Arctic Science Journeys
Endangered Russian Nature Preserves
STORY: Budget reductions within the U.S. federal government will mean long lines of vacationers next summer at places like Alaska's Denali National Park and Wyoming's Yellowstone. But that's nothing compared to the crisis facing nature preserves in Russia. There, neglect has caused serious damage to some of the world's most pristine wild areas. Douglas Wiener is a professor and historian at the University of Arizona who's followed the development of nature preserves in Russia.
Wiener: "Those nature preserves are important because in many cases they represent the last habitats for rare and endangered species. And so if they go down, the biological diversity of the globe will take a big hit."
Professor Wiener says Russia's old system of private reserves became state property after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. They were alternately destroyed or protected, depending on who was in power. Stalin eliminated half of the preserves, while Breshnev and Gorbachev expanded them. But today there's no money left even to pay the rangers.
Wiener: "The whole nature preserve network is in danger of unraveling because there's no funding for these people. These people haven't been paid. The people who are staying are staying solely on the basis of conviction."
With cash in short supply, many former Soviet states have begun to develop resources in the once-protected areas. Logging in some nature preserves is threatening already rare plants and animals, including the endangered Siberian tiger.
Professor Wiener: "The Siberian tiger is virtually at its last stand right now. And this logging is going to put the stake right through the heart."
Setting land aside in nature preserves offers no guarantee that it will be protected forever. But there is cause for hope. Professor Wiener says many Russian scientists are dedicated to environmental protection. And there's a grassroots environmental movement, similar to the one that occurred in the United States in the 1960s, that may help save Russia's natural treasures.
Reporting from Fairbanks, Alaska, this is Debra Damron for Arctic Science Journeys.
Arctic Science Journeys is a radio service highlighting science, culture, and the environment of the circumpolar north. Produced by the Alaska Sea Grant College Program and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
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