Award Created in Russia for Protecting Forest from State

Environment champion Yevgenia Chirikova set up a reward of 1 million rubles ($34,000) for anyone who wins a court battle to protect three Moscow region forests in danger of partial demolition.

The winner will have to get a court to stop road construction through the Khimki, Tsagovsky or Odintsovsky forests, Chirikova said at a press conference in Moscow on Thursday.

“They aim to split woodlands around Moscow by roads and then to develop the entire areas” around the roads, said Chirikova, who heads the Our Earth ecological group.

The money comes out of the Goldman Environmental Prize, a prestigious award which she received last week along with five activists from other continents, each of whom got a check for $150,000, Chirikova said.

Chirikova became a nationwide celebrity with the opposition after she spearheaded in 2010 the grassroots movement to protect Khimki forest, slated for partial destruction to make way for an $8 billion highway endorsed by the Kremlin.

The protests failed to stop the deforestation, but were called by analysts in hindsight a vital forerunner of the massive anti-government protests that swept Moscow between December and March.

Now Chirikova and the other activists are involved with the Tsagovsky forest in the city of Zhukovsky, part of which is also being cleared by road constructors, whom activists accuse of operating illegally.

“I’m getting total déjà vu, but what’s happening in Zhukovsky is even worse than in Khimki,” she said.

Environmentalists and locals clashed with private guards protecting the works in Tsagovsky forest last Saturday, trying to tear down a fence around the clearing made by workers. Police detained a number of activists, who accused the law enforcements of de-facto siding with the loggers.

At least three adolescents were beaten up by the private guards in plain view of the police, one of them still in hospital, Chirikova said. No legal repercussions were reported.

The road is needed to solve dismal traffic problems in the city of Zhukovsky, known for hosting the biannual airshow MAKS. But opponents of the construction accuse the city authorities of ignoring less eco-harmful alternative routes in hopes of gradually handing over the land along the upcoming road to real estate developers.

Zhukovsky City Hall said on Tuesday it will declare the remainders of the Tsagovsky forest a conservation area, sealing formalities within the next few months.

But activists demand that the road construction stop and the area be replanted with new pines, which are to be paid for by the city. Dozens of protesters are currently camped out in the forest in hopes of preventing further deforestation work.


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