Hyundai targets Siberian wilderness
The Udege people of the Russian far east are preparing for battle against the Korean conglomerate, Hyundai, which is planning large-scale logging operations in the Primorsky Krai region.
The company has been granted permission to log the region's last native forest, an area of around 300,000 hectares on the headwaters of the Bikin River. The area is one of the last refuges of the endangered Siberian tiger and is vital to the hunting and fishing lifestyle of the Udege.
While Hyundai's joint-venture subsidiary, Svetlaya, has the approval of the local forest service for its logging operation, the plan is in fact illegal, as permission was granted without the required environmental impact statement or agreement from the Udege.
Previous environmental statements explicitly forbade logging in these forests, and the Udege people are overwhelmingly against cutting. The Russian Ministry of Ecology and the Primorsky Regional Soviet have recommended that these lands be protected from cutting and transferred to the control of the Udege.
Nevertheless, Hyundai and the regional administration have been pressing for permission to cut. The company has been logging in the area for about two years but needs access to the Bikin to overcome serious financial troubles. It has secured the support of Governor Vladimir S. Kuznetsov despite reports from the Regional Committee for Ecology and Nature Use that Hyundai has not obeyed any of the environmental conditions in its current operations.
Forest service officials are already in the area to mark trees for logging, and a delegation of Udege
hunters is planning to confront them and demand to see documentation permitting the cut. Opponents of the logging will press for an international environmental boycott of Hyundai products if the project goes ahead.