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Measuring Sustainability in the Russian Arctic: An Interdisciplinary Study

by Votrin, Valery, PhD

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transportation for geological and other expeditions is not used now, this type of reindeer herding
has completely disappeared in the European Russian North which is why the taiga zone is also
called the zone of disappearing reindeer husbandry (Jernsletten and Klokov, 2002).
Figure 4.26 and Table 4.31 show the dynamics of reindeer numbers between 1941 and
2003 both as an aggregate and broken down by region. With several ups and downs throughout
the period, the number of reindeer reached its highest in 1971 and was steady until the early
1990s. Since 1992, the number of reindeer decreased steadily from 1,646,600 heads in 1992 to
977,500 heads in 2001. In recent years, number of reindeer livestock has somewhat increased
(1,033,700 in 2002 and 1,024,200 in 2003) but remains relative low compared to earlier years.
Overall, the number of reindeer in Russia decreased by 22 per cent. The losses were more
pronounced at regional level. For instance, by 2003 the reindeer number reduced by 76 per
cent in Chukotka, by 48 per cent in Taimyr, by 32 per cent in Sakha, by 25 per cent in Nenets
AO and 15 per cent in Murmansk, compared to 1941. The reduction is twice more drastic – by
41 per cent overall in Russia – if comparing with the highest number of reindeer in 1971. It is
only Yamal-Nenets AO where the number of reindeer has actually increased.
Figure 4.26. Reindeer stock in the Russian Arctic



1941 1951 1956 1961 1966 1971 1976 1981 1986 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003

Source: author’s calculations based on Klokov and Khruschev (2004)
As the main sources on reindeer husbandry in Russia (Jernsletten and Klokov; 2002;
Klokov and Khruschev, 2004) agree, the sector is currently in deep crisis. Compared to the
crisis in the 1930s which was reasonably well managed, this crisis is unusually prolonged. Only
since 2001, has a certain stabilisation begun to be observed which was not, however, due to
any positive tendencies in reindeer husbandry sector but rather due to the elimination of


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“excess” (from the standpoint of unregulated market economy in Russia) reindeer stock (Klokov
and Khruschev, 2004).
With transition to market economy in the 1990s, the situation in reindeer husbandry
changed dramatically. This resulted in a significant reduction in the population size of
domesticated reindeer, decline and decay of collective reindeer husbandry of the kolkhoz and
sovkhoz type, and partial return to private ownership of reindeer herds. In 2002, private-owned
domesticated reindeer constituted almost 50% of the total number. Generally, number of
reindeer tends to decrease. In 2002, there was only 1,196,000 domesticated reindeer, i.e. 48%
of their maximum number in 1969. In the largest region, the North East, the number of reindeer
has reduced threefold. In some regions, there are practically no reindeer left (Jernsletten and
Klokov, 2002).
The dramatic reduction in reindeer number is also attributed to the loss of reindeer
pastures to mining activities, especially in Yamal-Nenets AO and Nenets AO. In those two
regions, the pastures are exposed to escalated industrial impacts due to the development of oil
and gas extraction. During the next years, the oil development in the Yamal peninsula becomes
very probable. It will be connected with the construction of a new railway that will cross the most
important grazing areas. This may lead to disastrous effects on the most important district of
reindeer husbandry in Yamal-Nenets AO (Jernsletten and Klokov, 2002).
Petroleum exploration causes natural disturbances which regularly create large areas of
bared mineral soils, including thermokarst erosion, lake drainage, and so-called “shallow-layer
detachment slides”, when large portions of slopes slump downhill and reveal bare mineral soils.
As noted by the indigenous population, the developers always take the best lands – higher,
drier ground – for creating infrastructure, which puts additional unsustainable pressure on the
remanding high ground such as sand dunes used by reindeer for insect relief in summer
(Forbes, 1999). Due to the increasing oil development, overgrazing of reindeer pastures in
Yamal is happening at a rapid rate (Klokov and Khruschev, 2004).
However, as Jernsletten and Klokov (2002) point out, many mining companies have
winded up in the recent years, e.g. in Chukotka where over 200 settlements and other built-up
areas, camps, factories, mines, pits, etc. have been recently liquidated reducing the
defragmentation of reindeer pastures significantly.


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Table 4.33. Number of reindeer stock in the Russian Arctic, 1941 to 2003, thousand heads

1941 1951 1956 1961 1966 1971 1976 1981 1986 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
Murm 70,3 53,9 69,8 74,2 77,4 81,9 65,6 66,0 70,9 77,3 78,9 82,3 73,6 78,0 78,0 77,0 71,4 62,7 70,0 61,3 58,3 59,5
Nen 167,0 183,0 146,5 166,3 171,4 189,5 176,6 184,5 186,9 186,3 183,9 187,1 181,5 186,2 179,6 178,9 167,2 151,4 136,5 122,1 122,8 126
Y-N 362,2 287,0 359,4 335,9 361,4 414,2 384,6 363,2 418,6 490,5 506,3 477,1 481,6 489,9 507,8 517,7 539,8 523,2 501,4 504,7 565,7 556,7
Taim 78,4 96,1 100,3 84,6 121,1 123,2 97,4 88,1 75,6 77,1 75,3 67,5 59,5 56,2 49,3 50,6 45,3 44,4 42,9 40,6 43,3 41,0
Sakh 199,4 312,9 308,9 342 359,3 356,3 371,8 380,1 369,6 361,5 348,8 343,3 334,2 298,7 246,8 215,9 196,4 177,1 165,1 156,3 143,6 134,9
Chuk 437,0 387,7 408,1 460,1 571,5 587,0 530,5 565,5 484,3 491,0 452,4 427,7 330,5 280,8 235,5 193,1 156,7 121,2 103,5 92,5 100,0 106,1

Source: Klokov and Khruschev (2004)


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Reindeer husbandry is referred to as “ethnopreserving” sector in Russia. A nomad way
of life is found to be in direct correlation with sustainable reindeer husbandry that confirms
statistically the famous thesis that sustainable reindeer husbandry is based on the preservation
of nomadic life (Klokov and Khruschev, 2004). Given that the rate of degradation and loss of
reindeer pasture is accelerating in many areas, there is a need for securing and maintaining
reindeer pastures and reducing mining impacts. The use of reindeer population should be
limited by reproductive capacity, and subsistence use by the indigenous population should have
the highest priority of all types of use. The positive development in adjusting the number of
reindeer to a sustainable level should be continued in order to preserve the pastures for future
generations (Klokov, 1997; Jernsletten and Klokov, 2002).

4.4.14 Number of Polar Bears – A Tale of Three Bears
Polar bear (Ursus maritimus), known in Russian as the white bear (bely medved’), is a
large bear native to the Arctic and the region’s largest land carnivore species. It is the apex
predator whose southern range limits are determined by pack ice that the bears use as a
platform to hunt seal, the mainstay of their diet. Polar bear is a migratory species, and, although
there is little research on their migratory routes, there were numerous reports from polar
expeditions that have encountered polar bears in the permanent ice cap around the North Pole.
The furthest south that polar bears live on a year-round basis is in James Bay in Canada, where
bears den at about 53°N on Akimiski Island. On a seasonal basis some bears appear regularly
as far south as Newfoundland, and they have occasionally been seen in the Gulf of St.
Lawrence in years when heavy pack ice have been drifting farther to the south than normal
(latitude 50°N). The five "polar bear nations" in which the bears are found include the U.S.
(Alaska), Canada, Russia, Denmark (Greenland), and Norway (Svalbard). Polar bears are a
potentially threatened species, i.e. the one that could easily become endangered. Threats to the
bears include pollution, poaching, and industrial disturbances (IUCN Polar Bear Specialist
Group, 2002).
Due to its status as an emblem of the Arctic and its place in the food chain, polar bear
can be considered a surrogate species and, more particularly, both umbrella species and
flagship species. As Caro and O’Doherty (1999) define it, surrogate species can be used for
locating areas of “high” biodiversity, tracking population changes of other species or indicating
the extent of anthropogenic influence. When the goal is to protect a habitat or community of
species, an umbrella species may be employed as a surrogate to delineate the size of area or
type of habitat over which protection should occur in order to protect populations of other
sympatric members of the same guild. Flagship species are used to attract the attention of the
public. Some flagships are also umbrella species, although flagships need only be popular, not
ecologically significant.


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Polar bear is both. It is an important umbrella species, a single large migratory carnivore
very sensitive to anthropogenic disturbance. It is also a successful flagship species emblematic
of the Arctic whose image is appreciated and loved by millions. In general, polar bear satisfies
the criteria for surrogate species found in Caro and O’Doherty (1999) and in Cluff and Paquet
(2003). Furthermore, the indicator species are usually the first to be lost when a stressed
system shows a reduction in biodiversity (Bell and Morse, 1999), and it is widely known that
polar bear is a threatened species in need of urgent protection and conservation.
According to the 2001 estimates, the world population of polar bear was between about
21,500 and 25,000 bears, of which 15,000 or more are in Canada. Polar bears are not evenly
distributed throughout the Arctic and occur in about 19 relatively discrete populations, of which
14 are in or shared by Canada (IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, 2002).
Russia has four polar bear populations: Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea populations shared
with the US (Alaska), and Laptev Sea and Kara Sea populations. Currently, a reliable
population estimate for Bering/Chukchi Sea populations does not exist (Evans et al, 2003). The
only population estimate for Bering Sea polar bears (2000 to 5000 bears) was based on ship
surveys and den counts in the early 1980s.
The Chukchi population (over 2000 bears) is believed to have increased after the level of
harvest was reduced in 1972 but the extent of increase and absolute numbers of animals
remains unknown (IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, 2002). However, there is some evidence
to suggest growth for this stock in the past, although the lack of current scientific information
does not allow for an accurate assessment of trend (U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service, 2002).
The estimate of population size for the Laptev Sea (800 to 1200 bears in 1993) is based
on aerial surveys and den counts for the last 30 years and should be regarded as preliminary.
The Kara Sea population is currently unknown. Recent studies clearly show that polar bears
from the Kara Sea have the highest organochlorine pollution levels in the Arctic which is
probably connected with recent information on contaminant levels in rivers flowing into this area
and nuclear and industrial waste disposal activities (IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, 2002).
Different estimates taken together have produced the picture of moderate but steady
increase in polar bear numbers across the Russian Arctic. The recent assessment in 1997 gave
an estimate of about 8,500 bears in the four Russian populations, compared to about 5,600
bears in 1961 as shown in Table 4.32.
Table 4.34. Number of polar bears in the Russian Arctic, 1961 to 1997, heads
1961 1970 1980 1997
Russian Arctic 5,600 6,000 6,500 8,500
Source: IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (2002); Lynn et al (2002)


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Despite poor data on the Russian Arctic population and recent reports of illegal hunting,
even estimates indicate slow but steady growth of polar bears population in the Russian Arctic
by approximately 34 per cent.
According to Uspensky and Shilnikov (1969), there were estimated 5,000 to 7,000 polar
bears in the Soviet Arctic. Uspensky (1969) believed that in the 1930s the general stock of polar
bears in the Arctic was no more than 20,000 specimens. By the middle of the 1950s it still
further decreased (evidently, it made far less than 10,000). This decrease of the species'stock
was stopped only when the hunt for it was prohibited in the Soviet Arctic in 1956.
Gorbunov et al (1987) estimated the total number of polar bears in the Soviet Arctic at
4,000-5,000 specimens, with the highest number observed in the Bering Sea where ice cover
has numerous leads and channels. In those areas polar bears have been most often observed
on broken ice. With moving eastward the sighting frequency was reported to decrease sharply
and then to increase only in the Chukchi Sea and the eastern part of the East-Siberian Sea.
Polar bear is listed in the recent issue of the Red Data Book of the Russian Federation
published in 2001, an official document reflecting state policy in terms of protection and
restoration of rare and endangered species in Russia. The Bering-Kara polar bear population is
designated Category IV (uncertain status taxa and populations); the population of the eastern
Kara Sea, Laptev Sea and the western East-Siberian Sea (Laptev population) – Category III
(rare taxa and populations); and the population inhabiting the eastern part of the East-Siberian
Sea, Chukchi Sea, and the northern portion of the Bering Sea (Alaska-Chukotka population) –
Category V (restoring taxa and populations). At least two Russian Arctic zapovedniki – Nenets
and Wrangel Island – protect terrestrial and marine ecosystems, including polar bears and their
habitats. Wrangel Island is a unique denning site and “maternity home” for polar bears. The
main governmental body responsible for management of species listed in the Red Data Book is
the Environment Protection and Ecological Safety Department of the MNR. In the Arctic regions
of Russia, regional Committees of Natural Resources are responsible for controlling the status
of polar bear populations (Belikov et al, 2002).
As mentioned above, various types of pollutants and first of all organochlorines have a
serious impact on polar bears in the Russian Arctic. An especially high burden of
organochlorine pollutants are found in bears caught in areas of Svalbard, Franz-Josef Land,
and the northern part of Novaya Zemlya. Although effects of these pollutants on polar bears are
not well studied yet, anomalies in polar bear development registered in the Barents Sea in
1990s are likely caused by the pollution. However, since many people left the Russian Arctic in
the 1990s and polar stations and military bases closed, human related impact on polar bears
(habitat destruction, disturbance, poaching) has decreased considerably. Chukotka is probably
the only one Russian Arctic region where pressure of illegal hunting is high. Despite a lack of
sound information on the level of polar bear poaching in Chukotka, it is necessary to undertake
urgent special measures for the control and protection of the Alaska-Chukotka polar bear


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population. Another potential threat to polar bears is oil development in the southeastern part of
the Barents Sea and gas production on the Yamal Peninsula as well as commercial navigation
on the Northern Sea Route through the Russian Arctic seas. In the shallows near Novaya
Zemlya, reactors containing nuclear fuel from vessels and submarines are submerged, causing
a potential danger of radioactive contamination of marine ecosystems (Belikov et al, 2002).
Currently, polar bear is properly protected only in Wrangel Island zapovednik. Other
protected areas lack personnel and transport vehicles to effectively control the area. Outside the
protected areas, the situation is even worse: although the conservation of polar bear is being
regulated by federal and regional legislation, its enforcement is inadequate (WWF, 2002a).
As discussed above, polar bear seems the best candidate as potential umbrella species
for the Russian Arctic. Cluff and Paquet (2003) considered wolf, grizzly bear, and wolverine as
potential umbrella species for the Canada’s Northern Territories and identified wolves as having
the greatest potential as an effective umbrella species. Polar bears were not considered
because there are virtually non-existent in the area of study.
Although the authors point out that the concept of large carnivores serving as umbrella
species may still have biological utility for protecting regional biota, especially in the North,
incorporating two or more focal species is advantageous. For some Russian Arctic areas, e.g.
Murmansk, Taimyr, and Sakha other large migratory carnivores such as wolves can be
considered as candidate umbrella species. In that case, the caribou-wolf predator-prey
dynamics might be considered to identify potential areas for protection, with taking into account
the vastness of territory occupied by the entire wolf-caribou system.
Monitoring change in key species in the Russian Arctic through composite indices as
described, e.g. in Buckland et al (2005) would provide additional possibilities for
conservationists and environmental policy makers in protecting and maximising northern
biodiversity. In particular, urgent measures should be taken and appropriate funds allocated to
assess the size of the Russian polar bear populations. The need for an inventory of polar bears
should be highlighted not only by Russian environmental NGOs but also by international
organisations and financial donors. In doing so, the number of polar bears as a sustainability
indicator for the region should not be underestimated. While the Russian data on polar bear are
very poor, it is still important to include this indicator into the framework for the purposes of
raising awareness about the issue and stressing the need for further research and policy


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5.1 Key Findings
This study has highlighted and assessed, through the first Arctic-specific sustainability

indicator set, the socio-economic and environmental situation in the Russian Arctic areas with
regard to their possible transition to sustainable development. The key results show that:

The accumulation of personal wealth from the environment and the current shift to
resource-based economy in Russia is accompanied by unprecedented decline in life
expectancy in the Russian Arctic, from 67 years in 1998 to 62 in 2003. Already the
lowest life expectancy among all arctic countries, it continues to decline. For men, the
decrease was even more dramatic – from 62 years in 1998 to 56 in 2003. Women also
suffered a marked decrease, from 72 years in 1998 to 69 in 2003.
The region is an exception to the general trend of decreasing mortality across the

whole Arctic, with no steady decrease in mortality observed during the past 40 years.
The causes of this mortality are mainly preventable: noncommunicable diseases
(including cardiovascular disease and cancers), alcohol abuse, road traffic accidents,
and intentional and unintentional injuries. While infant mortality in the region tends to
decrease, it seems to increase in some Russian Arctic regions and is generally linked
to decreasing life expectancy at birth. The rates of mortality at the age of 15 and older
and of mortality at working age are high as well. The suicide rate in the Russian Arctic
is the highest among all Arctic countries. Other major contributors to declining life
expectancy in the Russian Arctic are deteriorating environment, harsh climatic
conditions and growing rates of alcoholism which play a considerable role in the
suicide rate. The rate of recorded crime is increasing in the region along with the
alcoholism rate.
Although poverty rate is declining in the Russian Arctic, mainly due to the poverty

alleviation strategies based on resource sector, inequality is deepening. Income from
today’s resource sector in Russia is divided among very few families whose interests
are being lobbied by their representatives in the executive power and in the legislature.
For the Russian Arctic, this means greater stratification of society and a larger gap
between the poor and the rich who made their capital on natural resources. As the
analysis showed, the prospects of growing income inequality in the Russian Arctic are
The reverse side of today’s relative prosperity is the steady levels of air emissions,

especially in urban areas, chemical contamination of water and soil, and degradation
of ecosystems leading to poor health and declining life expectancy. Targeted
investments in resource sector that deliberately miss non-resource industries and
almost ignore R&D, education, and innovation place greater pressure on the


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environment, with the expenditure on those sectors being so small that it can be
considered close to nil.
The Russian Arctic is the region that was severely hit by the depopulation processes in
the 1990s. But, on the other hand, it has been for many years the most populated
circumpolar area in the world, with big urban industrial centres and a network of
permanent settlements. Today, some regional administrations (e.g. in Chukotka)
started resettlement programmes to make population levels more sustainable. The
moderate but steady population growth observed from the early 2000s can be
explained by the fertility higher than Russian average in almost all Russian Arctic
regions and less pronounced ageing problem: the share of population aged 60 and
older is lower here than in other Russian regions. The region’s resource economy
seems to stimulate the fertility behaviour, although the birth rates per 1000 inhabitants
across the regions are rather uneven.

In addition, this study has produced other important results:

Energy intensity levels in Russia and particularly in the Russian Arctic are gigantic, even
if the country’s northern location is taken into account. It is old equipment and outdated
technologies that are responsible for the enormous levels of energy use in Russia, with energy
production intensity being one of the highest in the world. The losses of oil and gas during
extraction are huge. The rise in energy production intensity against the plateauing in energy
efficiency indicators and the unvaryingly high electricity intensity demonstrate that energy
production in Russia is currently at unsustainable level. The only existing long-term energy
strategy in Russia, Energy Strategy to 2020, is in fact the extension of current short-term
unsustainable energy strategies into the future since it focuses on increased domestic coal
consumption, promotes export of gas as a cleaner fuel for which there is a stable international
demand and fails to mention renewable resources or health effects from coal consumption.
Current forestry practices in Russia are extremely unsustainable. Decreasing actual
forest harvest is related to the decrease in main cuttings due to the depletion of fine wood
resources as a result of unsustainable forest management in the 1930s-1980s. However, the
official view is that efficient forest management actually means larger areas of main cuttings,
and the decrease in harvest area is “inefficient” and caused by continuing “structural and
financial crisis in the forest sector”. In the meanwhile, illegal loggings in Russian boreal forests
remain to be a serious problem due to insufficient state control, lack of environmental policies in
the largest timber trading and forest logging companies, poor legislation and low quality of life.
One of the aspects of illegal loggings is turning sanitary thinnings into main cuttings by leskhozy
because of the lack of budgetary support. Many leskhozy begin to use protected forests,
including unique tundra-side forests, for commercial production. On the other hand, reforested


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area continues to decrease in the region because of a lack of funding and the disinterest of
forest management authorities in a careful and efficient forest management. As a consequence,
natural taiga is being increasingly replaced by subsidiary trees species not found in the region
originally. Forest fires are a cause of considerable and increasing damage to the Russian Arctic
forests. Whereas the main cause of wildfires in Asian part of the Arctic is lightning strikes,
anthropogenic factor is considered the major cause of wildfires in the Russian Arctic. Different
levels of fire suppression and inadequate fire statistics contribute to the problem.
The dynamics of protected areas in the Russian Arctic looks very positive. The total
protected area has steadily increased, and new reserves and national parks are being planned.
Yet there are a number of problems and alarming trends, in particular: on-going privatisation
and change of ownership; the emphasis on natural resource exports in federal and regional
economic policies, etc. The development of new oil and gas reserves at the expense of
protected areas has become characteristic for the Russian Arctic. The new protected areas
being planned since the early 2000s have not been established yet, and some existing ones are
being closed in relation to oil development and mining activities. Vast tracts of unprotected
pristine territories are threatened by new energy infrastructure.
After the sharp drop in atmospheric emissions in the early 1990s, the level of the
emissions has become rather steady, after mining sectors have received a boost from the state
and foreign investors. The monstrous Soviet-style metal smelters and chemical plants in Norilsk,
Monchegorsk, Nikel and other industrial centres in the Russian Arctic continue their operations,
polluting the environment both in Russia and in neighbouring countries, and the results of these
destructive activities are in most cases irreversible. Miles of forests around the plants turned into
an “anthropogenic desert”, and health effects are many.
A similar situation is observed with contaminated wastewater discharge in the Russian
Arctic which remains steadily high in the last years. Mining and smelting industries in Murmansk
Oblast and Taimyr are chiefly responsible for the enormous levels of pollutants discharged into
surface waters, with the Kola Peninsula rivers being the most polluted Russian Arctic river
basin. The main pollutants in the Russian Arctic are: sulphur and nitrogen oxides; heavy metals;
PTS; oil and polyaromatic hydrocarbons; radionuclides; solid waste including sunken wood; and
Given the current emphasis on resource economy and inadequate measures for the
rehabilitation and protection of the northern environment, environmental disaster zones in the
Russian Arctic will take their toll of human health, and hot spots are unlikely to disappear. The
situation with environmental financing is especially illustrative. Targeted environmental financing
strategies in some Russian regions are found adequate and addressing first the priority sectors
such as air control measures for industrial regions. However, after the polluter pays principle
was seriously compromised by the ruling of the Russian Supreme Court in favour of the Norilsk
Nikel Mining Company, citizens have become responsible for paying the majority of


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