Russia's New Environmentalist? The Kremlin

As if taking a cue from its green-wannabe neighbor, the Russian government has lately started to use its strong-arm tactics to protect the environment. In the most visible case, the Kremlin is parroting concerns that local environmentalists have made for years about two offshore oil projects around near-pristine Sakhalin Island, along the Siberian coast. While the government's real motives in blocking Exxon Mobil's and Shell's projects probably have more to do with recovering billions of dollars than with recovering precious forest and water life potentially damaged by the world's largest oil and gas field, the Kremlin's effort may do much to protect the region in the future, even though drilling will happen one way or another. It sounds like the deputy director of the state's environmental watchdog agency is learning a lot about oil drilling. '"We signed a deal with the company to drill for oil and gas... Cutting trees in a nature preserve is something else, excuse me."'Um, no.

But things are looking a bit more green on nearby Kamchatka Peninsula, a living eden where volcanos comingle with glaciers and sprawling wilderness: in a move to protect a large portion of the world's salmon population, the local government is hoping to protect nine entire rivers and more than six million acres of land--an area triple the size of Yellowstone National Park.


(Copyright New York Times)

In a gorgeous and remote area of the country coming under increasing threat of development, the government of Kamchatka, the New York Times writes, "is selecting protection zones not to create wildlife reserves, [the region's first deputy governor] said, but because fish runs are the best foundation for the peninsula's economy. Oil, gas and mining sectors will be developed, he said, but will provide a comparably brief revenue stream. Sustainable fishing, he said, can last generations."

Andrei Klimenko of the Wild Salmon Center, an Oregon-based organization working internationally to conserve salmon runs, called the proposal, which would potentially protect millions of salmon, "unprecedented."

What makes this special is that these rivers are being protected while they are still amazing fish producers...To preserve something that is not destroyed is much less expensive than restoring an ecosystem that is already broken.

The move in one of Russia's easternmost regions comes some months after President Vladimir Putin did a swift green about-face, ordering that a controversial pipeline passing near Siberia's treasured Lake Baikal be relocated further away from the lake--after years of lobbying by Russia's nascent network of environmental NGOs.

While such interests still lack real sway in Russia, with its ongoing oil fever, it looks like the government won't be able to ignore the call of the wild quite the same way again.

: : New York Times via Pacific Environment and : : The Guardian

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