Posts Tagged ‘Mongolia’

Keeping the Amur River Wild and Free

Friday, December 12th, 2014

The Amur River is the largest, still free-flowing river in Asia, and its basin the most biodiverse region in Russia. But its vast forests, wetlands, and steppes, as well as its endemic tigers, leopards, cranes, and bears are threatened by a voracious demand for energy and natural resources.


Large-scale dam building threatens the mighty Amur River basin, the largest, still free-flowing river system in Asia.


Drawing on lessons learned over the past 25 years, Pacific Environment’s new report, Conservation Investment Strategy for the Russian Far East,  reflects the geographical and strategic priorities identified by some of the world’s most respected experts on the region.

In addition to Arctic ice ecosystems in Chukotka and salmon ecosystems throughout the Far East, the Amur River basin was selected as one of three high-priority regions for future conservation investments.

As the most promising strategies for success in the Amur River basin, the report’s experts recommend focusing on stopping proposed dams on the Amur River and quickly expanding the Amur’s protected areas to include its vast wetlands.

Eugene Simonov, a longtime partner of Pacific Environment, is a successful grassroots activists and one of the world’s foremost experts on the region. He is spearheading Rivers without Boundaries, a coalition of grassroots environmental groups from Russia, China, Mongolia, and the U.S. that seeks to preserve river basins in northeast Eurasia through joint advocacy and promotion of best practices in river management.


In the following Q&A, Eugene highlights the global importance of the Amur River basin.

Q: Why is the Amur River Basin so important for global conservation efforts?

BESIDES ITS OBVIOUS GLOBAL BIODIVERSITY VALUE and outstanding qualities of free-flowing river, the Amur is also an important example of sharp contrasts among countries—natural, cultural, economic, psychological. Russia, Mongolia, and China essentially belong to three different civilizational roots and each of the countries dominated the whole Amur Basin at one time in history. You can hardly find another river basin on Earth that is so deeply divided. You have the country with the biggest appetite for natural resources bordering countries that believe their resources are boundless. Yet they share one river ecosystem and understand they have to protect their common environment, despite the desire to extract and transport natural resources. The future of the Amur depends on where they strike the balance and whether they find adequate common language to agree on rules of cooperation. This is a unique experiment that has a lot to tell us about the solutions to global problems.

Q: The Amur Basin has a well-developed civil society and a wealth of scientists and experts working on conservation. But the region is so vast and there are so many conservation challenges, what is the ultimate priority?

FOR FRESHWATER ECOSYSTEMS, THE GREATEST PRIORITY is to agree on new ecologically sound objectives for common river basin management. Once upon a time, in 1986, Russia and China agreed to ruin this river completely by a chain of hydropower dams in the main stem. The Amur was saved partly because of mutual mistrust, and partly because of a huge educational effort undertaken by conservationists. We have yet to replace the mechanical ideal of artificial reservoirs generating energy with a more sustainable, mutually agreeable management goal.

Q: The 2013 flooding may have been good for the Amur River and its flora and fauna, but it devastated many communities, and resulted in new calls for more dams and flood control infrastructure. How can people value the natural river when it’s a threat to their livelihoods, even lives?

PEOPLE OF THEIR FREE WILL HAVE CHOSEN TO SETTLE IN FLOOD-PRONE AREAS because of their proximity to water, naturally fertilized floodplain soil, abundance of fish, and so on. They do value the natural river. Even at the height of the 2013 floods, polls showed that most people didn’t see dams as a remedy for floods. Funds that the government is now trying to earmark for building new dams could be better used for modernization and adaptation of riverine municipalities, so new settlement infrastructure and economy are better adapted to floods and droughts. Russian regions along the Amur do not lack land resources, so there are opportunities to avoid this conflict just by not building residences and production facilities in the floodplains.

Q: Even if Russian citizens and authorities were to implement the most rigorous conservation standards and practices, won’t China’s voracious appetites for raw materials still overwhelm the Russian Far East?

THE REAL QUESTION IS WHETHER RUSSIAN AND CHINESE AUTHORITIES and businesses could develop and enforce such rigorous standards and practices. The two countries share many environmental objectives (like tiger protection or river pollution prevention). Success is not granted, but quite feasible.

Announcing the 2013 Whitley Award Winner – Eugene Simonov

Friday, May 3rd, 2013


Pacific Environment is proud to announce the winner of the 2013 Whitley Award – our own Eugene Simonov. The award is well deserved; it recognizes Eugene’s talent, years of hard work, dedication, and his tremendous impact on the environment in his community and beyond.

Eugene Simonov enjoying himself in the wetlands of the Amur River Basin.

Eugene Simonov enjoying himself in the wetlands of the Amur River Basin.

Eugene joined Pacific Environment as the Conservation Science Specialist in February 2013 but his history with our organization goes as far back as 2001 when he was one of our strategic partners and advisors. Although he currently resides in Dalian, China, his scope of work includes China, Russia, Mongolia and the United States. Eugene has a degree in biology from Moscow State University, a Master’s degree in environmental science from the Yale University School of Forestry, and a doctorate in nature conservation from China’s Northeast Forestry University. Eugene has been working on transboundary issues with a special focus on the Amur River Basin, a highly complex watershed of northeastern China, the Russian Far East, and eastern Mongolia. Since 2009 Eugene has been a coordinator of Rivers without Boundaries International Coalition which was formed to address conservation of the aquatic environment of Northeast Asia.

Eugene’s work has shined a light on the devastating impacts of major dam infrastructure projects. His organization has been successful in removing several of the most large scale projects from the agenda, and with the Whitley Award he plans to focus his energy on diverting investment dollars away from more of these dam projects and towards sustainable energy alternatives.

In his acceptance speech on May 2, Eugene imagined taking a boat ride down the river from its headwaters in Siberia through the wetlands filled with cranes and geese and possibly spotting the legendary river monster. Eugene works to make his dream of a free flowing Amur river a reality for his son and daughter.

Congratulations Eugene!

Check Out This Video on Mapping Sacred Sites in Altai

Thursday, December 20th, 2007
Posted by David Gordon
An Indigenous Woman on the Altai Plateau
An Indigenous Woman on the Altai Plateau

Altai, nestled in southern Siberia to the west of Mongolia, to the east of Kazakhstan, and to the north of China, is an amazing area.  It’s known for its wildlands and beauty, as the landscape climbs from Siberian pine forests to alpine plateaus.

The Ukok Plateau – a vast plateau that is recognized as a World Heritage Site – is one area that Pacific Environment and our partners our trying to save.  The Russian government has announced plans to build a gas pipeline to China through the Altai, directly through the Ukok Plateau.  The project is led by Gazprom (note that Putin just anointed the chairman of Gazprom as his successor to become president of Russia).

Indigenous Altaians are extremely worried about the pipeline.  They point out that there are better routes for the pipeline that make more sense both economically and environmentally.  These routes, though, go through Mongolia or Kazakhstan, and Russia wants a direct pipeline to China – which means going through the Ukok Plateau.

One of the reasons indigenous Altaians are so worried is that this is a sacred area for their culture.  In addition to its environmental beauty, the Ukok Plateau is home to thousands of sacred sites.  We’re supporting Maya Erlenbaeva and the Foundation for Sustainable Development of Altai, a local organization, to map these sacred sites to that they can demonstrate the value of the Plateau.  Our friends at the Sacred Land Film Project visited Maya and the Foundation earlier this summer and produced a wonderful short video that shows Maya’s inspiring work.

Our efforts in Altai are going to ramp up in 2008, which promises to be an important year for deciding the fate of the Ukok Plateau.  We’re hopeful that we can convince the Russian government and Gazprom that there’s a better alternative than the Ukok Plateau for building a gas pipeline to China!  Click here to find out more about our campaign!

In the meantime, enjoy the video and the short journey it takes you to the sacred places of Altai in southern Siberia!

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