Center for Safe Energy

Protecting the Altai

Earth Island News

In the Altai Republic of southern Siberia, a region of astonishing biodiversity and cultural heritage, new protected areas are

popping up all over the place. Rural folks – many indigenous – are diving into the difficult bureaucratic process of creating nature parks in order to protect their traditional lands.

Danil Mamyev, a modest Altai elder, had long been concerned about the fate of his native Karakol, believed for thousands of years to be a sacred valley. In 2001, he and other residents of the remote Ongudai district banded together to create Karakol Ethnic-Nature Park (“Uch Enmek” in the Altai language). The nature park is funded and managed by the Altai Republic, unlike federal parks, which are administered in faraway Moscow. As director of the Association of Protected Areas of the Altai, Mamyev promotes incorporating traditional indigenous culture and customs into regional park plans. “[Russian] nature protection legislation does not provide for the ‘human factor’ in protected territories,” says Mamyev. “As a result, confrontation arises between the indigenous people who have traditionally lived on this land and the staff of the protected territories who ... do not permit resource use [there]... It is necessary to create a flexible system for providing limited traditional use of the environment within these protected territories.”

Uch Enmek’s plan, structure, and staff are sensitive to local indigenous values; implementation of a holistic approach to protecting land is considered essential. “To indigenous peoples, whose interests in nature are not only for its resources but also on spiritual and cultural levels, zoning is highly important. If we do not set aside land valuable to indigenous people, then in the future we will be lost or disappear,” says Mamyev. At Uch Enmek, the zoning provides that some sites are reserved for residential ritual and similar uses only. Despite the intense pressure to increase income to the community and park through expanded tourism, Mamyev and his colleagues are committed to the park’s priority of careful protection of the land. Visitors are permitted in specified areas and are accompanied to assure that local traditions are respected.

Nature parks and economic sustainability

News of Uch Enmek’s success spread quickly in the Altai. By 2003, three additional protected areas were created: Chui-Uzy, Argut, and Katun nature parks. Chui-Uzy, which houses the famous Kalbak-Tash petroglyphs, has been particularly successful in its collaboration with a local farming cooperative. Others now working to create the proposed

Take action: Contribute or volunteer to help support ranger
salaries and public outreach for the Altai’s Parks.
Contact The Altai Project of the Center for Safe Energy at

Ak-Cholushpa and Ukok nature parks have been following Mamyev’s example by developing zoning plans that permit a variety of land and resource uses. In districts such as Ulagan, where nearly 85 percent of the population is unemployed, natural resource use such as hunting, fishing, and logging is essential to their survival. Here, residents are more wary of the proposed protected area, and including zones that allow customary (although limited) resource use will be crucial to winning local support.

Legislative obstacles

Recent changes in federal land legislation also threaten the fate of the Altai’s nature parks. One recently passed law proposes that all Russian nature parks re-apply to become federal protected territories, although it is still unclear what will come of this. Other new legislation will make it easier in 2006 to purchase government land, and time is short for protecting it before it’s sold. Mamyev and his colleagues continue to push ahead—for their land and their future.

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