Webinar on Specially Protected Areas in the Murmansk Region: Situation, Problems and Development Prospects has held a webinar dedicated to the specially protected areas in the Murmansk Region. Viktor Petrov, Chairman of the Board of the Murmansk regional non-governmental organization Kola Center for Wildlife Protection and Deputy Director for specially protected area development at the administration for specially protected areas in the Murmansk Region, discusses their work.

After the presentation, Viktor Petrov answered questions from the audience.

Public hearings take place in the region. How active is the population and why?

There was a lot of activity and support in the discussion of the Khibiny project. There were disputes mostly in the Lovozyorsky District. The local population saw the first stage quite negatively. When we first tried to create a national park, it was in 1999-2000. The situation changed significantly in 2013-2014. Then the support was almost unanimous. We got the support of the entire or almost the entire Kirovsky, Appatitsky and Olenegorsky districts. Almost everyone agreed that it was necessary to create a park. It is very sad that after these municipal districts have agreed and approved the creation of a large national park, the area was cut in half.

The situation is more complicated in the Kandalakshа District and at the hearings about the Kaita project in the Kovdorsky District. People there believed, and in the Kandalakshа district still believe that the protected areas are an infringement of their interests. This is probably our problem and mistake. They took an active part, but the attitude was negative. There was a lot of argument, but eventually we received the support we needed. The administration of the protected areas and the Murmansk Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment believe that the promises made during the public hearings should be kept. At the Kaita Sanctuary, the authorities promised to create a public council that would make the most important decisions about its development, and did nothing. Last year, the public hearings on the Voronya Bay natural monument in the Kandalaksha Gulf were also complicated. The opposing side was divided, but here we see a clear economic interest: there is supposed to be a fish farm, so it is necessary to find a way to align the two projects or find another solution.

During your presentation you showed a map of the Lovozero Massif where an area of a deposit, which is of economic interest, was painted red. That's where reserves are.

The red color on the map shows where federal fields and ore occurrences can be found. The proposed territory of the national park does not include red areas. We proposed to include only those ore occurrences that have less economic value and will not be developed anytime soon. On the other hand, if these fields will be mined using surface mining or blasting, everything will stream down into Lake Seydozero, a sacred Saami lake, and we have to pursue conservation interests as well. What we proposed was not to stop the process of mining fields, but to include the territory of these fields into the protected area of the national park zone, allowing mining the fields underground. I think we could have worked out a compromise, but, due to the lack of trust, we did not. We must keep working on it, because this territory is of great value.

Can we expect that Khibiny National Park, even in the form that it is today, will be created this year?

Yes, you can. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment keeps its promises, and the list of protected areas has either already been submitted for the Ministry of Justice's and the government's approval, or is now at the stage of public consultation and anti-corruption review. If everything goes well and we don't have any major problems, Khibiny National Park will be created by the end of this year — in its smaller version.

How do you take into account the interests of the indigenous people of Saami while creating the park and protected areas?

First, we had the earlier-mentioned public hearings, and when it came to creating Khibiny National Park, we did our best to organize them properly. These hearings do take the interests of people into account. Second, unfortunately, statuses of some protected areas were formulated in such a way that makes them open to interpretation and voluntarism. We expect that public councils will be established in every significant protected area in response to this situation.

You have a project on promoting environmental awareness. Please tell us about it.

The Kola Wildlife Protection Center is participating in this project. Olga Petrova is head of the project, while I deliver some of the lectures. Other participants include the Murmansk branch of the Russian Botanical Society and employees at the Kola Science Center institutes as guest lecturers. This project is promoting awareness on not just the environment, but also history and nature, in a way.

Is the Murmansk Region government discussing expanding the territory of the Poluostrova Rybachy and Sredny Nature Park to the borders that were initially proposed? Is it possible to include the territory of Musta Tunturi into the park?

I can only say that the territory of Musta Tunturi was not included in the proposed territory of the project that we discussed last year, which will now be submitted for public consideration. The natural value of Musta Tuntuti is not that high; rather it has historic and patriotic value. We cannot expand the territory to the proposed borders primarily due to the resistance of the Northern Fleet. But we are considering expanding the territory by including some areas of value, so that the park's borders will hopefully become more reasonable.