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Russia: Officials Clamping Down On Dangerous Logging

St. Petersburg, 31 July 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Officials from the Leningrad region recently allied with -- remarkably for Russia -- Greenpeace activists to investigate abuses in logging industry in the Karelian Isthmus.

The isthmus is that part of the Leningrad Oblast that stretches north from St. Petersburg to the Finnish border.

Their two-months of factfinding resulted in a damning 26 page report alleging utter lawlessness in the forestry industry. It was prepared by an Interdepartmental Commission for the Inspection of the Forestry Industry in the Leningrad region is in the Karelian Isthmus.

The report charges that local forestry companies, with Finnish and Swedish loggers, have been plundering the region's trees for export in violation of Russian law and tenets of conservationist forestry.

Sergei Tsiplenkov of Greenpeace Russia, a commission member, characterized the findings: "There is no control, from A to Z, over the actions of these logging companies."

Leningrad Governor Vadim Gustov created the commission in June in response to pressure from citizens and environmental groups. Commission Director Sergei Orlov, who also chairs the controlling board of the Leningrad region's Forestry Committee, opened a press conference on the report by denying the existence of any, in his words, "catastrophic situation."

Greenpeace members responded that the situation is indeed critical, and worsening.

Long popular for dachas, and vacationers and nature lovers, the Karelian Isthmus' is in places federally protected forest parkland. Gustov himself ran last summer with an election promise to reduce logging in the oblast.

The environmental damage is quite evident -- shorn patches of forest are visible throughout the isthmus. Orlov cited in addition what he called a "tense social situation." He said it might turn violent if measures are not taken to reign in logging companies, especially foreign ones. He claimed that most of the logging is done by foreigners working for Finnish and Swedish companies. He said that the local people see foreigners destroying their forests and are upset.

Last Saturday, in the Priozersk district, near Sosnovo, locals armed with cleavers, shovels, and other sharp garden tools surrounded and threatened lumberjacks from one logging company. No actual violence resulted.

Tsiplenkov says two new factors have changed the Leningrad region's forestry industry. Due to the fall of the Soviet Union, more nearly open borders admit foreign loggers more readily. He said the second factor is that companies have adopted Scandinavian technology that facilitates excessive clearing.

The commission report offers 26 recommendations. Foremost is to change the makeup of Leningrad region's Forestry Committee. It also urges using the Federal Security Service, tax and customs authorities, and the Border Service to fight against illegal exports of timber.