Interviewee: Mr. Eiichiro Noguchi, Friends of the Earth (FoE) Japan
There are many places on earth rich in nature. Why does FoE Japan focus on this region?
It is because Japan has close relationships with the forests in this region. During the period between the mid-1950's and mid-1960's, Japan imported a tremendous quantity of lumber, especially cheap coniferous trees from Russia. In the Soviet Union era, the country was the greatest lumber exporter to Japan, ignoring the natural restoration capability of forests. As a result, the Japanese people were able to construct their own houses and enjoy comfortable lives. It is useless to argue whether it was good or bad, but I would like to return a favor to the region because we were once blessed by the Udeghe forests, which are now endangered by deforestation.
In our eco-tours we aim to encourage participants to learn about the Russian nature, which we seldom think about, and to learn about the richness of the Udeghe forests and also think over our own daily lives. It is also important to encourage the Udeghes themselves to realize the place where they live has such a priceless value and is deserving of visits from countries all over the world.
When I hear the word "forests," tropical rain forests came to mind. I did not know that such superb virgin forests and ecosystems still remain here.
The word "biodiversity," which comes from the field of biology, was originally coined as an idea to protect wildlife in tropical rain forests. The Russian taiga, which is nothing like as rich as the tropical rain forests in the number of living things, has a different set of values from the tropical rain forests.
The Russian taiga is very unique, where two large wild animal species, Amur tigers and brown bears, live together. Tigers originally inhabited the Eurasian Continent while brown bears were distributed in Hokkaido, the Russian Far East, and North America. It is very rare that such large-size carnivores cohabit.
The reason is that deer, wild boars, squirrels, mice, and other small animals live in the region, and there are 300-year-old Korean pine trees producing abundant quantity of nuts, which is the main diet of those animals.
If the Far East forests, which are at the center of the food chain, are destroyed, there would be no opportunity for tigers and bears to encounter each other on earth. These forests are truly priceless.
Could you tell me about the future targets for this project?
Our target in this joint program is an entry on the UNESCO's World Heritage List as a natural site. Requisites for entry are that the site demonstrates biodiversity and contains habitats of endangered species. UNESCO realizes that there are the habitats of Amur tigers, of which total number is only 300 to 400 throughout the world, and that the region embraces rich vegetation.
As for environmental conservation led by the national government, it is important for us that the Russian government addresses this issue in terms of legislation, personnel assignment and training, financing, and management planning. To encourage the Udeghes, the long-time local residents, to continue living here as ever, it is indispensable to think about sustainable development of such superb forest resources, rather than simply restricting public access.
Our eco-tour project is the first step in our efforts. I would be so pleased if we could promote awareness in the Udeghes for the forests they live in. The Udeghe people are also happy to welcome and meet people from all over the world. They say they are most pleased if people can understand the value of their forest through the eco-tour. They strive to preserve the forests they live in and therefore oppose deforestation.
This winter, in cooperation with Russian NGOs, together with governmental representatives, we are planning to hold a workshop on the issues of applying for an entry on the World Heritage List.
Do you have specific plans for these remarkable objectives.
Yes, we do. However, entry on the World Heritage List is not our ultimate goal. In addition to organizing eco-tours, we as FoE Japan, continue our efforts centered around the Udeghes, including the creation of a patrol organization to watch for poachers in winter, provision of relevant communications equipment and the snowmobiles necessary for such patrols, the development of information centers to introduce the Udeghe traditional culture to visitors, and engaging in a fair trade scheme to help support their daily lives by purchasing honey, herbs, and other products they obtain from the forests at appropriate prices.
I feel like participating in your eco-tours to enjoy great nature. Thank you very much for your time today, Mr. Noguchi.