Our History

Throughout our 20+ years, The Altai Project has continuously refined and adapted its work to protect nature and wildlife, support the region’s traditions and cultural heritage, and strengthen communities in Altai as well as across Russia and, more recently, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

The Altai Project traces its roots to the late 1990s.

In the beginning…

The Altai Project began in 1998 as a program at Sacred Earth Network, a non-profit that was dedicated to promoting sustainable culture and supporting Indigenous traditions. Drawing on the expertise of our staff and partners, we supported environmental justice advocacy, green building, energy conservation, and renewable and alternative energy technologies. We also donated much-needed technology and operated a small grants program for Russian activists and community leaders.

The 2000s…

In 2004, we narrowed our focus from Russia-wide environmental assistance to concentrate on Altai. In January 2007, The Altai Project became a full-fledged member of Earth Island Institute. Throughout the 2000s, we facilitated international collaborations and participated in campaigns addressing threats to Altai’s environmental sustainability, biodiversity, and ecosystems. The Altai Project’s involvement contributed to community wins in a number of areas, including shelving plans for an international gas pipeline through Altai Republic, the large Katun hydroelectric dam, and a cobalt mine in snow leopard habitat.

Growing Up…

Between 2009 and 2015, The Altai Project focused efforts on:

  • snow leopard and raptor conservation and research in Altai Republic (with a special focus on anti-poaching and habitat protection initiatives);
  • supporting campaigns to reroute the proposed Power of Siberia 2 “Altai” pipeline away from the Ukok Plateau;
  • promoting transparency and rule-of-law in mining projects (especially gold and cobalt), and
  • providing funding to long-term partners to support nature conservation and Indigenous lifeways and practices in Altai.

In  2017, we broadened our scope to include all of Greater Altai - western Mongolia, eastern Kazakhstan, and northwest China - as well as building partnerships across Russia's Siberia and the Far East.

Two Decades and Counting…

In 2018, we celebrated The Altai Project’s 20th anniversary. To mark this milestone, we created a new logo featuring one of the region’s flagship species, the argali mountain sheep, and a traditional yurt, both against a backdrop of mountains highlighting Altai’s diverse landscapes – tundra, forest, steppe, desert, alpine meadows, and glaciers.

Uncertainties brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic led us to operate on a framework built around creativity, flexibility, and determination. Despite unforeseen circumstances, social distancing, and restricted travel, The Altai Project continued to support and fund the study and conservation of snow leopards, argali sheep and birds of prey, Indigenous cultural practices and traditional ecological knowledge, and rule of law advocacy in extractive industries. We launched new initiatives and made strides in getting longer-term projects closer to the finish line.  Notably, we:

  • coordinated a one-year journalism exchange with partners in the U.S. and Russia that allowed us to share environmental and Indigenous rights stories involving issues and people around the globe, but still relevant to The Altai Project’s work;
  • Supported systematic work to establish a new UNESCO World Heritage Site – "Highlands of Mongol Altai" – to recognize the cultural and natural heritage of the sacred Tavan Bogd (aka, Five Peaks) area and important prehistoric archaeological sites in western Mongolia; and
  • Expanded our education outreach about Altai’s plant and animal species, natural landscapes and ecosystems, and the cultural traditions, spiritual heritage, and lifeways of Indigenous peoples in Greater Altai.

War in Ukraine…

Just as we were beginning to see hope on the pandemic horizon, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 once again upended our work. While challenged, in particular, with funding our frontline partners in Russia because of sanctions and activist safety, we remain in regular conversation with them about their work and the risks and challenges they face.

We issued this statement shortly after the Russian invasion, The Altai Project stands in solidarity with the people and nation of Ukraine during this unjust attack on their country. War and military conflict are always a failure. We support the peace- and freedom-loving people of Russia and recognize the deep historical, cultural, and sometimes familial ties connecting the peoples of these countries. We bear witness and mourn the human losses, damage, and destruction in Ukraine and the current and future costs to human rights and the environment resulting from war and violence. We worry that the economic sanctions implemented against Russia will have devastating impacts on everyday people throughout the entire region, including Central Asia.” 

In June 2022, we were pleased to be invited to participate in a transnational media initiative descriptively named Ukraine War Environmental Consequences Work Group, an initiative to study the war's impacts across Eurasia and the entire world.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

From the time of our founding in 1998, the heart of our mission has centered on initiatives to benefit Altai and beyond, across Russia, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan.  For more than two decades, in collaboration with frontline defenders and leaders, we have planted the seeds for Altai to play a leading national role in ecotourism, sustainability, and renewable energy development. At the same time, we have worked to achieve environmental justice and to empower and support Indigenous communities.

Looking to the future, The Altai Project will build on its history, campaigns, and alliances to preserve Greater Altai’s natural resources and cultural heritage and center the work of frontline activists across Russia, western Mongolia, and Kazakhstan. We are stronger together.

Chaga-Bayram Altaian winter new year ceremony (Photo by M. Erlenbaeva)
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Why Altai?

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

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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.

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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.

Two Decades of Results

Building the first two strawbale buildings in Altai and critical early support for renewable solar and small hydroelectric energy

Training communities, educators, and nonprofit leaders in sustainable living technologies including renewable energy, natural building, waste reduction, and energy efficient design; and donating equipment and tools for accomplishing the transition to sustainability

Over $1.75 million in direct financial support to nature conservation, Indigenous organizations, wildlife research, and protected areas

Introducing the concept of Leave No Trace in Altai, providing ongoing trainings and support for its implementation

Reducing threats and restoring populations of snow leopard, argali mountain sheep, and raptors

Donating computers, microhydro technology, solar panels, and communications equipment to Altai's protected areas to meet basic needs

Successes building and supporting coalitions across Eurasia, including focused work in Altai, the Arctic, with Indigenous peoples, the war in Ukraine and more

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