U.S., Russia to Conserve Beringia’s Heritage

Cape Krusenstern, on the U.S. side of the Bering Strait, will be part of the 1.3 million hectare (3.2 million acre) area protected under the U.S.-Russia transboundary agreement.

By Stephen Kaufman
IIP Staff Writer
Washington,
September 10, 2012

Russia and the United States plan to link national parks situated along both sides of their border on the Bering Strait to help protect environmental resources, conduct scientific research and preserve the lifestyle, cultures and languages of the region’s indigenous population.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov issued a joint statement in Vladivostok September 8 stating their intention to create a transboundary area that will include the proposed Beringia National Park in Chukotka, Russia, with the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve and Cape Krusenstern National Monument in the U.S. state of Alaska.

“Our goal is to finalize this arrangement in the coming months so park managers and researchers from both countries will be able to increase their efforts to conserve this unique ecosystem as well as the cultural traditions and languages of the indigenous people on both sides of the strait,” Clinton said in remarks with Lavrov.

Beringia is a vast area that stretches from north of Siberia’s Chukotka Peninsula, the easternmost point on the Asian continent, to the Mackenzie River in northwest Canada. The Russian and American areas are separated by a body of water less than 85 kilometers wide called the Bering Strait. Each side is populated with indigenous peoples with similar languages, reflecting the fact that more than 12,000 years ago, during an ice age when sea levels dipped, a land bridge across the strait connected the North American and Asian land masses.

The ancient land bridge allowed the first people to reach North America as they followed game from the Siberian coast, without realizing they were crossing onto a new continent.

According to the text of the September 8 joint statement, both Russia and the United States recognize the need to deepen their cooperation along their common boundary and “ensure that residents and indigenous peoples engaged in cultural and traditional activities aimed at providing for their personal needs have continued access to natural resources in accordance with each nation’s laws.”

In consultation with local and tribal governments, the link between the national parks on each side of the Bering Strait is also meant to “promote conservation of flora, fauna and the natural ecosystem; preservation of kinship ties, cultural traditions, subsistence lifestyle and language of the indigenous peoples of the region; and collaboration on conservation, management scientific research, and effective monitoring of the environment,” according to the statement, which added that both countries intend to conclude the arrangement by the end of 2012.

U.S. AND RUSSIA ENHANCING COOPERATION IN ANTARCTICA

Clinton and Lavrov also signed an agreement that will strengthen U.S.-Russian coordination in Antarctica, improving their scientific cooperation, logistics, search and rescue, training and public outreach.

“Scientists from both our countries will work together to explore Antarctica’s terrain, study the effects of climate change, and cooperate on a range of issues to better understand and protect our shared environment,” Clinton said in her remarks with Lavrov.

Also, she said that for the first time U.S. and Russian officials and scientists will work together to inspect foreign facilities on the continent and look for violations of international environmental commitments and other aspects of the 1959 treaty that established Antarctica as a scientific preserve and banned it from military use.

Lavrov said the agreement “reflects a mutual interest in continuing inspections of the stations of our countries to demilitarize the Antarctic region and implement environmental requirements.”

Russia and the United States “will continue cooperation in scientific research as well as exchange of experts, exchange of information, expanding interaction and ensuring expedition activities,” he said.