Documentation:Open Case Studies/FRST522/Illegal logging in the Russian Far East

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Illegal logging in the Russian Far East


Figure 1. Russia

Please review the video below: The "Last" hardwood in the world!


Figure 2. Russian Far East regions map

Russia is the largest country on earth. It stretches from Europe to China. Russia also has the largest area of forests in the world, at over 800 million hectares. According to data for 2015 the total forest area has exceeded 885 million hectares, representing 45% of the total area of the country. The Russian government owns all of the forests, and about one third are primary forests.[1] However, Russia has a significant problem of illegal logging, especially in the Russia Far East. According to WWF’s data, the Illegal logging of valuable temperate hardwoods has reached crisis proportions in the Russian Far East (RFE). During the period 2004-2011, Russia exported over 3-5 times the authorized logging volume of Mongolian oak (the most valuable hardwood species) to other countries.[2]

The Russian Far East Temperate Forest is one of the most distinctive temperate forests in the world. It is made up of Ussuri broadleaf and mixed forests and South Sakhalin-Kurile mixed forests. Compared to other temperate ecosystems, Russia Far East areas have an extraordinarily high level of biodiversity and endemism for northern Asia. These forests are a critical habitat for Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) and leopards (Panthera pardus). The similar forest communities in China, Japan, and the Korean Peninsula have been destroyed by intense human population and activity.[3] The illegal logging in those remaining biodiverse areas will destroy the valuable ecosystem.

The main hardwood species being illegally logged are Mongolian oak (Quercus mongolica), Manchurian ash (Fraxinus mandschurica), Japanese elm (Ulmus propinqua), Amur linden (Tilia amurensis) and Manchurian linden (Tilia manshurica). Most of these timbers are processed into furniture and sold to US, European and Japanese markets. These timber products are worth around 20 billion US dollars per year in Russia. [2]

Framing the Problem

Russian illegal timber semi-trailer truck

In Russia, all the land is owned by the Federal government but companies can acquire concession rights to utilize the forest resources of the state. Timber companies can rent forests from the owner (Forest Management Division) through wood auctions. Due to the different scales of timber harvesting, the rent periods vary from 10-49 years. Short-term use of forests (timber harvesting) can be authorized directly by local authorities.[4]

Key document Legal Authority Explanation
Approved “Project of Forest Use” (Concession license) State/municipality Forests are licensed as concessions and distributed to companies for the purpose of timber harvesting for a period of 10 to 49 years.
Forest declaration To be submitted by forest user/concessionaire Annual declaration of the forest user, confirming that harvesting is carried out according to the Project of Forest Use.
Forest stands purchase agreement License for (short-term) roundwood harvesting. Valid for a period up to one year.
Felling permit Set of mandatory documents (e.g., Lease agreement, Project of forest use, Forest declaration).
Inspection report Forest Management Division An inspection, after harvesting to check whether it was according to the conditions and within the timeframes specified in forest rent agreement(s). (only if the case has been selected as an inspection sample)
Extraction permit To be submitted by the holder of round timber (forest user/concessionaire or trader) Companion document on timber transportation, to transport the timber from the forest to the landing or sawmill.
Forest use report To be submitted by the forest user to the Forest Management Division. Report of the concessionaire or license holder, including volumes of commercial timber specified in felling permits and actual volumes of harvested timber for each felling site.

Table 1. KEY DOCUMENTS: The listed key documents are based on the applicable legislation and are considered to play a key role in demonstrating legal origin.[5]

Reasons for illegal logging 1. Easier for the seller to avoid paying taxes In the Russian Far East, many timber buyers use cash to purchase illegal wood at a lower price. This practice can by-pass the paying of federal tax and reduce buyers’ cost. However, this practice reduces the government revenue and destroys the ecosystem.[6]

2. Abuse of loopholes in forestry legislation In Russia Far East, a significant proportion of timber theft occurs on authorized logging sites. For example, companies could get a permit from the government to remove sick, dying and poorly-formed trees to improve forest health. However, without the appropriate supervision from the government, most of the trees removed are valuable species.[2]

3. Ineffective investigations by police Due to the Far East region have large areas with low populations, it is hard to investigate the illegal logging.

4. Some indigenous people rely on boreal forest Russia Far East is the least developed region compared with the western side. Many indigenous and local peoples' livelihoods rely on timber harvesting.[5]

5. High demand for wood in global market High demand for hardwood in Japan and South Korean markets since 1980. In addition, after the Chinese government banned timber harvesting in natural forests in 1998, the demand from China increased significantly.[7]

Negative effects 1. Loss of direct revenue to governments Russia government loses billions US dollars of revenue every year. 2. Ecosystem collapse Due to the destructive logging of trees, forest ecosystems are at risk of collapse, and animal habitat loss. 3. Reduction of competitiveness of legal timber companies

An example of illegal logging in Russia Far East The long borders with China and a large number of export points result in the movement of timber across the border often being unregulated. Zabaykalsk is one of the largest railway export crossing points at the border. More than 2,000,000 cubic meters of timber are exported from this area [EVERY YEAR? HOW OFTEN?]. The illegal timber sellers create fraudulent documentation to sanitize their wood across the border.[7]

Framing the Problem: Layering Perspectives

The description above describes illegal logging in Russia Far East from the perspective of a forestry student. In this section, we welcome contributions from other perspectives. Those interested in contributing to this case study may use the following questions as a guide:

1. How do scholars and professionals outside of forestry conceptualize the practice of illegal logging in Russia Far East?

2. What are other possible ways of framing this problem?

3. What special expertise, resources, or theoretical orientations might others bring to help us understand this phenomenon better?

Historical Context

In 1647, the Russians first arrived on the Pacific coast and established Okhotsk. The Russian government consolidated its control over the Russian Far East in the 19th century. In early 1900, RFE [DECODE ACRONYM] experienced Russo-Japanese War. The Soviet Union was declared in 1917. The Far East area was treated as a source region for natural resources. Then, during the World War II, RFE was invaded by Japan. Next, during the Cold War, RFE became the site of extreme security concern for the Soviet Union.[8]
Due to the wars and security concerns, the RFE’s ecosystem was involuntarily protected and as a result has a high resilience. Most of the forest regions remained undeveloped primary forests with high biodiversity up to the early 19th century. However, the forests' logging dramatically increased since 1970 because of the peace and globalization.[8]


Illegal logging never is a good thing. It has significant negative impacts on different aspects, including environmental, social, cultural and economic impacts. Illegal logging will constrain the development of sustainable forest management and contribute to climate change. It also causes species extinction because of loss of biodiversity and habitats. What’s more, illegal logging could distort the market and reduce government revenues. Moreover, illegal logging may increase income disparities, which result in impoverished rural communities. Last but not least, unlimited illegal logging could cause Government to experience a trust crisis.

Implications: A Forestry Perspective


Although Russia Far East has a very high percentage of forest cover, illegal logging has already caused many environmental problems in this region. Deforestation and degradation are the common results of illegal logging. Unlike the tropical forest, the boreal forest has a very low growth cycle, which means it is hard to recover in the short term. Due to the exhaustion of timber supplies for legal forest companies, more timber industries are aiming at protected forests.[9] Illegal loggers primarily target Korean pine-broadleaf and floodplain forests, which is the critical habitat of Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) and leopards (Panthera pardus). According to research that there are about 450 Amur tigers in the wild within RFE region. However, the illegal logging reduces the food supply of wild boars and red deer, which are the main food of the Amur tiger.[10] Illegal logging not only will threaten the Amur tiger, but also could destroy the whole boreal forest ecosystem.


All the forest land is owned by the state. A company can rent forestland for 10 to 49 years. There are two political reasons that cause Illegal logging in Russia Far East. Firstly, corruption is a common phenomenon in Russia Far East. Illegal industries use corrupt means to gain access to protected forests and then create the fraudulent documentation. What’s more, due to corruption, government reduces the regulation level for the illegal industry. For instance, there is a high level of corruption among GIBDD [DECODE] officials whose duty it is to inspect and register timber-hauling trucks.[11]Some illegal logging industries are controlled by the relatives of government officials. Under this situation, illegal logging makes the government incur both economic and trust losses.


Illegal logging will result in the loss of government revenue. In Russia Far East, the government lost billions of dollar revenues due to the illegal logging. Many timber sellers and buyers deal with cash in those areas to avoid tax. Illegal logging is also undermining the competitiveness of the legitimate forestry industry. Due to the low price of illegal wood, the legal forestry industry’s market share will decrease. It may encourage those industries to develop illegal logging timber products. Many industries at RFE export both legal and illegal wood products.

Social and Cultural

The ever-accelerating illegal logging in Russia Far East has become a threat to the indigenous people and the local community in many remote taiga villages. The illegal logging has degraded the forest significantly with much fewer resources that cannot supply local people’s traditional livelihoods. Korean pine is one of the essential species for local people. Local residents began patrolling and disrupting illegal logging around their village in order to protect Korean pine. Eventually, government banned logging of Korean pine in 2010 but illegal logging still occurs of other species.[2] On the other hand, some very poor communities continue illegal logging, in collusion with industries.

Implications: Layering Perspectives

The description above describes the implications from illegal logging in Russia Far East from the perspective of a forestry student. In this section, we welcome contributions from other perspectives. Those interested in contributing to this case study may use the following questions as a guide:

1. How could someone from a different discipline or profession add to the implications above?

2. What other implications become apparent when illegal logging is viewed through the lens of other disciplines and professions?

3. What special expertise, resources, or theoretical orientations might others bring to help us better understand the implications associated with illegal logging in Russia Far East?

Initiatives to combat Illegal Logging

Most of the timber products made from Russia Far East hardwood are sold to Europe, US, Japan, South Korean and China. In 2014, China makes an international workshop with Russia government to promoting legal and sustainable China–Russia timber trade. It can help Russia improve timber regulation and reduce illegal logging.[12] In 2015, the Russia’s feared Federal Security Service (FSB) decided to work with WWF to combat illegal logging in the country’s Far East.[13] Last but not least, US Lacey Act and EU Timber Regulations also have positive effects to combat illegal logging in RFE. These regulations restrict the import of wood products from illegal logging areas.[2]


Recommendations: A Forestry Perspective

High level of corruption and low level of supervision are the most important reasons cause illegal logging in Russia Far East. Comparative poverty and un-development community also contribute to illegal logging. Therefore, I recommend the following:

• Federal government should rectify corruption as soon as possible

• Relative department should increase their regulation and supervision level of timber harvesting

• Government could help the indigenous and local community to solve poverty problem and work with them to protect forests together. (Community Forest Management)

Recommendations: Layering Perspectives

What recommendations might someone from another discipline or profession make to combat the issue of illegal logging in Russia Far East? Examples might include:

• Law

• Geography

• Environmental Science

• Social Justice

• Economics

• History

• Anthropology

• Philosophy


  1. Current assessment | Global Forest Resources Assessments | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2015). Retrieved 15 October 2017, from
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Smirnov, D. Y., Kabanets, A. G., Milakovsky, B. J., Lepeshkin, E. A., & Sychikov, D. V. (2013). Illegal logging in the Russian Far East: global demand and taiga destruction. Moscow: WWF Russia. Accessed November, 15, 2013.
  3. Russian Far East Temperate Forests. (2017). Retrieved 15 October 2017, from
  4. CNRA. (2010). RISK ASSESSMENTS UNDER REVIEW. FSC International. Retrieved 15 October 2017, from
  5. 5.0 5.1 Country profile Russia. (2016). EUROPEAN TIMBER TRADE FEDERATION. Retrieved 15 October 2017, from
  6. The Russian-Chinese timber trade. (2007). The Russian-Chinese timber trade: Export, Supply chains, Consumption, and Illegal Logging. Retrieved 15 October 2017, from
  7. 7.0 7.1 Vandergert, P., & Newell, J. (2003). Illegal logging in the Russian Far East and Siberia. International Forestry Review, 5(3), 303-306.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Stephan, J. J. (1996). The Russian Far East: A History. LIT Verlag Münster.
  9. Smirnov, D.Y. (2012). Why do Primorye timber companies want to “develop” protective forests? Testimony before the Federal Duma (Parliament), Moscow.
  10. I︠U︡dakov, A. G., & Nikolaev, I. G. (2012). Winter Ecology of the Amur Tiger: Based Upon Observations in the West-central Sikhote-Alin Mountains, 1970-1973, 1996-2010. Dalnauka.
  11. Kotlobay, A. (2002). Illegal Logging in the Southern Part of the Russian Far East: Problem Analysis and Proposed Solution-A case study on experiences of Log Tracking and Chain of Custody Practices in Forestry and Forest Products in Russia. WWF, Moscow, Russia, available at http://archive. panda. org/forests4life/downloads/Case studyforRussia. rtf (last accessed on January 5, 2010).
  12. International Workshop on Promoting Legal and Sustainable China-Russia Timber Trade. (2014). Retrieved 16 October 2017, from
  13. WWF. (2015). WWF working with FSB to combat Russia's illegal loggers. Climate Home - climate change news. Retrieved 16 October 2017, from

Additional Resources

WWF: Russia

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This conservation resource was created by Course:FRST522.