National Geographic : 2018 Jul
THE BACKSTORY RUSSIA’S CENTURY-LONG APPROACH TO PROTECTING NATURE IS TO KEEP HUMANS OUT OF LARGE PARTS OF IT. A LITTLE-KNOWN LEGACY of Russia’s tumultuous 20th century is a profusion of protected lands, some so remote and restricted that few Russians have ever set foot in them. In the final months before Nicho- las II, the last tsar, was forced to abdicate in 1917, he created the country’s first zapovednik, or “strict nature reserve,” near Lake Baikal in Siberia. Nicholas was soon executed by Bolshevik rev- olutionaries. He never knew that his reserve had succeeded in saving the Barguzin sable, long prized by the imperial family for its fur, which was nicknamed “soft gold.” In the United States the first national parks had been conceived as “plea- suring grounds” for the people. Early Russian conservationists, such as Grigory Kozhevnikov, had different dreams. They wanted to keep Russia’s new reserves from its people, as pristine labs of primordial nature. “No need to remove anything, to add anything, to improve anything,” Kozhevnikov argued. “One should leave nature to itself and observe the results.” Today, countless environmental bat- tles (and a few environmental disasters) later, Russia has 174 million acres of federally protected lands. They include 85 million acres in 105 zapovedniks, which meet the highest protection standards of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, category Ia—“... where human visitation, use and impacts are strictly controlled and limited.” No other country has as much highly protected land. Sergey Gorshkov has been photo- graphing these wilds for nearly two decades, capturing rare volcanic erup- tions, intimate moments with wildlife unused to humans, the seasonal thaw of untouched Arctic waterways. His work is a timely reminder of the beau- tiful results we observe when we heed Kozhevnikov’s plea and leave nature alone. —EVE CONANT PROOF Dark clouds gather over icebergs off Franz Josef Land, in the Russian Arctic National Park.