Application for change of World Heritage "Virgin Komi Forests" was withdrawn, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) gave a negative opinion on the new version of the category – according to head of Greenpeace Russia program on protected natural areas Mikhail Kreindlin, it was announced on May 27.
The Russian side proposed to change the boundaries of the national park Yugyd va, a part of a specially protected object "Virgin Komi Forests". In particular, it was about to withdraw land in the north-eastern part with a gold mine Chudnoye from the territory of the park, and to add new sites on the west and south-west side of the "Virgin Forest". In 2013 Vuktyl and Troitsko-Pechorsk region even held a public hearings regarding the "expansion" of the protected area. The World Conservation Union has given a negative opinion on the new version of the nomination. In particular, the IUCN has not approved "significant change of borders" and suggested that Russia (with the proviso that all Environmental protection requirements were met) to submit documents for inclusion in the specially protected natural territory of additional areas in the west. Previous recommendations included the establishment of a buffer zone around the World Heritage site.
Russia withdrew its application, and, according to Michael Kreindlin, at the upcoming July session in Turkey of UNESCO World Heritage Committee will discuss only the general state of the natural object.
'The draft decisions should be published on 10 June,' Kreindlin commented. 'The only option to exclude the territory of Chudnoye from the National Park – is to change the law. So far, all attempts failed. And if this attempt is successful, it means a violation of the Convention. This will be followed by another international scandals. I don't know, if Russian authorities would do this for Chydnoye. I hope they have the good sense not to do it. I hope that the issue of the extraction of gold finally comes off. But officials still have comments on the gold, and Mr. Gaplikov [acting head of the Komi Sergey Gaplikov] also mentioned it once. So it is, apparently, too early to tell that they give up on Chudnoye.
Experts refer to the latest news with restraint, as disputes over the territory of the World Heritage site have been lasting for many years, and many swards were crossed by the instances of different levels – from the national to the Russian.
"Virgin Komi Forests" became the first Russian natural site, which was listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. This happened in 1995 (National Park Yugyd Va was established five years earlier). The area of "Virgin Forests" is nearly 33 thousand square km (it is comparable, for example, with an area of Belgium). Numerous natural monuments survived onsite and one of Europe's largest array of pristine boreal forests (trees and shrubs that grow in cold to temperate climates), it contains a large number of species of animals, birds and fish, including those listed in the Red books of Russia and Komi.
In the 2000s, the territory of the National Park was unilaterally revised and gold deposit was withdrew from its composition. In 2011, the company "Gold Minerals" planned to start gold mining in Chudnoye, license for geological exploration and commercial development allowed to carry out the work until 2029. In the autumn of 2011, an international NGO Bankwatch network, Committee to Save Pechora, public movement of Komi-Izhemtsy "Izvatas" and Greenpeace addressed the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) with a demand to give up finance of the company, mining gold in the specially protected natural territories of Yugyd Va. Environmentalists claimed: exploration at the headwaters of the river Balbanyu has a negative impact on the rest of the park, as Balbanyu falls into one of the most beautiful and cleanest rivers of Kozhim Park. Pictures taken from a satellite showed changes in the landscape and turbidity of waters in the field of exploration. Gold mining in these areas, according to environmentalists, would have caused irreparable damage to the nature of the national park.
Balbanyu River, photo by Fyodor Borodin
Along with these events, the problem was discussed by international experts: on sessions of the Committee on World Heritage Member States carried an unambiguous verdict on the inadmissibility of changing the borders, "Virgin Komi Forests" repeatedly fell to the nomination of objects "under threat". This, according to experts, could have a negative impact on the image of Russia, as many European financial institutions were refusing to work with companies that violate environmental standards and international agreements (and, in this respect, recourse to the EBRD was one of the ways to influence the "Gold Minerals").
In September 2012, Russian General Prosecutor's Office acknowledged illegal the decision of the Ministry of Natural Resources to withdraw land for the development of gold deposit from Yugyd va, but the Ministry of Russia adopted a new position on the status of the park, which has been re-assigned withdrawal on "Chudnoye" from the protected area. In August 2013 Russia's Supreme Court ruled that the relevant legislation of the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources approved a new regulation on the park. Gold mining in the park has been banned. The only possibility to achieve rights on gold mining for the Russian side was to send a request for a change in boundaries to an international organization.