An honor guard for the sacred Siberian crane
18.10.2012 — Analysis
Authorities in the Yamal-Nenets autonomous district want to take control of federally protected nature reserves. They have been forced to take this unorthodox and expensive step because of the appalling condition of these state wildlife refuges. This columnist for RusBusinessNews has learned that moose meat and timber are being harvested on an industrial scale in forested conservation areas that have been left unguarded since 2005. These nature reserves were created to help reestablish populations of rare animals and birds, but were very quickly overrun by poachers.
The governor of Yamal, Dmitry Kobylkin, addressed a letter to the Russian president's staff, requesting that the Kunovat, Nadym, and Lower Ob federal wildlife refuges be placed under the control of the regional government. He claims that there is active poaching and uncontrolled, for-profit operations taking place in the most valuable areas. These conservation areas have been left unguarded since 2005, which is simply unthinkable in the Far North, which is home to valuable species of fish and animals, as well as a breeding ground for rare fauna such as white Siberian cranes.
Alexander Sorokin, the head of the biodiversity department of the All-Russian Research Institute for the Protection of Nature, says that until 2005, seven park rangers equipped with motorboats and snowmobiles worked in the Kunovat reserve. But since authority was redistributed between the federal and regional governments, there has been no one left to guard the animals. The wildlife refuges have no administrative structures, and as the law now stands, regional hunting inspectors cannot arrest poachers on federal land.
Foxes, hares, squirrels, ermines, sables, minks, geese, black grouse, and capercaillie all roam Kunovat. But poachers are particularly eager to shoot moose, which are found everywhere there. According to Alexander Sorokin, the migration routes of moose pass through the preserve, and this has allowed criminals to establish a profitable industry there, hauling off the dead animals by truck.
Occasionally the state threatens the poachers. For example, after a 100-kilometer chase in 2008, hunting inspectors caught two groups of offenders and seized six guns that had been used to kill one moose and 15 capercaillie. But, as the employees of Rosselkhoznadzor (Russian Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance) in the Tyumen region acknowledge, these types of reprisals are rare. The nature reserve is vast and without roads, therefore there is no ongoing surveillance. The poachers are well aware of this and they're quite brazen, openly chopping down particularly valuable floodplain forests, firing at ducks passing overhead, and chasing after moose.
All this frenetic human activity is decimating the fauna of the Far North - many of the animals are shot, while others abandon their nests and young. Alexander Sorokin knows of two instances in which specially "protected" Siberian cranes have been forced from their established habitats. These birds are very cautious and choosy about their environment - each nests individually amidst the lakes of the grassy tundra and are very timid of humans. Sometimes the rumble of a tractor or noise of an airplane is sufficient to cause them to scatter, leaving their unhatched eggs at the mercy of predators. Only a few Siberian cranes are left in the Tyumen region, and their dwindling numbers are deeply troubling to both government officials as well as ornithologists.
The Russian Ministry of Natural Resources began discussing the fate of Kunovat and other federal nature reserves on Yamal back in 2005. Alexander claims that at first they wanted to merge them into the "zapovednik" system of wildlife sanctuaries that benefit from more comprehensive restrictions on human activity, but the closest sanctuary of that type is located 1,500 kilometers from Kunovat, making continual surveillance of any specific natural area impossible. Then the idea emerged to place the nature reserves under the protection of Rosprirodnadzor's regional office in Salekhard. But that plan had to be abandoned as well - the monitors from the Federal Service for the Supervision of the Use of Natural Resources do not have the practical capability or resources to battle poachers. The government of the Yamal-Nenets autonomous district became the last hope. They claimed that they understood the significance and value of the Kunovat, Nadym, and Lower Ob wildlife preserves and were prepared to shoulder the cost of protecting them.
Alexander Sorokin suggests that the area's indigenous inhabitants are best suited to defend their natural environment. They live in harmony with nature and prefer not to violate it unnecessarily. The Khanty believe that anyone who disturbs the white cranes will bring eternal misfortune to his family. The northern peoples commonly believe the Siberian crane to be a sacred bird - seeing one fly is considered a blessing from heaven. This aboriginal worldview is the key to helping this rare fauna survive and continue to procreate. The Siberian cranes need their natural habitat. If that is protected, the fragile ecosystem of the Far North will also survive.
While discussing the problem with this columnist for RusBusinessNews, a spokesman for the Federal Service for the Supervision of the Use of Natural Resources suggested that the government of the Yamal-Nenets autonomous district would be the best choice to sort out the mess in the northern forests. The autonomous district has established an Office to Defend Protected Natural Areas of Regional Importance, which might be able to monitor federal lands as well. What's more, officials in the Yamal-Nenets autonomous district have already begun monitoring the Kunovat, Nadym, and Lower Ob wildlife preserves, although the status of those refuges does not allow the officials to seize lands, only to verify that they are being used as intended by the government of the federal entity. Hence, officially transferring the authority to monitor and protect the state nature reserves to the district would seem an entirely logical step.
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