Vostochny Wildlife Refuge
Protecting Sakhalin's Forests and Fish
Creation of the Vostochny Wildlife Refuge (zakaznik) on
the eastern coast of Sakhalin Island was an important step for
biodiversity conservation on the island. Sakhalin's Governor
Farkhutdinov created the refuge in 1999 to protect Sakhalin's forests
from irresponsible logging; at the time, several Japanese pulp and paper
mills were systematically clear-cutting the island's pristine forests.
Under the governor's decree, no commercial activity--neither fishing nor
logging--could take place anywhere within the reserve.
Spanning 175,000 acres in the mountainous Pursh-Pursh and Vengeri River watersheds, the refuge created a safe haven for old-growth coniferous forests and endangered plant and animal species. Additionally, the marine zone and waterways within the refuge's boundaries served as vital salmon spawning habitat.
Unfortunately, a commercial fishing company, Laguna, was determined to utilize Vostochny's salmon resources. In 2003, Laguna filed and won a court case that effectively annulled Vostochny's protected status. However, efforts to reinstate the refuge began anew. In 2007, Vostochny was restored. Now a Regional Reserve (protected and funded by the Sakhalin Regional Government) that prohibits any commercial activity and allows only limited tourism and research expiditions, Vostochny's rangers partner with local environmental watchdog organization Sakhalin Environment Watch to meticulously patrol the reserve grounds and implement several monitoring programs.
First among the priorities for Vostochnoy Wildlife Refuge guardians is to prevent salmon poaching. The protected territory is rugged and remote, making it difficult to access and challenging to monitor effectively. Highly organized and well-equipped "fish mafias" would fly into the salmon run areas by helicopter during spawning season and collect massive salmon roe harvests in a very short time, heavily impacting the area's salmon populations. Thankfully, the monitoring and protection programs developed by Sakhalin Environment Watch and the refuge administration have proven successful: not a single instance of poaching has been detected in the refuge since the anti-poaching program was launched in 2006.
Efforts are underway to raise the refuge's designation to a federally-protected area with
much stricter controls, as current legislation does not permit inclusion
of a marine zone in a Regional Reserve. It is imperative that the 3-km
buffer along the refuge's eastern boundary is protected to further
combat salmon poaching along the coast. Local communities also depend on
the stringency of Vostochny's protections, as Sakhalin's salmon is a
vital food source for the island's brown bear population. Recent years
have seen a growing number of bear/human interactions (including
attacks) on the island, as bears unable to find enough food in the wild
venture closer to populated areas. Inclusion of the marine zone into a
federally-protected reserve would help preserve the entire coastal food
chain, from salmon to bears and nearby communities, to seals and sea
lions, and to endangered sea birds that also depend on the refuge's