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THERE IS NO LAW FOR THE STAVROPOL AUTHORITIES. “BESHTAUGORSKIY SANCTUARY” VS “CYCLE TRACK”

23 november 2020
Beshtaugorskiy Sanctuary has become a "bone of contention" between the authorities of the Stavropol region on the one hand and locals, the Prosecutor's Office of Stavropol region, federal agencies – on the other. Stavropol residents want to defend the unique nature of their native land from the upcoming construction of a large-scale bicycle route, the construction of which the regional administration plans to build in the protected areas. The regional Government has already excluded protected lands from the Sanctuary for these purposes. Presidential Council of the Russian Federation and the local Environmental Prosecutor's Office are against the project. the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation did not agree to change the boundaries of the Sanctuary. However, this did not stop the government of the Stavropol region, which continues to work on the implementation of the project

What happened?

The government of the Russian Federation together with Stavropol’s authorities decided to build a 75km length cycling track that would cost 2.8 billion rubles in the region of the Caucasus Mineral Waters. The essence of the project is to create a bicycle route that will connect the resort cities of Lermontov, Zheleznovodsk and Mineralnye Vody, as well as unite Beshtau, Zheleznaya, Razvalka and Zmeyka mountains. The width of the route should be 8 meters. In addition, the route is expected to make 40 stops with viewing platforms, cafés, shopping kiosks, drinking pump rooms, bike rental stations, Wi-Fi and medical points.

The problem is that a part of the track, according to the project, should pass through the territory of 4 protected areas of regional significance: on the territory of the Beshtaugorskiy Sanctuary and natural monuments on "Mount Mashuk", "Mount Zmeyka" and "Mount Beshtau". And for these purposes, the regional government decided to simply cut out all existing roads from the boundaries of the protected areas. The Government of the Stavropol region issued relevant resolutions on changing the boundaries of protected areas in 2019 and 2020. As a result of such actions, the reserve consisting of 6 clusters will be divided into 9 sections.

Beshtaugorskiy Sanctuary
(с) Tatiana Obolevich

Why is this bad?

In the Stavropol region, these forests and mountains are almost the ones and only, so they are very important for the locals. Red Data Book species grow on the slopes along the road, which will be destroyed if the roads are expanded to 8m (now they are unsurfaced roads, in some places with preserved asphalt sections less than 4m wide). For example, in the north-eastern part of the Mountain grows the Caucasian fritillaria, a little further — the thin asphodeline. Also, an extremely rare orchid the white helleborine and a unique plant – Diphelypea coccinea grow near the road.

"Now there are ordinary forest roads on the territory of protected areas, which are used by tourists to communicate with nature. The construction of roads and the creation of related infrastructure for recreation are always associated with an increase in the flow of tourists, an increase in the impact on nature. The transformation of the reserve into a park will lead to an increase in the picnic area, littering up the territory, and fires. Rare plants will disappear, and the area of animal habitat will be reduced. Social and economic development projects should not be the basis of social tension in the region, a confrontation between the authorities and residents!" -  explains Roman Mnatsekanov, Senior Coordinator of Russian Caucasus Ecoregional Office WWF-Russia.

Therefore, the activists demand the return of roads to the boundaries of the sanctuary and the conduct of a qualitative examination of the project to take into account all rare species in the territory and take measures to change the route.

the thin asphodeline
Diphelypea coccinea
(с) Tatiana Obolevich

What do locals do to solve the problem?

1. the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of Stavropol region

First, locals appealed to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of Stavropol region, where they received the answer that the seized land is of no value, there are no Red Data Book’s plants there (NB. actually, there are ones).

2. the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation

The Federal Agency, after receiving an appeal from activists, replied that such changes in the boundaries of protected areas under the federal environmental laws "Concerning specially protected natural areas" are unacceptable and that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation did not coordinate this draft Government Decree of the Stavropol region. However, there were no further actions from the Ministry of Russia to prevent unauthorized actions of the Government of Stavropol region.

3. Environmental Prosecutor’s Office of the Stavropol region

The regional prosecutor's office supported the position of locals in the issue of protecting the nature of their native region and filed a lawsuit. This was told by the activists themselves and written by one of the regional media.

4. Presidential Council of the Russian Federation

In March 2020, the region was visited by the Presidential Council for the Development on Civil Society and Human Rights. After a field meeting, an environmental survey and an assessment of the state of the territories, the Human Rights Council issued a number of conclusions and recommendations.

Presidential Council of the Russian Federation

Main takeaways:

► according to the Council, decisions on the land withdrawal from the sanctuary and natural monuments contradict the Laws and Statutory Instruments, will lead to serious fragmentation and degradation of natural complexes of protected areas and are subject to cancellation.

► increasing the width of roads and covering them with asphalt, the construction of linear objects will lead to an increase in the number of people and vehicles on the roads. That means fragmentation of animal habitats, increased concern factor, and, as a result, harm to natural complexes of protected areas (the Human Rights Council refers to the position of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation).

► the withdrawal of these areas from the protected areas and subsequent construction will entail serious damage to the natural complexes of the protected areas.

► the removal of the natural monuments "Mount Mashuk", "Mount Zmeyka", "Mount Beshtau" from the territory of the Beshtaugorskiy Sanctuary contradicts the federal environmental laws "Concerning specially protected natural areas".

► the exclusion of roads from the territory of protected areas will lead to a significant weakening of their protection. These territories are not subject to the powers of officials exercising state supervision in the field of protection and use of protected areas, including state inspectors on environmental protection in the protected areas of the Main Monitoring Directorate "Concerning specially protected natural areas of Stavropol region". 

► the withdrawal of land from protected areas entails protests of citizens. The Council received a large number of appeals on this issue. Resolution of the Government of Stavropol region No. 249-p of June 28, 2019, is currently being contested in the courts.

Beshtaugorskiy Sanctuary
(с) Tatiana Obolevich

What did WWF-Russia do?

After the appeal of locals for help to WWF-Russia and studying the current situation in the Stavropol region, WWF-Russia sent an appeal to the Prosecutor General's Office of the Russian Federation with a request to verify the legality of the decision of the Government of the Stavropol region to withdraw land from the borders of the Beshtaugorskiy Sanctuary and take measures of the prosecutor's response to prevent violations of environmental legislation related to changing the borders of the Beshtaugorskiy Sanctuary and natural monuments "Mount Mashuk", "Mount Zmeyka "and "Mount Beshtau".

Prospects and conclusions

At the moment, in the region, public hearings on this project are being held despite the recommendations of the Presidential Council of the Russian Federation and the stance of the local population. 

WWF-Russia hopes that a detailed investigation by the Prosecutor General's Office of the Russian Federation will help to preserve the nature of the Stavropol region, and a high-quality environmental assessment will be carried out in the protected areas, and actions that violate the law will be stopped and cancelled.

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