Science - September 30, 2004

Alterra receives visit from Russian delegation

A delegation led by the ministry of industry from the heavily wooded republic of Komi in the furthest north-eastern corner of European Russia visited the Netherlands last week. The Russians are looking for opportunities for exporting wood without damaging the biodiversity of the unique taiga forest of the area.

The delegation was in the Netherlands to probe West European interest in importing wood from Komi. There was also special attention for the progress of the PRISM project, in which Alterra participates. In the Pechora River Basin Integrated System Management Project Dutch researchers cooperate with colleagues at the Institute of Biology in Syktyvkar, Russia, to find good ways of using and managing the natural resources in the Pechora river basin. The Alterra researchers are focusing on the development of a biodiversity- and land-use model. The Pechora river basin covers a large amount of Komi, between the Ural mountains and the Arctic Ocean.

The scientists have spent the last two years recording the biodiversity in the area. This has to be done before it is possible to determine whether developments in the area are a threat to the flora and fauna. The area does not contain a wide range of species, but the species that are present are found in enormous numbers. The river delta is an important breeding area for big populations of swans, ducks and geese, many of which spend the winter in the Netherlands.

‘The forests of our republic are not only of ecological but also economic importance,’ stated minister Nikolai Gerasimov. ‘A quarter of our income comes from exploitation of the forest. The PRISM project is important because it helps us to see the effects of forest use so we can set limits as to what is good use and what is not.’ Conservation measures in the area are not only the result of international pressure he claims: ‘There is also a strong move within our own population to leave the forest alone. Six million hectares within Komi are protected and in the areas where tree felling takes place we have chosen for certificated wood. In this respect we are pioneers within Russia; nearly half of all certified wood in Russia comes from Komi.’

Dr Bas Pedroli, leader of the PRISM project at Alterra, says there is increasing demand for certified wood in Western Europe and therefore an opportunity for Komi in the market, which at present is dominated by Scandinavia. He is pleased that the delegation also declared its intention to give the project an extension. ‘Forest exploitation can also have serious consequences for water management and biodiversity, so from this point of view it is also good to be able to keep an eye on things.’ / GvM

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