Why Altai?

Why Altai?

The Greater Altai Ecoregion is of global importance. Within that system, Russia’s Altai Republic is linked with Kazakhstan, China, and Mongolia.

With an area of 36,000 sq. miles (92,900 sq. km) it is home to just over 200,000 people, comprising ethnic Russians (57%), and indigenous Altaians (31%), Kazakhs (6%), Telengits (1%), Tubalars and other groups. For the sake of comparison, the state of Indiana is the same size but has a population of 6.5 million.

Altai Republic contains the “Golden Mountains of Altai” UNESCO World Heritage Site, three federal protected areas, 120+ natural monuments, and a growing number of regional nature parks and reserves.

Remote and wild river valleys, wind-blown steppe, and snow-capped peaks – habitat for snow leopards, argali sheep, and other threatened species – are a rare remnant of intact mountain wilderness.

The region’s natural features are enhanced by the Altai’s ancient burial mounds, petroglyphs, and Scythian stellae that date back at least to the Stone Age. These sites are not only a fundamental part of local indigenous culture, but can also be a source of inspiration and education for visitors and the greater community.

Local indigenous peoples have managed to retain much of their age-old culture and traditional lifeways, with many still practicing semi-nomadic livestock agriculture and subsistence hunting and fishing.


Vita, an Argut resident female (Photo by S. Spitsyn)

In Siberia, developers and government officials rely on fossil fuels and large-scale hydroelectric power to meet the region’s energy needs and generate income. Moscow and China are actively negotiating an agreement to construct an international natural gas pipeline through Altai Republic and across the fragile Ukok Plateau.

There has been an unprecedented boom in resort construction and new home building in the Altai, including in sensitive natural areas. Many developers see Altai’s numerous wild rivers as opportunities for hydroelectric power generation, although in recent years many of those projects have been scaled back in size and number.

Additionally, the explosion in unorganized tourism throughout the Altai has befouled and disturbed protected areas in numerous ways. Poaching is the most direct threat to endangered species in Altai, particularly for snow leopard and Argali sheep.

Complex structure for a strawbale at Bobrovka

Our History

Throughout 17+ years of its existence, The Altai Project has constantly refined and adjusted its work to protect nature and strengthen communities in Altai.

Altai Alliance 2011

Altai Alliance

In 2008, the Altai Project and over twenty US nonprofits, individuals, and donors formed an international alliance to protect Russia’s Altai region.


Meet The Director

Jennifer Castner, the director of The Altai Project, is fluent in Russian and has traveled extensively in Siberia, the Russian Far East, Ukraine and Europe.

Why The Altai Project?

Our project is unique.

It is the only nonprofit in the US, perhaps in the world, linking nature protection with sustainable living strategies and promoting both these approaches exclusively in the greater Altai region. We feel The Altai Project plays an important role in Altai’s conservation and long-term sustainable development. Because we are small and dynamic we are flexible to address constantly changing conditions in Russia.

Thanks to our long-term personal contacts in the region, we can leverage our funding by supporting effective nonprofits we know we can trust. We always coordinate our efforts with the handful of other international nonprofits working in our target region.

Everyone works in the village (Photo by L. Ivashkina)

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