FIRE PREVENTION GOT GOING IN THE STEPNOI SANCTUARY
Fires are actual problem for hot and dry climate of the Northwest Pre-Caspian region. Fire season begins in mid-June typically and has a negative impact on some plant and animal species, including Saiga antelope. WWF-Russia gifted a hay baler to the Stepnoi Sanctuary, which can gather grass faster now. This is very important because in last 2-3 decades grasses have become dominant in plant assemblages within Saiga range due to climate change and unsustainable grazing. Grasses fire up much more easily than typical local subshrubs and wormwood. But this year with its unusual rainy summer shifted wildfires to August.
To prevent wildfires, Sanctuary’s rangers plan to make about 300 km of control (or fire) lines to restraining a fire spreads. Each line is 8 meters wide and represents a barrier scratched down to a mineral soil. A system of control lines protects the steppe (grassland) where strong winds blowing from spread of fire.
Wildfires are a serious problem for Saiga. Fire destroys some plant species that feed the Saiga, and sometimes cause the animals death. For example, subshrub-to-grass conversion is hastening. As a result, some Saiga habitats lost and its number decrease. Steppe fires have become more frequent in South of Russia due cereals abundance in last 20 years.«Wildfire extends to 20% of the Saiga habitat in some years. Reducing Saiga habitat is one of the main problems for conservation of this species because Saiga adaptive capability to climate change is lessen too. That is why WWF maintains anti-wildfire measures in Saiga range», - explains Valery Shmunk, Director of the "Russian Caucasus" Ecoregion Office, WWF-Russia.