The Khasan district in Southern Primorye is famous for its unique animal and plant species. Nature reserves and protected territories cover 37% of the district. It is a home to the endangered Amur leopard, whose population is now limited to 35-40 animals, and isolated subpopulation of Amur tigers with 15-20 individuals. Once in 6 years forest fires engulf up to 50% of the district.
Most fires are set by local people in spring on purpose to burn dry grass and stimulate growth of new plants. Control over agricultural burnings and forest fires by municipal and regional authorities is still weak there. Wild fires in the Khasan district are an important source of black carbon emissions in Primorye. The frequency of forest fires in the area is inversely proportional to the remoteness from human settlements and road networks. Therefore, public awareness activities on fire prevention measures are very important. As a result of regular fires a luxuriant forest of mixed coniferous and deciduous trees has been converted to grasslands. If nothing changes, forest, farmlands and soils can become more degraded. It is known that loss of habitat due to regular forest fires is a major factor threatening to the survival of the remaining Amur leopard population in the wild. And our main goal and top priority is to conserve biodiversity, especially rare species.
In order to protected Amur leopard habitat from fires, since 2000 the Phoenix Fund with support from the Tigris Foundation (Holland) has been supporting a firefighting team consisted of volunteers who put out forest fires and agricultural burnings in the south of the Khasan district. Unfortunately, the fire-fighting work by this small team on a large area was too complicated and ineffective, that is why in 2006 the project was suspended. But in 2009 it was recommenced with new principles. With support from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), one brigade focused on fire-fighting in the western part of Slavyanka municipality. The Phoenix Fund concentrated on Kedrovaya Pad Nature Reserve and began assisting its personnel in fire-fighting work by providing them with necessary fire-fighting equipment and fuel for vehicles used during fire-fighting patrols.
In 2011, thanks to financial support from the Pacific Environment (PERC), the Phoenix Fund could expand the project and formed the second 5-member volunteer team to protect the southern part of Leopardovy Wildlife Refuge which was recently converted with Kedrovaya Pad Nature Reserve into the Land of the Leopard National Park. This project area borders with Bezverkhovo Municipality on the east, with Slavyanka Municipality in the south, and with Kedrovaya Pad Nature Reserve in the north. Most fires on this area are the result of dry grass burning started by farmers along the borders with Bezverkhovo Municipality from the rail way on the east when wind is blowing from the seaside. This part of the protected area is subject to frequent fires because its proximity to the railroad and highway. Fires occur very seldom on the opposite side from the highway, which is closer to the Russian-Chinese border and where undestroyed forest has been preserved. Nevertheless, fires also happen there mostly due to violations of fire safety by military men at Bamburovsky firing range. Fires can cause serious damage to Amur leopard habitat regardless of wind direction. The second fire-fighting team created in 2011 protects this area from fires.
The Phoenix Fund is thankful for financial support of fire-fighting activities to the following organizations: Whitley Fund for Nature, BBC Wildlife Fund and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Fund.
Besides supporting fire-fighting teams, the Phoenix Fund is also work with local communities to suppress and prevent fires, increase public awareness of damage from forest fires and agricultural burnings, and inform people about fire preventive measures.