Russia's First World Heritage Site


Greenpeace reports that UNESCO, after a long campaign on their part, has listed the largest untouched forest area in Europe as a World Heritage Site; saving it from logging companies, oil exploration and mining interests. The Komi Forest is in Russia, on the western slopes of the Ural Mountains. The 3.2 million hectare virgin Komi Forest (larger than Belgium) contains a variety of ecosystems and rare species; home to healthy populations of brown bear, beaver, otter, wood grouse and others. Following are two items on the matter posted on econet's bulletin boards. The first is a short press release posted in gp.press conference and the second is a longer background piece posted in taiga.news. For further information on EcoNet membership, a nonprofit online system, send any message to .
/* ---------- "Russia's 1st World Heritage Site" ---------- */
                    GREENPEACE PRESS RELEASE

Berlin/Moscow/ Friday, December 8, 1995. Greenpeace today applauded the decision of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to add the Komi Forests, a huge expanse of pristine forest in European Russia to the World Heritage List.
The decision by UNESCO supports Greenpeace's efforts to protect the largest untouched forest area in Europe from the impact of logging companies, oil exploration and mining interests in the midst of an environmental and economic crisis in Russia. The Komi Forest Listing, on the western slopes of the Ural Mountains, covers an area larger than Belgium.

The 3.2 million hectare virgin Komi Forest site, North East of Moscow, contains a variety of ecosystems and rare species. It is one of the most valuable stores of taiga forest and wetland biodiversity values in Europe. It is home to healthy populations of brown bear, beaver, otter, wood grouse and sable, as well as many other rare or endangered species such as the arctic sorrel.

"This decision by UNESCO will mean a safe haven for the rich natural heritage that the people of Komi have depended on for hundreds of years," said Volodya Chuprov, a member of the Komi indigenous people, and Greenpeace researcher who helped prepare the nomination.

The virgin Komi Forests came under direct threat from many sides in 1994. Foreign timber companies sought contracts to begin clearcut logging along the Pechora and Ilych Rivers, while one of the world's largest oil spills destroyed the river and villages downstream.

While Greenpeace campaigners exposed the oil destruction downstream of the nomination site, Greenpeace Forests staff completed a successful campaign to stop French and Austrian logging companies from using destructive and unsustainable clearcutting methods on Komi territory. The UNESCO Komi listing confirms the importance of assuring the protection of this vital natural area in Europe for present and future generations.

"Greenpeace is ecstatic that this huge virgin forest system will now be out of bounds for destructive industrial and commercial development," said Sergei Tsyplenkov, forests campaigner with Greenpeace Russia.

"We hope that other European governments will take note of Russia's leadership and be encouraged to make stronger measures to protect remaining old-growth forests from logging and industrial development in their own countries," said Patrick Anderson, forests campaigner with Greenpeace International. In 1996, Greenpeace Russia will prepare a World Heritage nomination for the Green Belt of Fennoscandia, the enormous area of old-growth forest that border with Finland left untouched during the Cold War. These valuable forests are coming under intense pressure from timber interests in Scandinavia, while existing and planned logging operations in the region have been deeply opposed by scientists and environmental groups, including Greenpeace.

A further five World Heritage nominations were prepared by Greenpeace Russia in 1995, for potential listing by UNESCO in 1996. In brief, these nominations are:

* Pristine forests in Primorsky Krai in the Russian Far East (4 million hectares and the principal habitat of the endangered Amur tiger and the Far East leopard).
* The Volcanoes of Kamchatka (4 million hectares of stunning forests, salmon streams and volcanoes on the Kamchatka Peninsula).
* Sources of the Great Ob River in the Altai Mountains in Central Siberia (6.5 million hectares of mountain ecosystem).
* Vodlozero Park in the Northwest of European Russia (1 million hectares, Europe's largest intact wetland and old-growth boreal forest ecosystem).
* Ubsunur Hollow in Tuva Republic and Mongolia (7.5 million hectares, of steppe and forest, a cultural and natural heritage nomination carried out in conjunction with the Mongolian government).

For further information contact:
Patrick Anderson c/o Greenpeace Berlin ++49 30 238 57
Sergei Tsyplenkov at Greenpeace Russia ++7 095 978 3950
Desley Mather at Greenpeace Communications ++44 171 833 0600

Item #2:
/* ---------- "Russia's Komi Heritage Site" ---------- */




Forming Europe's natural eatsern border along the Ural Mountains, the Virgin Komi Forests are the continent's largest unfragmented old-growth forests representing a wide variety of integrated ecosystems ranging from boreal forests in the southern part of the territory to subarctic taiga in the north. The forests, mountains, wetlands and river valleys that make up the system are a haven for dozens of rare species and contain one of Europe's most valuable stores of biodiversity.

In 1994 these forests came under direct threat from many sides. A foreign timber company began to carry out clearcut logging along the Pechora and Ilych Rivers while one of the world's largest oil spills destroyed the river and villages downstream. There was no help in sight: park officials can go months without pay and nature conservation has been forgotten in the economic crisis.

While Greenpeace campaigners decried the destruction downstream, Greenpeace researchers got to work upstream to organise a nomination to UNESCO's World Natural Heritage List, Russia's first such nomination. Once word of the nomination got out, the loggers disappeared and efforts have turned toward developing a sound management plan for the enormous 3.2 million hectare nature preserve.

World Heritage Project

As part of a major nature conservation project centered in Russia, Greenpeace has announced the first of a set of territories to be included in the World Natural Heritage List, UNESCO's "Nobel Prize" of natural objects. The Project's intent is the full protection of Russia's most valuable and extensive funds of biodiversity both in the short term as Russia suffers an environmental-economic crisis and in the long term as catalysts in the search for environmentally sound alternative investment projects.

Komi Republic,
Russian Federation

indigenous people:

3,200,000 hectares

taiga, boreal forest, wetland, subarctic and mountain tundra,

common tree species:
spruce, larch, birch,
silver fir, cedar

common animal species:
sable, brown bear, elk, deer, white hare, beaver, wood marten, otter, ermine, squirrel, weasel, hazel-hen, blackgrouse, wood grouse, goose, widgeon, teal, salmon, umber

rare and valuable species:
Caltha arctic, Ranunculus Sulphureus, Saxifraga tenuis, Cystopteris gragilis, Woodsia, Cryptogramme, Permian aremone, Boschniakia rossica, Novotorularia, Erysimum pallasi, Astragalus gladcovi, Nemachius palia, gyrfalcon, Falco peregrinus, Haliaeetus alibicilla

economic value:
salmon, tourism, reindeer herding, berry, seed and pine-nut gathering, European genetic fund

deforestation, oil exploration, mining, poaching

The designation of World Heritage status for the virgin forests of Komi is a major victory for Russian and world environmental protection and an extremely prestigious nomination for the Komi Republic, the first natural World Heritage site on the territory of Russia.

The Project also demonstrates an unconventional role for Greenpeace, working in the name of the Russian Federal Government to lay the foundation for the international recognition of Russia's vast and important ecosystems. Greenpeace campaigners have taken the lead in organizing elected officials, governmental authorities and regional and local groups in the push to save these valuable and unique natural areas that might otherwise be threatened by uncontrolled industrial development.

The Virgin Komi Forest system is the largest primary forest of its kind remaining in Europe, a habitat for a veritable treasure trove of taiga and wetland biodiversity and the headwaters of the major river-systems west of the Urals that flow toward the northern Arctic sea system, providing clean water and important salmon breeding-gounds for entire regions.

The forests are also the homeland of the Komi people, for whom the entire region is named, linked to their natural environment and dependent upon its survival. The addition of the site to the prestigious World Natural Heritage List will prove to be an economical boost for the region and it's people through tourism, management investment and securing sustainable use of the rich biodiversity fund, as has proven true with many other World Heritage sites around the world.

The Project

Greenpeace has begun research on a series of natural sights for nomination to the list of World Heritage sites. World Heritage is a designation by UNESCO, a branch of the United Nations. Komi is the first of the series of nominations to be made. While the nominations must pass through and be approved by the Russian Government under UNESCO regulations, it is Greenpeace who are directing all aspects of the project.

Former Status

The Komi Virgin Forests comprise the Yugyd Va State National Park, the Pechora-Ilychsky Biosphere State Reserve, their buffer zones and several zones of forestry farms surrounding these natural areas, including the regions of the headwaters of the Pechora and Ilychsky River basins.

Present Status

An immense integrated virgin forest system, safe from all industrial and commercial development, the largest in Europe, of approximately 3.2 million hectares to be preserved as a World Heritage site, recognized by both the Russian government and the United Nations.


Deforestation through logging, poaching of rare species, oil and gas exploration and the building of roads connected to these activities all threaten the forests. The recent spills in the Komi Republic brought to world attention the precarious situation of the Russian taiga, an ecologicallly abundant but at the same time extremely delicate area. Regeneration of the taiga after an oil spill, logging or construction can take hundreds of years due to the slow growth of plants and the shallowness of the unfrozen soil.

Flora and Fauna

The area is a perfect example of northern taiga forest in an integral, natural state. The area counts 43 species of mammals, including the brown bear, sable and the highly migratory elk, 204 species of birds, including the White- tailed eagle, and 16 species of fish, the most valuable of which is the salmon that helps sustain the economies downstream. The forests consist of spruce, cedar and fir, filled with unique and rare slow-growth floral species.

Indigenous peoples

Early Russian chronicles from the tenth and eleventh centuries record the existence of native peoples in the area of what is now the Komi Virgin Forests. Up to the present day many place names as well record the passing of these peoples: the Pechora River, for example, is named for a tribe that has since either disappeared or has been incorporated into larger groups.

The peoples that still live in the area, today known as the Komi, still depend upon the natural surroundings as they have stood for thousands of years. The herds of reindeer that need the vast forests to graze , the salmon and other small-scale fisheries, the berries, nuts and mushrooms that are collected seasonally, and the hunting of wild hare and various wild forest birds all attest to the necessity of keeping the forests in their present, virgin state.

Aside from protecting the traditional lifestyles and livelihoods of the peoples that live in the forests from the destruction that industrial development would entail, their survival stands as a tesimtony to human life in balance with the environment and may one day be able to teach the modern world a great deal about the sustainable development that has been called for, but which has proved as yet elusive to both Western and Eastern industrial cultures.

Some History

While there are records of native peoples of the Komi region, the Chyud, the Merya, the Vyess and the Pechyera, as far back as the tenth century, the first scientific research in the region took place as late as 1907. Until that time the nature of the region remained obscure, but in 1928 a special commission was formed to study the area and in 1930 the Pechora Nature Reserve was founded. The original reserve comprised only 1,135,000 hectares. Other nature reserves were named and the areas expanded until 1951 when the Soviet government began a general campaign against nature reserves, reducing their size and disregarding protective measures.

Finally, in the 1970's and 80's, certain extensions and protective measures were taken to protect, for example, the salmon breeding grounds of both the Pechora and Ilych Rivers. On 28 September 1990, the Ministers of the Komi Republic signed a decree founding the Komi National Park, which was seconded soon after by the Russian Federation.

Economic Factors

The area will benefit greatly from World Heritage designation: tourism, management investment, both from abroad and from Russian institutions, preserved resources and agricultural areas in the surrounding territory will help in the economic development of the Komi Republic, while not threatening the sustainability of the region, as has been the case further downstream from the forests.

Eco-tourism, a huge new industry, may have the largest economic impact. Agriculture, drinking water and animal husbandry (especially the raising of the elk) in the Komi region are all dependent upon the protection of the forests.

As the source for the river systems that flow into the Arctic sea system west of the Urals, the Komi Forests protect the pure drinking-water and necessary irrigation water for several of Russia's northern regions. The rivers within the forests are the breeding grounds of the salmon that the entire region is dependent upon as a food source and for export.

World Bank studies have shown that the Komi region is nearly self-sufficient in food resources and entirely dependent upon what they grow themselves. The people of Komi have very few sources of outside income, thus increasing exponentially the value of the clean waters provided by the forests upstream. Once again, the destruction brought by oil and gas extraction as well as clearcut logging downstream show what would happen to the Komi Forests if they are not preserved: full-scale destruction for the next several decades.

As part of a major nature conservation project centered in Russia, Greenpeace has announced the first of a set of territories to be included in the World Natural Heritage List, UNESCO's "Nobel Prize" of natural objects. The Project's intent is the full protection of Russia's most valuable and extensive funds of biodiversity both in the short term as Russia suffers an environmental-economic crisis and in the long term as catalysts in the search for environmentally sound alternative investment projects.

After six years of unsuccesful attempts by the government to prepare the nomination for Lake Baikal and at the same time risking the environmental balance of the lake and, in fact, the majority of intact ecosystems left in Russia, this ambitious project aims to protect some of Russia's most valuable natural spaces. Greenpeace Russia has taken the lead in organising the nominations of several natural areas to the List by tapping into the resources and guiding the efforts of dozens of local and national conservation groups, indigenous peoples and government agencies.

The list, administered by the United Nations' organisation, UNESCO, also contains such natural wonders as the Grand Canyon and the Great Barrier Reef and provides a forum for protection and recognition of the world's most important natural and cultural sites. In order to carry out the project, Greenpeace has had push for the creation of entire new park and conservation zone systems, lobby local governments to devote the areas and promise to conserve them and animate researchers and conservation planners to make the project effective.

Indigenous peoples and local communities have played an important and leading role in the development of nearly all of the sites, demonstrating the need for a fuller consideration of the sustainability of life-styles outside of both Western and Eastern industrial paradigms and based on closer relationships to nature.

Greenpeace has already made the first nomination to the list, the Virgin Komi Forests, 3.2 million hectares of pristine forest along the Ural Mountains in the Republic of Komi in the Russian Far North. The forests comprise the largest untouched area in Europe and contain a variety of ecosystems and rare species. In making the nomination, Greenpeace completed its successful campaign to stop French and Austrian logging companies from using destructive and unsustainable clearcut methods on Komi territory and demonstrated the need to assure protection for these vital natural areas.

Current proposed nomination sites for the list:

Primorsky Kray, Far East: a vital habitat of the endangered Amur tiger and the Far East leopard, 4 million hectares including the Sikhote-Alin Natural Complex and the Bikin Valley, the home of the Udege Indigenous people.

The Volcanoes of Kamchatka: active and dormant volcanoes, geysers, thermal and mineral springs and bubbling mud cauldrons among perfectly conserved transforming coastal and forest ecosystems. 4 million hectares.

The Sources of the Great Ob, Altai Mountains, Central Siberia: 6.5 million hectares of virgin mountain taiga, glaciers and the sacred Telestkoye Lake.

Vodlozero Park, Northwest of European Russia: Europe's largest intact old-growth boreal forests and pristine wetlands. 1 million hectares.

Ubsunur Hollow, Tuva Republic: a Cultural-Natural project carried out in conjunction with the Mongolian government, 7.5 million hectares, one of the largest intact watersheds in Central Asia where 40,000 archeological sites can be found from histroically famous nomadic tribes such as the Scythians, the Turks and the Huns.

Archives at URL= http://gaia1.ies.wisc.edu/research/pngfores/

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