JOINT US and Soviet efforts to preserve the Bering Sea
environment are accelerating.
The United States National Park Service and the Soviet State
Committee on Environmental Protection are working out details for an
international peace park straddling the Bering Strait that could be
established as early as next year.
The Beringian International Heritage Park would encompass the 1
million-acre Bering Land Bridge National Preserve and possibly parts
of Cape Krusenstern National Monument and Kobuk Valley National Park
in Alaska with part of Siberia's 15 million-acre Chukotka Peninsula.
The park was authorized by Presidents George Bush and Mikhail
Gorbachev at their 1990 summit meeting. It would be the third US
park to receive international status, after Canada-bordering Glacier
National Park in Montana and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in
The international plan is more than symbolic. The region where
the ancestors of today's Native Americans, Alaska Eskimos, and
Aleuts crossed on land from Asia to North America is one of the
world's richest and most important ecosystems, environmentalists
Some 200 kinds of birds from all seven continents migrate through
the Beringia region, as do 19 species of marine mammals, including
whales, polar bears, walruses, and seals.
"Essentially, it's an international crossroads historically for
people and for wildlife," said Dave Cline, regional vice president
for the Audubon Society's Alaska-Hawaii office.
Preservation of cultures
The region is rich with archaelogical artifacts that date back to
the periods of human migration more than 12,000 years ago. The park
would help preserve both native history and present indigenous
cultures on both sides of the Bering Strait as well as the
ecological resources, organizers say.
Preservation of indigenous cultures is a new goal in the Soviet
Union, where officials once cited national security and communist
ideology to relocate Far East natives from their traditional coastal
villages into inland collective settlements.
The Chuktotka region, home to Chukchi natives and Siberian Yup'ik
Eskimos, is a key reindeer hunting center. Park organizers say the
challenge lies in preserving resources while not interfering with
the natives' subsistence lifestyle.
"The first (priority for) use of the resource needs to be the
traditional use of the natives," said Ludmilla Bogoslovskaya, chief
scientist for the Soviet planning committee.
The peace park initiative and other new Alaska-Siberia
environmental programs come amid escalating development pressures on
both sides of the strait. "One could say that we have a common
threat ... industrial development," Ms. Bogoslovskaya said.
The Arctic and subarctic waters lying between the Alaskan and
Siberian mainlands figure prominently into Bush's national energy
strategy. The US Interior Department has set a Chukchi Sea oil and
gas lease sale in August and a Navarin Basin (in the Bering Sea
southwest of St. Lawrence Island) sale for September.
In the Soviet Far East, onshore and offshore prospects have
piqued interest of US firms. The Soviet region holds potential for
rich oil finds and, experts say, economic salvation for the troubled
Soviet economy. …