Russia to create Arctic wildlife park

Prime minister Vladimir Putin of Russia has announced the creation of a 1.5-million-hectare park in the Arctic, a central area for polar-bear populations in the Barents and Kara seas. The park, which excludes all industrial activities, “is exactly the sort of thing we need to see from Arctic governments”, said Neil Hamilton, director of the environmental organisation WWF's international Arctic programme.

The “Russian Arctic” park is located on the northern part of Novaya Zemlya, a long island arcing out into the Arctic Ocean between the Barents and Kara seas, and also includes some adjacent marine areas. WWF has long lobbied for the park, in an area that also is a key habitat for walrus, wild reindeer and bird populations.

“The only way these Arctic populations are going to survive the ecological havoc caused by climate change is by providing them with enough breathing room,” Hamilton said, adding: “If industrial activity is kept far enough from key habitat, the animals have a chance. We also need urgent global action on climate change to ensure that the parks stay cold enough for animals such as polar bears and wild reindeer.”

Environmentalists are pleased with the park creation, but they note that the protected area is smaller than the five million hectares initially planned. While areas known as Franz Josef Land and Victoria Island were excluded, WWF said it intended to work to extend the park’s borders. In announcing the Arctic park, Putin said he hoped it would be a major tourist attraction.

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