THE 176 KM ACCESS ROADS WERE CLEARED IN THE STEPNOI SANCTUARY
Strong wind, dry climate and harsh
sun are peculiar to the arid steppe ecosystems. Prolonged droughts lead to the
formation of a huge amount of dry grass, which creates a threat of steppe fires
that can lead to mass death and devastation of all living things on the
territory, including critically endangered Saiga antelope.
As a rule, the main precipitation in this area falls in autumn and winter. Therefore, by winter, the dry grass mass increases significantly. When spring comes, under the strong sun and dry wind, it turns into dangerous flammable balls of tumbleweeds. They are formed in just a few days and, due to winds blowing, clog up all the obstacles that come across on the way: small holes in the ground, burrows, road ruts, bury partially or completely cars and trucks, or buildings, such as the Stepnoi Sanctuary rangers’ station.
"This causes grasslands fires. A piece of glass that could have lain in the sand for many years may be the very lens through which the refracted sunlight will easily set fire the dry grass, - explains Vladimir Kalmykov, Director of the Stepnoi Sanctuary. "An accidental spark that can flare under a car passing by a heap of tumbleweeds can lead to a huge disaster impacts both wildlife and people."
Even off-road vehicles with high clearance cannot drive freely on grass-full roads. This fact forces drivers to look for a path away from the main road disrupting the soil and vegetation cover. It can take years to restore. If the processes of desertification are active, they could turn the damaged areas into a desert.
With the support of WWF-Russia, a road grader cleared out 176 km of roads necessary for the fire prevention in the Saiga antelope habitats of the Stepnoi Sanctuary, Astrakhan region.
The access roads can also be used by inspectors for patrols, wildlife monitoring, and to provide faster assistance to local farmers involved in environmental activities.
It is worth noting that the clearance of the main road connecting the territory of the Sanctuary with the Liman villagereduced the travel time and the amount of fuel consumed almost twice.
"The support measures that the WWF provides to the territories that protect Saiga antelope habitats are really effective. This could be seen from the results of the Saiga population censuses that WWF conducted using aerial drones. We can note a small increase in the number in the last two years. Saigas feel protected and behave more calmly. This is noticeable in the calving and breeding periods," says Valery Shmunk, Director of Russian Caucasus Ecoregional Office WWF-Russia.