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Land use
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One of the most influential ecological disturbances is fire, especially when fire frequency is increased greatly by human actions. In terms of the land area affected each year it is the most widespread impact factor for forests, wetlands and grasslands of the Amur-Heilong River basin . Poor logging practices leaving behind networks of access roads and huge loads of dry fuel are leading factors exacerbating the problems of human-caused fires in the basin. Abandoned fields with dry grasses provide massive fuel loads that can be converted by an accidental ignition into a disaster. Unorganized collection of non-forest timber products, careless recreation, and burning of hayfields also lead to forest and grassland fires.

In southwest Primorsky Province dry grass has been burned for centuries. This uncontrolled method of managing hayfields and fern beds each year turns the entire lower mountainous region of the Khasansky District (southern tip of Primorsky Province ) into an enormous wall of fire, enveloping up to 40 percent of the entire territory. This region provides some of the last remaining habitat for the endangered Far Eastern leopard. As a result of the high frequency of anthropogenic fire mixed forests are turning into scrub and sparse oak woods. These species-poor forests in turn give way to fields of grass and shrubs. The area of forest degradation is increasing, posing serious threats to the Far Eastern leopard and other species. (See map Frequency of fires in tiger/leopard habitat)

Statistics on forest fire causes show that human activities are responsible for 94 percent of fires in the most valuable mixed broadleaf-coniferous forest zone of the Russian Far East. The fire problem seems to be most acute in Russia, widespread in Mongolian grasslands, and common but not so detrimental in the much more fragmented ecosystems of China.


According to some environmentalists, most resource economists and the majority of responsible officials in Russian Far East, wildfire is the most threatening cause of terrestrial ecosystem degradation in the Russian part of the Amur-Heilong basin. There are many reasons for this opinion:

•  Fires affect much larger areas than other threatening impacts. As for many grasslands and wetlands – fires are dominant factors shaping these landscapes in RFE ( See map Landuse/Land cover –SPOT satellite imagery);

•  Fires are common companions of other human impacts (logging, agriculture, recreation), and multiply negative effects of these activities;

•  Fires have a positive feed back cycle and can occur repeatedly in certain plant communities preventing their natural recovery;

•  Especially in the drier, western parts of the basin, fires could lead to radical transformation of landscapes, with elimination of certain species, plant communities and even lead to desertification of certain areas.

•  As droughts become more frequent fires occur more frequently and sweep across larger areas; and

•  Fires, unlike illegal logging, are not perceived as results of corruption or sheer mismanagement, and responsible agency authorities in Russia cannot be blamed for “improper fire dynamics”.


Fire may be the number one threat to the terrestrial regions of the Russian Amur-Heilong, but not in China. In China arson is punished as a major crime, officials are held responsible for accidental fires, and local people do not dare smoke outside during fire-fighting season. The region, as such, is a large-scale socio-ecological experiment. In the near future, besides the obvious benefits of mutual learning about fire-control, it gives us an opportunity to assess the role of fires in ecosystem degradation process in the Amur-Heilong basin.


Map collection: Forestry


Map collection: Oil & gas

Map collection: Transportation



View of Onon River Valley from Tsasucheisky Bor National Wildlife Refuge. Chitinskaya Province.

Also look:

Land-use trends:

General trends in land-use

Recent changes in land-use in three countries



Amur Agriculture

Agricultural development in Northeast China

Agricultural development in Eastern Mongolia

Russian agriculture

Russian agricultural land and production in RFE-tables

Northeast Asia cooperation in agriculture

Environmental impacts of argiculture

Land degradation and desertification

Conversion of wildlands to farmland



Timber harvest in the Russian Far East

Salmon vs forestry

Major human-induced impacts on forest ecosystems of RFE (table)

Timber trade


Other land-use issues:

Nature tourism in the Amur/Heilong River Basin

Transport infrastructure impacts

Oil & gas Basin

Oil & gas impacts

Russian mining

Mongolian mining

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