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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ecologists Urge Putin to Save Sochi's Wildlife

The World Wildlife Fund has written to President Vladimir Putin in what it called a last-ditch attempt to stop the destruction of rare wildlife habitat to make way for Sochi's 2014 Winter Olympics bid.

The International Olympic Committee is due to fly to Sochi next week to evaluate the Russian bid, which has been shortlisted alongside Salzburg, Austria and Pyeongchang, South Korea.

IOC inspectors may reject the bid if it is not changed to lessen the impact of planned construction work on the environment, home to wild bears and deer, the WWF told Putin.

"Letters to the government did not lead to any action and we wanted to warn the president that Sochi's bid was in danger of failing," Igor Chestin, director of WWF's Russian operations, said Wednesday.

Changes in the law last year shifted control of the mountains and forests around Sochi to the Economic Development and Trade Ministry and partially stripped it of national park status.

The ministry says it is necessary to develop the area for the Olympics as a ski resort, but ecologists say the real beneficiaries are business interests who want the land for lucrative resort projects.

"Part of the area taken off the nature reserve list is of special biological importance, such as the winter hibernation places for deer, chamois and the brown bear," the WWF wrote in its letter to Putin, dated Feb. 12.

In response to the WWF's letter, Dmitry Chernyshenko, the Sochi 2014 Bid CEO, said in a statement on Wednesday that preservation of the environment had "always been an important objective for the Sochi 2014 bid. To this end, we continue an ongoing dialogue with ecology groups and experts to ensure that all environmental concerns in Sochi are comprehensively addressed."

Chernyshenko said the government was investing $100 million in Sochi's environment.

(Reuters, MT)