The idea of an international protected area in this region has been around since the mid 1980s. An international protected area was proposed to recognize and protect the shared natural and cultural history of the two countries in the Beringia region, the US and Russia. The richness of these resources has been recognized by people on both sides of the Bering Strait, and protection and conservation have become priorities for local inhabitants.
Questions and Answers:
An International Protected Area in the Bering Strait
Q: How did the idea of an international protected area (IPA) come about and how would it benefit the Beringia region?
A: The idea of an international protected area in this region has been around since the mid 1980s. An international protected area was proposed to recognize and protect the shared natural and cultural history of the two countries in the Beringia region, the US and Russia. The richness of these resources has been recognized by people on both sides of the Bering Strait, and protection and conservation have become priorities for local inhabitants. An international protected area spanning the Bering Strait and encompassing lands in both Alaska and Chukotka would serve as a mechanism to increase cooperation in protecting and sustaining the Beringia region.
Realization of this proposal has encountered obstacles, and support for the idea depends upon the current political climate in the two countries involved. Relations between the U.S. and Russia fluctuate, and Russia has experienced several economic and political upheavals. Currently, U.S. foreign policy aims to reestablish and strengthen relations with Russia in as many areas as possible. An international protected area in Beringia is a potentially advantageous bond, and has the potential to become an important and beneficial connection between the two countries There is evidence from around the world that collaboration on conservation can help build and sustain good relations between countries. It also reflects the need for Russia and the U.S. to cooperate in managing natural and cultural resources of the region, especially in light of the rapidly changing environmental conditions in the Arctic.
Q: How is the National Park Services' Beringia Program promoting the establishment of an International Protected Area?
A: The Beringia Program has made consistent efforts toward international cooperation and collaboration in the Beringia region. Although the initial efforts have not led to the establishment of an international protected area, the Beringia Program continues to work with cooperators in the U.S. and partners in Russia on numerous joint projects. These projects promote cooperation and stimulate interest in the region as a whole.
In the past two years presidents Obama and Medvedev have expressed interest in formally recognizing the Beringia region. Subsequently, this idea was high on the White House’s radar and discussed by U.S. Secretary of State Clinton and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at their meeting in 2010. The Beringia Program provides information and updates to those at high-levels who see an international protected area as a strategic initiative to improve US-Russia relations.
Q: Can you tell us about the current situation in regards to an International Protected Area?
A: The National Park Service continues to explore options and frameworks for an international protected area. There is no official proposal for the designation of these lands, but the Beringia Program continues to consult with experts about the possibilities of such an area. Representatives from the National Park Service meet periodically with local residents and communities to discuss issues and concerns. They also try to educate and inform their Russian counterparts and share ideas and strategies through close communication, foreign exchanges, and the Beringia Days bi-annual conference. The program tries to assess and understand the process in Russia and relies on partners to inform and update them on the current situation.
Recently, a group of leaders from Chukotka came to Alaska through the Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program and toured the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, Shismaref, and Anchorage. One of the subjects discussed during their meetings was the establishment of an international protected area. The Beringia Program hopes that by sharing information with Russian counterparts, they can better understand how and why an international protected area would benefit local residents.
Q: If an international protected area is established, how will it affect the Native people of Northwest Alaska and their subsistence rights?
A: Among local residents and Native groups, there is the concern that possible designation of all or part of the existing Western Arctic parklands as a part of an international protected area would limit the subsistence rights of the Native population. The National Park Service makes clear that the future designation would not change existing park boundaries nor would it alter subsistence use rights and practices or access to the park lands given under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. In fact, an international protected area in the Beringia region has the potential to create jobs, stimulate the local economy and unite divided families across the strait. Further, designation of a protected area could possibly promote and enhance aspects of traditional culture by heightening awareness of cultural concerns.
Q: Are you aware of what is happening on the Russian side in regards to the establishing of a federal park? Would establishment benefit the Native people of Chukotka or put them at disadvantage?
A: The National Park Services’ Russian counterparts in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment are in the process of designating a federal park Beringia in the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug. A feasibility study has been conducted, and both federal and regional authorities have held public hearings on the issue. Currently the feasibility study is being assessed by experts who are examining the technical aspects of the project. Such a designation would be advantageous for local population as it would help to protect their subsistence rights and preserve their traditional hunting grounds. A federal park has the potential to bring jobs, economic opportunities, and increased cultural awareness to local communities. The Russian Federal Government hopes to establish the federal park some time in 2012.
The Beringia program continues to be in close contact with their Russian counterparts as both sides continue discussions about the designation of an international protected area.
If you have questions or concerns, please contact Janis Kozlowski, at 907/644-3503.