On the Necessity for Setting up Preserved Areas for the Protection of Russian Nature
(Published in Proceedings of the All-Russian Jubilee Acclimatization Congress of 1908 in Moscow, 1909, Moscow, 1st edition, abridged version).
(…) There are such issues, often quite important ones, that do not affect our interests directly and immediately; and for this reason people have to be reminded of them over and over again. (…)
These issues include the one about the right of primordial nature to existence. Probably a formulation like “the right to existence” sounds somewhat odd, but that is precisely how I would like to pose the question – and not in any other way. (…)
To be able to study nature, we must try to preserve it in its primordial intactness, in the form of its most typical formations. Certainly, one should aspire above all to preserve the virgin steppe and the primordial forest of the taiga type. What is the purpose for preserving such intact areas? In the first place, it is a purely scientific one, and then, of course, a practical one as well, since only a scientific study of nature provides us with a reliable basis for practical activities. Let us recall that all of agriculture is in fact nothing but applied natural science. Inasmuch as the study of nature is one of our main objectives, then certainly we must think about preserving that nature at least in some places in its entire natural intactness. If we do not take care of that, then the field of our future study will be greatly decreased and many issues will remain unresolved forever, like for example the unresolved issue of the tarpan, which used to live before the eyes of a number of naturalists but which we had no time to study before it died out. Having before us, for our studies, first devastated and then cultivated nature and having not a single nook of more or less primordial nature for the purpose of comparison, we will not be able to solve quite a few interesting riddles posed to us by animal and vegetative life.
Areas allotted for preserving specimens of primordial nature must be rather large, so that the influence of the neighboring cultivated lands will not affect them – at least their parts lying far from the edge. These areas must be preserved (“zapovednye”) ones in the very strict sense of the word. In relation to fauna, all kinds of shooting and capturing of any animals whatsoever must be absolutely prohibited in them, except for cases when this is needed for scientific research.
All measures violating the natural conditions of struggle for existence are inadmissible here.
Hunting farms in managed forests practice, for example, extermination of predators in order to increase the abundance of game. These measures result in intense reproduction of certain species; a forest can be turned into a breeding ground for hares, blackcocks, etc. This will be an example of a hunting farm; but this won’t be an example of a preserved forest in the sense which is of interest to us. What we need is not an untold abundance of hares resulting from extermination of foxes and a ban on hunting, but the number of hares that will be formed in a natural way in this area in the event of normal reproduction in that area of foxes and other enemies of hares except for man.
Certainly, next to preserved areas that are left to their own natural destiny there may be preserved areas of a different type, focusing on reproduction of game, where regulation of natural conditions will be allowed. This, however, does not diminish in any way the necessity to have preserved areas in the strict sense of that word, where there would be no interference of human activities and where it would be possible to study in a scientific way the natural conditions of life.
In relation to flora, it is necessary to cancel the cutting of clearings, the pruning of wood growth, even grass cutting – and certainly all sorts of sowing and planting. Nothing should be eliminated, added, or improved. One should leave nature to itself and observe the results.
Preserved areas are of immense scientific significance; therefore, their organization must be, above all, undertaken by the state. Certainly, this can be undertaken by the public or private initiative, but the state must be the leader here. The number of state-owned lands is enormous; and many of them bring in very little income, since they are located in scarcely populated or totally unpopulated places, outside lines of communication. There probably exist such state-owned areas where no economic activity is under way in view of the local conditions; and so turning such areas into preserved ones will not introduce any perturbations into matters related to state assets. Desolate, difficult of access, unexploited state-owned areas are, in essence, quite suitable for transforming them into preserved ones, since they have until now been scarcely subjected to human influence anyway.
It is not enough, however, to declare an area preserved; it is necessary to take measures for it to have the right to be justifiably referred to as such. It is necessary to think about positioning the preserved district among other areas in such a way that there will be a wide unpopulated tract around it if possible. Thus, for example, amidst a large forest dacha situated in an unpopulated locality the preserved area should be allotted in the middle of the dacha rather than near its edge. In such a case, should a new settlement arise close to the border of the whole forest dacha, it will all the same be separated from the preserved area by a wide tract of ordinary forest.
In addition to taking care that the area should be isolated by the very conditions of its location, it is necessary to think about its strict protection from people. All hunting of any animals whatsoever must be strictly prohibited; the only exception can be made for strictly scientific purposes – and this permit for collecting in a preserved area must be stipulated by absolutely special conditions that differ from those established for ordinary scientific collecting.* Collecting of mushrooms and berries must also not be allowed in preserved areas. If possible, it is necessary to prohibit transit or passage through these areas, which will not be too hard to do if they are situated in desolate, unpopulated localities.
I find the main idea of preserved plots to be so important that it is quite expedient for the state to take care that it is implemented. We will not be able to fully understand the nature surrounding us if we study it under conditions of permanent, constantly progressively increasing influence upon it from the modifying human impact. Meanwhile, complete understanding of nature is one of the main problems for the human mind; and mankind builds its mental progress and its material wellbeing around the resolution of this problem. Therefore, I believe it is quite expedient to raise the issue of preserved areas at the All-Russian Acclimatization Congress – a congress of activists in applied natural science; and I am of the opinion that the congress should initiate a relevant petition on this matter.
* I am of the opinion that collecting in preserved areas can be allowed only for those scientists who will use the resulting collection directly as a material for a new scientific study.