Japanese Firms Importing Illegal Russian Timber

Significant quantities of illegal timber products from the forests of Siberia and the Russian Far East are flowing into Japan, according to a new report by the US-based nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). While the United States and European Union have recently enacted new policies that prohibit the import of illegally sourced wood and wood products and require companies to conduct heightened due diligence in their sourcing practices, Japan’s failure to enact similar measures makes it an open market for illegal timber products from around the world.

The report, The Open Door: Japan’s Continuing Failure to Prevent Imports of Illegal Russian Timber, details supply chains for illegally cut Siberian pine, bought by Chinese traders and imported to China, manufactured into wood products and sold on markets all over Japan. In undercover interviews, officials from San Xia, one of the largest Chinese importers of Russian timber, detailed how they purchase this timber from illegal loggers deep inside Siberia and launder this timber across the border using documentation from their forest concession. In factories across northeastern China, San Xia transforms this timber into edge-glued lumber, 90% of which is sold to Japan for housing construction.

“The no questions asked market for wood products in Japan is fueling rampant illegal logging in eastern Russia,” said Kate Horner, Director of Forest Campaigns at EIA. “The time has come for Japan to join other developed nations in support legal forest products trade. Without swift action by the government to prohibit illegal timber from entering its market, Japanese consumers will continue to be unwitting financiers of the timber mafias that are raiding the world’s forests.”

Illegal logging is estimated to comprise at least 50% of total timber harvests in eastern Russia, with some estimates nearing 90%, and poses one of the gravest threats to both the region’s forest ecology and the future of the Russian forest products industry. This trade fuels corruption and environmental destruction, including some of the most biodiverse and pristine forests in the Russian Federation. These products directly compete with Japanese domestic timber, depressing prices globally and putting Japanese forest producers at a competitive disadvantage.

This report follows EIA’s 2013 Liquidating the Forests: Hardwood Flooring, Organized Crime, and the World’s Last Siberian Tigers. In the 2013 report, EIA investigators documented how Lumber Liquidators, the largest specialty flooring retailer in the United States, had purchased millions of square feet of hardwood flooring from a Chinese supplier who sources illegal oak originating in the Russian Far East, the northernmost range of the last 450 Siberian tigers in the world. In September 2013, the United Stated Department of Justice initiated a federal investigation of Lumber Liquidators reportedly for alleged violations of the Lacey Act.

“Organized criminal groups send out logging brigades to steal valuable hardwoods from protected areas, decimating Russian forests and depriving the Russian economy of millions of dollars in lost tax revenue,” said Horner. “Importing cheap illegal wood from eastern Russia is a tragic crime of convenience that directly undercuts Japanese business trying to play by the rules. Any company buying products containing wood from eastern Russia, whether directly or via China, should know that it may be using stolen wood and must take great care to ensure legality.”

Japan must take decisive and immediate action to close its market to the cheap, illegal timber that is undercutting both its domestic forestry operations as well as the forests and livelihoods of its trading partners.

Access to the report: http://eia-global.org/images/uploads/EIA_Liquidating_the_Forests.pdf

Editor’s Notes

1. Environmental Investigation Agency. 2014. “The Open Door: Japan’s Continuing Failure to Prevent Imports of Illegal Russian Timber.”
2. Environmental Investigation Agency. 2013. “Liquidating the Forests: Hardwood Flooring, Organized Crime, and the World’s Last Siberian Tigers.”

Source: http://eia-global.org/news-media/japanese-firms-importing-illegal-russian-timber


Humans and large carnivores tend not to get along very well. When there’s not enough for hyenas to eat in Ethiopia, they turn on donkey herds. If a few sharks come a bit too close for comfort, governments institute sanctioned culls. In some parts of Europe, bears are killed in retaliation for livestock depredation.

There are only three possible solutions for any sustained clash between human communities and large carnivores. One, the needs of our species can be put first, to the detriment of the predators and the ecosystems in which they live. Two, conservation organizations can promote “peaceful coexistence,” which often includes education about the important role that apex predators play in maintaining an ecosystem, and monetary compensation for livestock losses. Three, the needs of wildlife can be put first, and humans can be removed from their habitat.

The problem with the first solution is obvious, and was seen following the complete removal of wolves from Yellowstone National Park. In most cases, a plan for peaceful coexistence is probably preferable: humans are taught how to avoid interacting with large predators, and receive payment to offset any income losses from slaughtered livestock. However, there are some extreme situations in which human relocation is the best option. Could resettling human communities away from critical tiger habitat along the Nepal-India border benefit both groups? Research published this week in Biological Conservationsays yes.

Tigers (Panthera tigris) in the Terai Arc Landscape can inflect both economic losses on impoverished pastoral communities, via livestock depredation, as well as human losses. The TAL is a region comprised of eleven Nepalese and Indian protected ecosystems along the Himalayan lowlands and foothills, and is home to nearly 7 million people. Most of the area is also critically important habitat for tigers. Historically, a people known as the Gujjars lived in the area where they grazed their livestock in the lowland forests during the winter and in the higher-elevation alpine meadows in the summer. The seasonal movement of the farmers and their livestock meant that their grazing was sustainable, but in recent years sociopolitical pressures have forced the Gujjars to reside year round in the foothills and lowlands. As a result, the lands have become overgrazed, resulting in a deteriorated ecosystem not just for the farmers and their livestock (mainly buffalo) but also for the rest of the wildlife that shares it, including tigers.

Tigers are also fairly finicky creatures who require vast amounts of land in order to feed adequately and to find enough safe places to breed. As the researchers, led by Abishek Harihar, put it, “securing and strengthening protected areas or breeding sources in exclusion of anthropogenic disturbances, while ensuring that the larger landscape matrix is permeable to movement of tigers between the embedded source sites have become the cornerstones of tiger conservation.” In other words, the best way to help tigers is to stay out of their way.

Starting in 1984, 1125 Gujjar families were resettled away from critical tiger habitat. It cost just $360 USD per household, which paid for agricultural land, houses, and livestock sheds. The resettled Gujjars “have adopted an agro-pastoralist lifestyle and gained access to amenities such as education, medical services, veterinary care for their livestock,” and as a result, the vacated lands have witnessed increases not just in the tiger population, but in the ungulates that they hunt.

Now, Harihar and colleagues interviewed the heads of 158 Gujjar dera still in the tiger zone, resulting in data for 2237 individuals. (A dera is comprised of 2-6 households belonging to a father and his married sons; only the head of each dera, usually the father, was interviewed.) They found that most of the Gujjars – 156 of 158 interviewed – were unhappy in their current situation and were eager to be relocated with government assistance. On average, 89% of a household’s income came from milk production meaning that livestock losses, whether to disease or depredation, were particularly problematic for them. They believed that at least one quarter of all deaths was due to predation, either by tigers or leopards. And while those deaths led to some $45,000 dollars in lost revenue, only 10% of households received compensation. The researchers think that this is in large part attributable to the Gujjar’s 9% literacy rate, which impedes their filing of paperwork.

TAL tiger map Relocating humans for tiger conservation is a win for both

A map of tiger occupancy across the Terai Arc Landscape, with locations of the households interviewed during this study.

While large carnivores are not the primary driver of livestock losses for this community even in areas of extreme tiger density, such kills may be particularly salient and be more easily remembered. As a result, the occasional predation coupled with a low rate of governmental compensation “has resulted in incidences of retaliatory poisoning” and “involvement of community members with organized poachers,” the researchers say. Still, tigers and leopards rate low on the list of reasons that they want to move.

Most said instead that the “forests are no longer productive enough to graze and raise livestock for milk,” reflecting the problems with overgrazing. Many also referred to the lack of access to education and health facilities. Indeed, their desire to shift to a mixed agricultural/pastoralist lifestyle in a new place suggests a desire to diversify their income streams away from an increasingly unsustainable milk-based economy. “Being a largely illiterate community,” Harihar says, Gujjars are aware of “how the lack of education is hindering their ability to adapt to an increasingly monetary economy.” Resettlement would also bring them closer to veterinary facilities, an important benefit since three quarters of their livestock are lost each year to disease or injury.

Conservation organizations and local governments might therefore take advantage of the fact that many from the Gujjar community are ready to be relocated if only they had the resources to do it; such resources could be preferentially allocated towards those in critical tiger habitats, which need to be free of anthropogenic disturbances to allow the tigers to thrive. In lower-priority areas, the emphasis could be placed on peaceful coexistence by eliminating barriers towards receiving compensation for livestock depredation, and by providing better education on livestock husbandry and management to the farmers. In that way, both the Gujjars and the tigers could maximally benefit, a distressingly rare outcome in the world of wildlife conservation. – Jason G. Goldman | 5 February 2014

Harihar A., Ghosh-Harihar M. & MacMillan D.C. (2014). Human resettlement and tiger conservation – Socio-economic assessment of pastoralists reveals a rare conservation opportunity in a human-dominated landscape, Biological Conservation, 169 167-175. DOI: 



Canine distemper virus: An emerging disease in rare Amur tigers

Rare Amur tigers in Russia are succumbing to infection with canine distemper virus (CDV), a pathogen most commonly found in domestic dogs, according to the authors of a study published in mBio®, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

Pressure from poaching, decimation of their prey base, and habitat fragmentation have diminished the population of Amur tigers (also called Siberian tigers) to fewer than 500. In the study, a team of scientists from the US and Russia show that CDV infected and caused fatal neurological disease in members of this critically endangered species. They estimate that the virus has killed at least 1% of Amur tigers since 2009.

“Losing 1% of an endangered population is pretty significant,” says corresponding author Denise McAloose, Head Pathologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society in The Bronx, New York. “And these losses represent only the deaths we know about. I imagine that there were others that we just never saw,” says McAloose.

Since 2001, several rare Amur Tigers have exhibited a set of strange behaviors. Normally a reclusive species, tigers have been seen entering villages and wandering onto roads in the Russian Far East, stumbling, emaciated, and unafraid of humans. (One example can be found on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTGRtwV1RII). In each of the documented cases, the tiger eventually died or was destroyed after its condition worsened. Early findings showed that at least one of the tigers was infected with a member of the morbillivirus family of viruses, but conclusive answers had evaded scientists and wildlife managers until now.

Using tissue samples from five wild Amur tigers that died or were destroyed due to neurological disease in 2001, 2004, or 2010, McAloose and her colleagues proved that infection with CDV, a type of morbillivirus, is to blame for the deaths of two of the tigers and caused a serious infection in a third. Under the microscope, the brains of the two tigers that died of CDV infection were riddled with lesions, indicating they suffered from severe viral encephalitis, consistent with their clumsy, abnormal behavior. Molecular analyses to identify CDV-specific proteins and immunolabelling with CDV-specific antibodies confirmed that CDV was present in these tissues. A gene for a CDV-specific gene was detected in the third tiger.

The problem isn’t limited to one location, says McAloose. The three tigers that tested positive for CDV were distributed across the Russian Far East.

“That tells us this is a disease that is distributed all across Amur tiger range,” McAloose says. “And it also appears to be a relatively new threat to tigers since blood samples from wild tigers prior to 2000 tested negative for antibodies to the virus”.

But how do tigers contract a CDV infection? Relatively few domestic dogs in the Russian Far East are vaccinated against CDV, McAloose says, and tigers do kill and eat dogs, so they represent one possible source. But domestic dogs aren’t the only suspects.

“In the Russian Far East, domestic dogs are one of the biggest concerns, but other species, like raccoon dogs or foxes, can also harbor the disease,” says McAloose.

McAloose and her colleagues are now working on collecting samples from dogs and small wild carnivores in the Russian Far East to get a more complete picture of the various strains of CDV in circulation in the hopes of linking tiger infections to a source, knowledge that would hopefully aid in preventing more infections among tigers.

“The situation is quite serious”, says McAloose, and when asked if CDV could spell the demise of Amur tigers, she says, “It’s possible.”

“It’s the first infectious disease that we know is a significant risk to Amur tiger survival,” says McAloose.

Source: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-08/asfm-cdv080913.php

A behaviour-mediated trophic cascade involving Dugongs, Sea turtles and Tiger sharks.

‘Patterns of top-down control in a seagrass ecosystem: could a roving apex predator (Galeocerdo cuvier) induce a behaviour-mediated trophic cascade?’
By: Derek Burkholder, Michael Heithaus, James Fourqurean, Aaron Wirsing, Lawrence Dill

This manuscript presents data from a multi-year exclosure study to test a priori hypotheses regarding a behavior-mediated trophic cascade initiated by tiger sharks in a pristine seagrass ecosystem. We present evidence that seagrass communities are heavily influenced by large-bodied grazers, but only in areas where they can graze at lower risk from tiger shark predation. Although recent studies have suggested that roving predators, like tiger sharks, should be unlikely to trigger behavior-mediated cascades our work suggests that spatial heterogeneity can lead to such cascades. This study also suggests that the removal of large bodied predators could have wide-ranging consequeces for foundational species like seagrasses. Therefore, we believe that this manuscript should be of general interest to ecologists working in diverse marine, terrestrial, and freshwater ecosystems.

A behaviour-mediated trophic cascade from Journal of Animal Ecology on Vimeo.