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Environmental problems of Northern Eurasia

Nature Protection and Conservation

<<< State of Biodiversity and Conservation | Environmental Problems Index | Conclusions >>>

International Conventions

The countries of the FSU ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity, which was ratified at the 1992 UN Conference for Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, thus committing themselves to the conservation of genetic, species, ecosystem, and landscape diversity. In the framework of these obligations, protection, sustainable use, and reproduction of national biological resources (i.e., forests, pastures, and commercial fauna), ш situ and ex situ conservation are being developed. Northern Eurasia accommodates virgin landscapes of an exceptional scale and its nature, and particularly forests, are able to fulfill global biosphere functions similar to those in the Amazonian forests.

Russia and other countries that accommodate wetlands rich in wildlife joined the international Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in 1975. Most biomes of Northern Eurasia feature many interior and coastal wetlands notable for wildlife. Shallow coastal waters of the Arctic Seas, lakes and marshes of tundra, forest-tundra and taiga, floodplains, lakes of forest-steppe and steppe, and deltas of the arid zone rivers are important centres of biodiversity. For example, in the Ramsar wetlands of Russia the population of waterfowl at the end of a reproduction season reaches approximately 10 million or 12 per cent of the total waterfowl population in Russia and about 25 per cent of waterfowl birds use them during the migration periods. About 60 bird species, 11 mammal species, and 12 plant species listed in the Russian Red Data Books (1983, 1988) occur in these wetlands. The Ramsar Convention identified thirty-five wetlands, covering a total area of 107 km2 in Russia, including the coastal zone of the Kola peninsula, the Volga delta, lakes of the Tobol-Ishim interfluve, and Lake Khanka. In other countries, the most important wetlands include lakes of the Kurgaldzhinsky zapovednik in Kazakhstan; Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan; the shallow waters of the Sea of Azov and the Sivash, the Tendrovsky and Yaroglytsky gulfs of the Black Sea, and the Danube swamps in the Ukraine; the Krasnovodsky zapovednik in Turkmenistan; the Matsalu gulf in Estonia; and the Kyzyl-Agach gulf in Azerbaijan. Integrated with wetlands of the other regions of Eurasia, they form a system of wetlands providing habitats for waterfowl in various stages of migration. Protecting these wetlands is a key element in the territorial system of nature conservation and joining the Ramsar Convention has greatly facilitated international efforts on the conservation of migratory birds in Northern Eurasia.

Another important international agreement, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), was adopted in 1973 and has been enforced since 1975. The USSR joined the Convention in 1976 and now all countries of the FSU participate. One aim of the CITES is the prevention of smuggling and illegal trade in rare plants and animals. Despite many efforts, in recent years illegal export from the countries of the FSU has escalated. The Amur tiger and birds of prey, used for hunting in the Arab world, are sought after most. Northern Eurasia is also a transit region for smuggling of rare species and special CITES offices were set up at major airports to improve control.

In 1988, the Soviet Union joined the UNESCO Convention on the Conservation of World Natural and Cultural Heritage. By 1990, a number of important architectural and historical sites had already been added to the UNESCO heritage list. In 1995, 32 000 km2 of virgin taiga forests of the Komi Republic, including the areas of the Pechero-IIych zapovednik and the Yugyd Va national park, were added to the list. This was the first Russian natural heritage site to be included on the list and this has prevented the development of timber and gold-mining projects in the Yagyd Va park and attracted international investment for the development of both conservation and tourism.

Another two sites of Russian natural heritage, 'Lake Baikal' and 'Volcanoes of Kamchatka', entered the UNESCO list in 1996. The 'Lake Baikal' site incorporates the lake and the islands, the buffer zone, and a number of sites located at a distance from Baikal but important for its functioning and biodiversity. The buffer zone, which is between 70 km and 80 km wide, covers the little-transformed mountain taiga landscapes of the Barguzin, Primorsky, and Khamar-Daban Ridges, and the delta of the Selenga river and accommodates seven protected areas. Conserving watersheds facilitates the protection and, in some cases, the restoration of regimes and water quality of small rivers flowing into the Baikal. Despite these efforts, a threat to the ecosystem of the lake and to its recreational quality remains because of the failure to remove industry from the coastal zone completely and due to pollution of the inflowing rivers, the Selenga and the Barguzin.

The site 'Volcanoes of Kamchatka' covers an area of more then 30 000 km2. It unites the most environmentally important regions of the Kamchatka peninsula including the Kronotsky zapovednik on the eastern coast. For more than 60 years, it has been protecting the forest-tundra and mountain forest habitats of Pinus pumila and Betula ermanii and seal habitats on the coast. It also accommodates the unique Geyser Valley and a chain of volcanoes. The site also includes three national parks (Yuzno-Kamchatsky, Bystrinsky, and Nalychevsky) founded in 1995. The international status acquired by the parks has prevented the expansion of the timber and gold mining industries into these unique landscapes.

Two more areas, the Altay mountains and Karelia known for its forests and lakes, are considered as potential World Natural and Cultural Heritage sites in Russia.

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