New publication from Postdoc Eugenia Bragina on selective forest logging in Western Siberia

Arctic fox

Our paper on selective forest logging in Western Siberia was published online in January. This work was an interesting experience, both in terms of our findings and the publishing process.

This study resulted from a collaboration with the NGO ‘Gebler Environmental Society’, in Western Siberia, Russia. In our study area, the economy is not doing well, and timber harvesting is one of the few income sources. As a result, habitats of endangered and vulnerable species such as the black stork, greater spotted eagle, and Eastern imperial eagle are disturbed. It is also a social issue, because local people use the forests for recreation. Mapping deforestation is a great way to track illegal logging. The challenge is that >95% of logging in the area is selective, which is notoriously hard to map with satellite images. Our trick was to use leaf-on and leaf-off imagery to address this issue. We produced a very accurate map of forest disturbance.

Our main finding was that deforestation happens more often within protected areas than outside of them. Why so? With timber harvesting going on for several decades, the most valuable non-protected forests are gone at this point. Protected areas still have some, hence the logging pressure.

This study had an immediate application: our map was used to identify illegal logging sites. It is a great example of scientific research, which has a very practical application. It is especially valuable that this work was conducted in Russia, where communication between decision-makers and conservationists is often challenging, to say the least.

Conducting the work was only part of the story though. When it came to wrapping up the study, it was surprisingly hard to publish. Our impression was that research in Western Siberia was not of much interest for an American audience. A couple of reviewers explicitly pointed it out: ‘Explain the broad significance of your study and why it is important outside of Russia’.

Answering practical questions is fun but it might be challenging to publish because of their specificity and small scale. The earlier students can start to think about it, the better choices they can make about their career. For example, it is easier to find a job in academia having high-ranked publications in your CV, but saving some particular ecosystem or population can be closer to your heart. There is no right or wrong choice here, and there are plenty of examples when high-ranked publications were extremely important for on-the-ground conservation. However, it is something that early career scientists should keep in mind.

-Dr. Eugenia Bragina