Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why Siberia?

This picture shows the large preponderance of coniferous trees in the taiga, which also is attributed to World Wildlife Fund's nickname as the "largest tract of unbroken forest in the world." Courtesy of <sras.org>.
When thinking of Siberia, most people conjure up this stereotypical snowy image. Courtesy of <tourism-review.com>.

I chose to report on the Eastern Siberian Taiga because I find that it so interesting that these two divergent views of one land mass can be reconciled. Thus, as seen in the pictures above, on one hand it is a snowy, barren land, while on the other hand, it is green and full of natural resources that the local economy depends on. Additionally, I have always been fascinated with Russian culture, as well as Siberian culture and the differences between east and west Eurasia.

Global ecoregion

The Eastern Siberia taiga describes a global ecoregion consisting of Boreal Forest, averaging a large expanse of roughly 1,500,000 sq. miles of Eurasian territory. Therefore, it is no surprise that this taiga covers more than a quarter of Russian lands, thus earning the title as “the largest tract of unbroken forest in the world” by the World Wildlife Fund (courtesy of <http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/ecoregions/eastern_siberian_taiga.cfm>). Specifically, the forest occurs between the Yenisey and Lena Rivers in eastern Russia, and its borders reach the lower edge of the Arctic Circle to the north. (See maps below)

Maps and location of taiga

This map shows the enormous expanse of the taiga in Russian territory. Courtesy of <http://forest.mtu.edu/pcforestry/resources/studentprojects/siberia.html>.

This is a relevant map showing the varying regions of Russia, with Eastern Siberia located to the far east of major metropolitan centers located in western Russia. Courtesy of <fatbirder.com>.

The taiga exists between the Lena River and the Yenisai River, as seen on this map of rivers in Eastern Siberia. Courtesy of <beta.waytorussia.net>.

Historically speaking....

This land mass was discovered nearly 300,000 years ago by various nomadic Asian tribes such as the Huns. Under their control, western Siberia flourished and  the establishment of trade posts and small communities became a regular phenomenon, virtually leaving Eastern Siberian lands uninhabited. Thus, Siberia and its Eastern taiga has virtually remained a ‘no man’s land,’ further emphasized by its extreme climate patterns (up to 40 degrees Celsius in summer, down to -62 degrees Celsius in winter) as well as its isolated distance from major urban centers. Additionally, Eastern Siberia historically has older flora and fauna as compared to Western Siberia, thus keeping in preservation the numerous habitats that occupy the taiga. Additionally, this area was covered by glaciers in the last Ice Age.

What about human impacts?

In terms of human impacts of this ecosystem, it is a relatively good status. This is mostly due to the isolated nature of the taiga, as well as the extreme temperatures that render the lands virtually uninhabitable by most. However, there are some negative impacts on the taiga due to humans; these dangers range from logging to poaching. Traditionally, boreal forests are the world’s largest source of wood and timber products, given the massive amounts of coniferous trees that occupy the expanse of Russian land. Additionally, timber exportation and clear-cutting proves to be a major source of profit for locals, considering the lack of cities and towns and emphasis on natural products. Even though clear-cutting is most efficient for this region, it strips the animals from their lands and displaces habitats. Additionally, other threats to this region include extraction for oil and gas, as well as forest fires. However, there is much debate over the phenomenon of firest fires in the taiga: some scientists claim that the fires are devastating to the local flora and fauna and seek to massacre the vegetation, while others prove that forest fires are a naturally occuring facet that balance the boundaries of the habitats with current ecological impacts (see chart on existence of forest fires below).
          A critical threat to the taiga is poaching of animals for skins and bones to sell in international markets. This most directly affects the Siberian tiger, for these tigers only live in the Primorski Krai and Khabarovsk Krai regions of eastern Siberia. Sadly, there are only 200-300 still in existence today, which proves the devastating effect of poaching on the tiger population. For many Siberians, poaching these animals proves to be quite lucrative, since it is estimated that for each pelt sold, one can gain up to $5,000.  Thus, the selling of animal pelts and bones provides a solid way for many people to gain a profit, especially in Siberia where the jobs are more precarious than in wealthy, major urban centers.
Courtesy of "Extent, Distribution and Ecological Role of Fire in Russian Forests"

Problems with human impact continued...

One can see from this timeline the projection for the existence of Siberian tigers in worldwide habitats, and the crucial nature of preservation projects to curb the devastation of tigers. Courtesy of <http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/tigers/about_tigers/tiger_population/>.

Benefits and protection for the taiga

In terms of benefits that people gain from the taiga, there is a large reliance on products harvested such as wood/timber, as well as oil, gas and other necessary materials for present-day living. There are also plans for hydroelectric projects for this area as well, which would provide yet another source of energy and viable economic gains.
With regards to protected areas of the taiga, there is a network of protection services that seeks to maintain the taiga and its large, diverse amounts of flora and fauna. These are known as zapovedniks, and are areas of the taiga that have been preserved and protected. In 2011, Russia reported having 101 zapovedniks and 38 national parks, which proves the existence of protection infrastructure for this ecoregion. However, this network of protection services for each sub-area is not as strong as it could be, for the large size of the taiga prevents the existence of any structured, purely organized network, making these protective areas not as powerful. Below is an example of the division of Russian lands into zapovedniks, as well as wildlife refuges and national parks.

Courtesy of <https://www.zsl.org/conservation/regions/asia/amur-tiger-camera-trapping-in-lazovsky-nature-reserve-in-the-russian-far-east,82,PS.html>.