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Chinese appetite for timber depletes other countries

From the Altai Mountains to the Pacific Coast, logging is ravaging Russia’s vast forests, leaving behind swathes of scarred earth studded with dying stumps. The culprit, to many Russians, is clear: China. Since China began restricting commercial logging in its own natural forests two decades ago, it has increasingly turned to Russia, importing huge amounts of wood in 2017 to satisfy the voracious appetite of its construction companies and furniture manufacturers. Source:  The New York Times

“In Siberia, people understand they need the forests to survive,” said Eugene Simonov, an environmentalist who has studied the impact of commercial logging in Russia’s Far East. “And they know their forests are now being stolen.”

Russia has been a witting collaborator, too, selling Chinese companies logging rights at low cost and, critics say, turning a blind eye to logging beyond what is legally allowed.

Chinese demand is also stripping forests elsewhere — from Peru to Papua New Guinea, Mozambique to Myanmar.

In the Solomon Islands, the current pace of logging by Chinese companies could exhaust the country’s once pristine rain forests by 2036, according to Global Witness, an environmental group.

In Indonesia, activists warn that illegal logging linked to a company with Chinese partners threatens one of the last strongholds for orangutans on the island of Borneo.

Environmentalists say China has simply shifted the harm of unbridled logging from home to abroad, even as it reaps the economic benefits. Some warn that the scale of logging today could deplete what unspoiled forests remain, contributing to global warming.

At the same time, China is protecting its own woodlands.

Two decades ago, concerns about denuded mountains, polluted rivers and devastating floods along the Yangtze River made worse by damaged watersheds prompted the Communist government to begin restricting commercial logging in the nation’s forests.

The country’s demand for wood did not diminish, however. Nor did the world’s demand for plywood and furniture, the main wood products that China makes and exports.

It is one thing for Chinese demand to overwhelm small, poor nations desperate for cash, but it is another for it to drain the resources of a far larger country, one that regards itself as a superpower and a strategic partner to China.

The trade has instead underscored Russia’s overreliance on natural resources and provoked a popular backlash that strains the otherwise warm relations between the countries’ two leaders, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

Protests have erupted in many cities. Members in Russia’s upper house of parliament have assailed officials for ignoring the environmental damage in Siberia and the Far East. Residents and environmentalists complain that logging is spoiling Russian watersheds and destroying the habitats of the endangered Siberian tiger and Amur leopard.

“What we are doing now in Siberia and the Far East is destroying what is left of the original intact forest landscapes,” said Nikolay M. Shmatkov, director of the forestry program for the World Wildlife Fund in Russia. The group has documented the destruction using satellite images over a period that coincides with the Chinese logging boom in the country.

“It’s not sustainable,” he said.