2022 – Year in review and an invitation

Winter aronia berries.

Saying that a lot has happened this year is a wild understatement. Heading into the winter holiday season, there is much to review and thorny issues to contemplate.

At The Altai Project, we have launched a multi-year initiative in Central Asia and adjusted ways of working in Russia and Eurasia. We are continuously assessing and adapting as the waves of change roll over us, including revising The Altai Project’s website to reflect our evolving geography and programs across Eurasia.

What’s going on with The Altai Project’s work in Russia overall?
With the start of Russia’s invasion and unjust war in Ukraine, the Russian government continues to weaponize its justice system and law enforcement against civil society, including environmental and Indigenous leaders and even conservation scientists and protected area employees. The “foreign agent” law has been amended several more times, enabling the justice system to fine or even imprison anyone arbitrarily. Once an individual has been labeled a foreign agent, it becomes impossible for them to be employed or conduct activism. Community organizations face a similar fate when similarly designated.

The war in Ukraine, sanctions on Russia, and even the Covid-19 pandemic continue to have tremendous ripple effects on the economy, geopolitical security, and human migration. Collectively, these events have prompted new conversations about decolonization, language politics, human rights, peace-building, and more across Central Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, and the Caucasus.

What’s the latest in Altai?
Community leaders and experts continue community advocacy, education, and cultural work, looking for the best avenues in which to support Indigenous culture and protect Mother Earth. They rely on local support to protect Altai’s lakes, forests, wildlife, and sacred places. The Republic government recently (and at last!) issued a multi-year hunting moratorium on Siberian ibex, a move that will greatly help this species that is important prey for snow leopards. Snow leopard monitoring continues, with the Altai-based population remaining productive and healthy despite continuing threats. This year’s Argali sheep count showed much higher numbers than in previous years, due to a combination of reproductive success, conservation success, and perhaps changed migration patterns between Russian and Mongolian Altai.

Immature Steppe eagle flying over steppe grassland. Photo by Igor Karyakin.How’s the new raptor conservation project in Kazakhstan going?
Our new initiative focuses on a key migration corridor in eastern Kazakhstan. Funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, this 2+ year project will enable our partners at Kazakhstan’s Biodiversity Research and Conservation Center (BRCC) and ornithologists to document bird migration and convincingly pinpoint threats of powerline electrocution and collisions, especially with a recently built windpower plant that straddles the flyway. This year’s field season deployed GPS trackers on a number of birds in the flyway, and the team collected valuable migration data and identified additional threats. BRCC recently conducted a successful and collaborative round table for industry, investment, and government stakeholders where participants energetically discussed needed policy, regulations, and enforcement measures to protect raptors and other large birds while still facilitating windpower energy generation. It’s an exciting initiative and there’s so much more to tell!