National Geographic : 2009 Jan
Maybe we should leave them alone and appre- ciate them from afar. Send a delegated observer who will absorb much, walk lightly, and report back as Neil Armstrong did from the moon---and let the rest of us stay home. at paradox applies to Kronotsky Zapovednik, a remote nature reserve on the east side of Russia s Kamchatka Peninsula, along the Paci c coast a thousand miles north of Japan. It s a splendorous land- scape, dynamic and rich, tumultuous and deli- cate, encompassing 2.8 million acres of volcanic mountains and forest and tundra and river bottoms as well as more than 700 brown bears, thickets of Siberian dwarf pine (with edible nuts for the bears) and relict "graceful" fir (Abies sachalinensis) le in the wake of Pleistocene gla- ciers, a major rookery of Steller sea lions on the coast, a population of kokanee salmon in Kro- notskoye Lake, along with sea-run salmon and steelhead in the rivers, eagles and gyrfalcons and wolverines and many other species---terrain altogether too good to be a mere destination. With so much to o er, so much at stake, so much that can be quickly damaged but (because of the high latitudes, the slow growth of plants, the intricacies of its geothermal underpinnings, the specialness of its ecosystems, the delicacy of its topographic repose) not quickly repaired, does Kronotsky need people, even as visitors? I raise this question, acutely aware that it may sound hypocritical, or anyway inconsistent, given that I ve recently le my own boot prints in Kronotsky s yielding crust. e government of Russia recognizes such spectacular fragility with that categorical zapovednik, connoting roughly this: "a restricted zone, set aside for the study and protection of ora and fauna and geology; tourism limited or forbidden; thanks for your interest, but go away." It s a farsighted sort of statutory desig- nation, bravely and judiciously antidemocratic in a country where antidemocracy has a long, brutal history. Scientists are permitted to enter zapovedniks, though only for research and under stringent conditions. Kronotsky is one of 101 such reserves in Russia, by the latest count, and was among the rst, decreed in 1934. Before that it had been a sable refuge, established in 1882 at the prompting of local people, hunters and trappers who valued the forests surrounding Kronotskoye Lake as prime habitat for Martes zibellina, the sable. e Kamchatka Peninsula is very distant from Moscow (as distant, in fact, as Moscow is from Boston), and to Joseph Stalin s A skittering bird and a lumbering brown bear le prints in the mud at a hot spring in Uzon Caldera. Among the largest of their family worldwide, brown bears can grow to over 1,200 pounds. More than 700 thrive in the reserve. BY DAVID QUAMMEN PHOTOGRAPHS BY MICHAEL MELFORD SOME PLACES ON THIS PLANET ARE SO WONDROUS, AND SO FRANGIBLE, THAT MAYBE WE JUST SHOULDN'T GO THERE.