Moscow, Russia’s Khimki forest is an important 2,600 acre old growth forest ecosystem remnant that has been a legally protected national treasure. But Russian government officials are pushing a highway that will slice through it to save a bit of time in travel from Moscow to St. Petersburg. In 2009 Russian Prime Minister Putin transferred Moscow's Khimki forest from protected land status to lands zoned “for transport and infrastructure”. He did this despite the fact that Article 11 of Federal Law 172-FZ forbids the destruction and development of public forests for road building when alternative routes exist. Since then a vibrant and assertive local movement willing to put their bodies on the lines for old forests, with EI and other international affinity networks playing a bit part, convinced President Medvedev to halt construction and consider an alternate route. But then corrupt officials sold off this breathtaking natural reserve, and now construction is beginning again.
The movement to reroute the toll highway that would cut through Khimki Forest has become Russia's most inspiring and largest activist movements in a long time. 66% of Russians oppose the project and Russian activists have been risking their lives to defend this ecologically unique, centuries-old forest. Russia is being hammered by abrupt climate change and terrestrial ecosystem collapse, and it needs to protect and restore old forests for continued advancement, or collapse. Russian activists and journalists have survived beatings, arrests and intimidation. In Russia today, dozens of similar road construction projects are proposed for public conservation lands. Organizers against the projects say construction of these roads are being allowed to start by corrupt politicians for the benefit of their construction company partners. Russian civil society is raising the alarm across the country to call on the President to stop this devastation. French multinational construction company Vinci is beginning the first phase of the highway, and EI is responding to local pleas to ask Vinci to end its involvement in the Moscow to St. Petersburg highway until an alternative route that spares Khimki Forest is selected.
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The Khimki Forest cannot be destroyed. This is a decision by the president of Russia. Yet, at least once a week and sometimes more frequently, bulldozers appear at a wide clearing cut in the forest and start razing trees. And at these moments, young people, protectors of the forest, come running onto the clearing to hug the trees or stand in front of the bulldozers to stop them.
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