Russian environmental organizations are calling for international support in their campaign to protect the Ukok Plateau in southern Siberia.
This high plateau provides critical habitat for one of the least studied large predators in the world, the snow leopard, and many other endangered species including the argali mountain sheep, dzeren antelope, black stork and steppe eagle. Its remarkable biodiversity is due to its complete sequence of altitudinal vegetation zones from steppe, forest-steppe, mixed forest, sub-alpine vegetation to alpine vegetation. The plateau is the source of major rivers that flow into Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and China. Archaeological remains are of great scientific interest, especially since the discovery of a mummified Scythian "princess" in 1996. Much of the plateau is sacred to the indigenous Altai people.
The Ukok Plateau's unique combination of biological diversity and cultural value gained world recognition in 1998 when UNESCO's World Heritage Commission included the plateau in the Golden Mountains of Altai World Heritage site. Within the Altai Republic (political division similar to a state in the USA), the Ukok Plateau is protected as a "Quiet Zone," where economic development is prohibited.
These designations are being completely ignored by Siberian government officials. In March 2000, the "Siberian Accord," an association of Siberian government leaders, voted to approve road and gas pipeline construction through the World Heritage Site and across the pristine Ukok Plateau "Quiet Zone" into China.
Russian scientists and environmental organizations were quick to protest this plan. In December 1999 they wrote a collective letter to the "Siberian Accord," pointing out that the road/pipeline would irreparably damage the unique ecosystems and cultural heritage of the Ukok Plateau.
They also warned that the project would incur enormous costs in both construction and maintenance, since it would go through highland marshes, tundra, permafrost areas and mountain passes at 2600 meters elevation.
The scientists and environmentalists recommend a much less destructive alternative route through Mongolia along existing roads. The Siberian Accord" has given no response to this counter-proposal and has created no opportunity for public input concerning the road and pipeline projects.
Russian environmental organizations are proposing stronger legislation to more effectively protect the Ukok Plateau. But first they need to avert the crisis posed by the "Siberian Accord" road and pipeline project. They ask Global Response members to raise an international outcry to prevent this project from destroying natural and cultural treasures of the Ukok Plateau.
The Snow Leopard
Hunted for their bones and fur and squeezed by intense human population growth, snow leopards are endangered throughout their entire range in the high mountains of Central Eurasia. Researchers estimate between 4,000 and 7,000 snow leopards remain in the wild. Their habitat is so rugged that sightings are rare, contributing to the mystery of these beautiful animals. Only about 5% of snow leopards' geographic range is currently protected.
With a thick coat to protect them from extreme cold and fur cushions on their feet to help them walk on snow and rocks, snow leopards are well adapted to their mountain environment. Adults weigh between 60 and 120 pounds. Their fur varies from white to cream to pale yellow or gray, sprinkled with bits of charcoal-gray or black. The thickly furred tail can be as long as the leopard's body; it provides balance as the leopard jumps and rushes after prey -- various kinds of sheep and goats, game birds, hares, pikas and marmots.
Central Asian scientists regard the snow leopard as an "indicator species" -- one that indicates the general health of a particular environment. Since the snow leopard lives at the top of the food chain, if there are abundant and healthy snow leopards in an area, the entire local ecosystem is probably healthy, too.
International campaigns to protect snow leopards and their habitat are coordinated by the International Snow Leopard Trust (www.serv.net/islt/facts2.html), Sacred Earth Network (www.igc.org/sen/) and the German Society for Nature Conservation (NABU: www.nabu.de/index.htm)
Please write a polite letter to Russian government officials.
Express your awe and appreciation for the remarkable natural and cultural treasures of the Ukok Plateau and the Altai Mountains World Heritage Site.
Express concern that pristine ecosystems, endangered species, sacred sites and archaeological treasures will suffer irreparable damage if the Siberian Accord brings industrialization to the region by building a road and gas pipeline across the Ukok Plateau into China.
Urge Russian government agencies to conduct a full economic analysis on the need, justification and costs of building the road and pipeline, clearly identifying the economic, social and environmental impacts and benefits of the project for local communities.
Urge decision-makers to choose an alternate route for the new road and pipeline, for example one following existing roads through Mongolia to China.
Victor Ivanovich Danilov-Danilyan Chair, State Committee of Russian Federation for Environment Protection 4/6 B.Gruzinskaya Str. GSP Moscow 123812 Russia
Fax # +7(095)2546824
Semen Ivanovich Zubakin Head, Altai Republic Government 16 Kirov Str. Gorno-Altaisk 649000 Russia
Vladimir Ivankov, General Director Inter-Regional Association Siberian Accord ul. Uritskogo 19 630099 g. Novosibirsk Russia
This Global Response Action was issued in support of and with information provided by The Fund for 21st Century Altai ; Pacific Environment and Resources Center (www.pacificenvironment.org); Sacred Earth Network (www.igc.org/sen/) and International Snow Leopard Trust (www.serv.net/islt/facts2.html).
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