Karelia, Russia – These forests of pine, spruce and birch trees on Russia’s north-west frontier with Finland stretch in every direction to the horizon. When the sun shines, the dazzling green is fragmented by lakes of sky-blue water.
Yet the impact of humankind is everywhere. Tracks criss-cross the woodland, accommodating logging vehicles – diggers with robotic chainsaws and trailer trucks. At road intersections, ribbons tied around trees signpost areas earmarked for clearing.
Swedwood Karelia LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Swedish furniture giant IKEA, owns a logging concession of around 300,000 hectares here. Its factory on the edge of the town of Kostomuksha processes logs into planks. Eventually, they will end up as flat-packs in hundreds of IKEA’s stores worldwide.
Swedwood is active in the Karelia Forest, one of the
last old-growth forests in Europe [Yulia Shcherbina/Al Jazeera]
For IKEA, Russia is a prime territory for expansion. Not only are two of its top three globally performing stores located in Moscow, but the country’s vast boreal or taiga forest belt is a source of high-quality timber.
Yet IKEA’s logging in Karelia has raised uncomfortable questions about its reputation for sourcing sustainable wood. And attention has also brought into focus wider problems associated with commercial forestry in northern Europe and Russia.
In April, environmental NGOs held protests outside eight IKEA stores in Sweden to raise awareness of a study conducted into IKEA’s activities in Karelia by Protect the Forest and Friends of the Earth Sweden.
The NGOs claim that IKEA, through Swedwood, is helping to destroy ecosystems that are home to endangered species by clear-cutting already depleted old-growth forests.
HONG KONG – INSPIRED by tiny caterpillars, Treebot may be China’s new answer to forest preservation.
The slinky robot grips trees with spidery legs to climb and is equipped with a camera to spot any dangers to forests high amidst the leaves. Its segmented body allows it to negotiate complex branches and make turns.
Xu Yangsheng, a professor at the Chinese University in Hong Kong, said nature gave him the idea for his creation. ‘I used to basically observe how inchworms actually walk on the trees and I like this idea very much,’ he said.
‘I thought we should develop a robot monitoring the situation in the forest, especially now there are so many fires, so many environmental disasters happening in the forest areas.’ Treebot’s camera transmits images in real time and it can support a solar cell, so potentially there would be no need to halt its work to recharge. And while it weighs in at only 600g it can carry three times its weight.
‘It can climb different kids of trees: smooth surface, rough surface, big or small and different directions. Also, it can automatically cling to branches so its mobility is good,’ Dr Xu said.
The robot still needs some refining – the camera doesn’t work well in low light and it tends to slip when trees are wet – but Dr Xu says the potential is obvious and he hopes it will soon be crawling its way into trees around the world. — REUTERS
The state this week expects to announce a partnership with federal agencies to help landowners and managers protect forest lands.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie and William Aila, the director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, plan to sign an agreement on the issue at the governor’s office on Thursday.
Kathleen Dobler, the deputy director of natural resources for the Conservation Service Pacific Islands Area is expected to participate, as is Wesley Nohara, the president of the Hawaii Association of Conservation Districts.
Caitlyn Pollihan, the executive director of Western Forestry Leadership Coalition, and John Lindelow of Ahu Lani Sanctuary, are also due to sign the memorandum of understanding.