National Park expansion a reality?

While visiting Altai in October, The Altai Project’s director Jennifer Castner received some exciting and hopeful news. The Russian Ministry of Nature surprised us with a new proposal to expand Sailyugem National Park to include the Ukok Plateau and Chikhachev Ridge. The Ukok Plateau is currently with Ukok Quiet Zone, a regional park with little effective protection, and Chikhachev Ridge is currently entirely unprotected, just north of the Russia-Mongolia border.

Such an expansion of the national park’s boundaries would ensure more effective protection and support for established and critical populations of snow leopards and argali sheep. On the Ukok Plateau, it would afford much better management of current rampant off-road tourism that is damaging delicate tundra and wetland ecosystems as well as creating waste management issues in the remote area.

Will the proposal become a reality?

There is significant political maneuvering at play with the federal Ministry of Natural Resources’ proposed expansion of Sailyugem National Park expansion to include Ukok Nature Park and Chikhachev Ridge, two currently minimally protected areas in Altai. Would conversion of the regional Ukok protected area into a federal protected area present a more significant barrier to the Altai pipeline’s construction? Will the Altai Republic government attempt to block the transfer of regional lands to federal ownership?

Sailyugem National Park commenced operations in mid-2013 and has since been operating with inspiring energy to establish an effective enforcement regime, build community relations, pursue scientific research, and support sustainable tourism practices. The Altai Project is looking forward to collaborating with them on argali sheep research in 2015.Looking south across the Ukok Plateau toward China (Photo by J. Castner)

Located on the Russia-Mongolia border, north of the M-52 Chuisky Tract, Chikhachev Ridge has been a priority area for The Altai Project since 2010, when we began supporting argali and snow leopard research in the area. In 2013, we conducted the first Wild Altai citizen science expedition to the region, resulting in a very rare snow leopard sighting by four members of the team. Chikhachev Ridge is also within the zone of influence of the proposed Karakul mining deposits and thus in need of effective protection from the project’s significant impacts.

Ukok Nature Park has had a progression of regional-level protections since the 1990s and has also been part of the “Golden Mountains of Altai” UNESCO World Heritage Site since its establishment in 1998. With an average elevation of 2500 m above sea level, the Plateau is surrounded by mountains. The 5th century BC, tattooed Ukok Princess was excavated here in 1993, and numerous petroglyphs, stellae, sacred sites, and ancient kurgan burial mounds remain here.