Sergey Belyavskiy, head of one of the company's production support bases.

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