Russian Loggers Put Survival Of 'Sacred' Siberian Tiger At Risk

Loggers in the Russian Far East are facing off against conservationists over the fate of forests in wildlife reserves, with the Siberian tiger's natural habitat hanging in the balance. And for local indigenous peoples, it's not just an e

Siberian tigers are better protected at the Buffalo Zoo.
Siberian tigers are better protected at the Buffalo Zoo.
Aleksei Shapovalov, Alexandr Chyernikh and Aleksei Chernyishev

VLADIVLASTOK - The conflict between the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and logging companies in the Russian Far East is reaching a new boiling point. The WWF has accused "Lesexport," a private logging company, of clear-cutting forests that are supposed to be part of a wildlife reserve, and are essential to the population of Siberian tigers living in the area.

The Siberian tiger -- the world's largest feline -- is among the most endangered species in the world, with a wild population of between 300-400 in the last official census in 2005, and thought to be declining.

In 2011, the Ministry of Industry and Trade granted "Lesexport" rights to property in a wildlife reserve in the Primorskaya Kraya, a region in the Russian Far East that borders the Pacific Ocean. But protests from conservationists forced the government to conserve those pieces of land, considered crucial habitat for the Siberian tiger, under the condition that the company would obtain other property to exploit in exchange.

The company was given other forest rights, but when they filed an application to start work, the local forest authorities refused it, saying that the company continues to work on the contested parts of the forest. Lesexport, for its part, does not deny that it continues to work on the contested forest parcels, insisting that it still has a right to those pieces of land.

The company has managed to contest the application refusal in an arbitration court, and has gotten permission to exploit both the contested parts of the forest and the new areas they were supposed to be given in exchange. The company is also arguing that the entire process involved in exchanging the land parcels was illegal.

Denis Smirnov, the head of the Amurskii chapter of the WWF, insisted that "compensation was only promised for those parcels that would be conserved." The Environmental Ministry shared the WWF's point of view, saying that by giving these land parcels to the logging company, the government was contradicting its own stated policy for conservation of the Siberian tiger.

"The prosecutor has verified everything here, and there are no violations. When we met with the government representative, we were not told how much, in cash, we would be compensated for the land parcels we were supposed to give up, instead we were given other parcels that are too far away and don't work for us," Victor Kalinovskii, the vice director of Lesexport told RIA Novosti news wire.

Contacted by Kommersant, Kalinovskii was more succinct: "There is no forest there - it's all burned out."

The reality is that this conflict about the tiger habitat between conservationists and industry is the result of practices throughout the region's logging industry, and the lack of adequate government policies in the far-flung regions of the country. Both parties admit, though, that aside from the nature reserves, there are practically no more timber reserves that are commercially viable.

According to the WWF, 75 percent of the region's oak and ash trees have been lost, mostly because of illegal logging. Conservationists say the loss of forest is not just due to illegal activity, but to the way the timber industry and local economy is run.

One of the arguments for continuing logging operations in protected forests is that it will bring jobs to the area. Lesexport has promised that as soon as the conflict is resolved, they will create 250 additional jobs. But according to the Federal Migration Services, in 2012 the company submitted paperwork for 225 workers to come from China.

Vladimir Shirko, head of the indigenous people's society, said, "Our people will never go work in forestry. We understand who is threatened by the destruction of the forests." For many indigenous societies in Russia's Far East, the Siberian tiger is considered a sacred animal, and anyone who kills a tiger is doomed to an early death.

Read the original article in Russian.

Photo - wikipedia

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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