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PROBLEMS AND PERSPECTIVES OF PROTECTED NATURAL AREAS IN UZBEKISTAN

The Fifth World Congress on Protected Natural Areas (2003) has identified problems associated with PAs and PA network development. All the difficulties listed in the Durban Agreement are typical for all PAs of Uzbekistan. Between IV and V Congresses Uzbekistan became an independent state. The situation with environmental conservation in the country seems rather optimistic – only due to the fact that the PAs had neither been closed nor re-formed considerably.

The signing and ratification of international biodiversity conservation conventions by Uzbekistan helped to obtain international aid, provided access to international organisations (the United Nations Organisation, UNDP) and funds (Soros Fund, WWF, and etc.) willing to work in the country. In 1996—1998, the WWF developed a package of investment proposals “Biodiversity Conservation in the Central Asia”, focused on the PA network development in every state of the region. Training workshops to prepare applications for designating zapovedniks (namely, Gyssara and Chatkal zapovedniks in Uzbekistan) World’s Natural and Cultural Heritage were held. Unfortunately, the activities of international organisations were suspended due to an armed strife.

The Uzbekistan State Committee for Environmental Protection, in collaboration with the UNDP, governmental ministries and departments, has developed the National Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and Action Plan. The documents were examined in the country and abroad and in 1998, they were approved by the President I.A. Karimov, the Head of the Uzbek Government. The priority has been given to protected area-related. The main objective of the first part of the Plan is to encourage institutional changes in the PA management framework, in particular — revise the Statement on PAs, including relevant delegation of responsibilities for zapovednik and national park management. Today, the PAs are subordinate to four departments: the State Committee for Environmental Protection (Goskompriroda), the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Economy, the State Committee of Geology, and Tashkent regional administration (Khokimiate) (see the Table).

Table. Uzbekistan Protected Natural Areas

PA

Designation Year

Area (ha)

Subordination

Region

State Nature Reserves (Zapovrdniks)

Badai-Tugai

1971

6,642

Ministry of Agriculture and Water Economy

Republic of Karakalpakstan

Gissarsky

1983

80,986

State Committee for Environmental Protection

Kashkadarya region

Zaaminsky

1926, restored in 1960

26,848

Ministry of Agriculture and Water Economy

Dzhyzak region

Zeravshansky

1975

2,352

Ministry of Agriculture and Water Economy

Samarqand region

Khitabsky

1979

3,938

State Geology Committee

Kashkadarya region

Kyzylkhumsky

1971

10,311

Ministry of Agriculture and Water Economy

Khorezm and Bukhara region

Nuratinsly

1975

17,752

Ministry of Agriculture and Water Economy

Dzhyzak region

Surkhansky

1987

24,554

Ministry of Agriculture and Water Economy

Surkhandarya region

Chatkalsky

1947

35,724

Regional Khokimiate

Tashkent region

National Parks

Zaaminsky public park

1976

24,110

Ministry of Agriculture and Water Economy

Dzhyzak region

Ugam-Chatkalsky state national nature park

1990

574,590

Regional Khokimiate

Tashkent region

Specialised Designations

Dzheiran Eco-Center

1976

7,122

State Committee for Environmental Protection

Bukhara region

Refuges (Zakazniks)

Aktau

1992

15,420

State Committee for Environmental Protection

Samarqand region

Dengyzkul

1992

50,000

State Committee for Environmental Protection

Bukhara region

Kharakir

1992

86,225

State Committee for Environmental Protection

Bukhara region

Kharnabchulsky

1992

40,000

State Committee for Environmental Protection

Samarqand region

Kushrabatsky

1992

16,300

State Committee for Environmental Protection

Samarqand region

Mubareksky

1992

236,846

State Committee for Environmental Protection

Kashkadarya region

Saiga

1991

1,000,000

State Committee for Environmental Protection

Republic of Karakalpakstan

Sarmysh

1991

5,000

State Committee for Environmental Protection

Navorian region

Sechankul

1992

7,037

State Committee for Environmental Protection

Kashkadarya region

Sudochye

1991

50,000

State Committee for Environmental Protection

Republic of Karakalpacstan

Nature Monuments

Mingbulaksky district nature monument

1993

1,000

State Committee for Environmental Protection

Namangan region

Chustsky district nature monument

1994

96

State Committee for Environmental Protection

Namangan region

Central Fergana

1995

142

State Committee for Environmental Protection

Fergana region

Yazyavan

1991

1,842

State Committee for Environmental Protection

Fergana region


In order to implement this, the State Committee for Environmental Protection, in collaboration with the Ministry of Macro-Economy and Statistics and the Academy of Science surveyed the zapovedniks in 2002. The survey revealed numerous outrageous violations. Thus, the proposal was made to subordinate all the zapovedniks to the State Committee for Environmental Protection.

It is necessary to note that such subordination should had been made long time ago in accordance with the Decree of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic of 5.04.1988 #134. Resolutions of numerous surveys (in 1989, 1990, 1992, 1996, and 2002), undertaken by the Academy of Science, the Cabinet of Ministers, Oliy Majlis, regularly stated the necessity to withdraw the zapovedniks from forestry departments and subordinate then to the State Committee for Environmental Protection.

During the surveys, inspectors regularly registered land legislation violations practically in all zapovedniks. For instance, some lands of Nuratinsky Zapovednik were withdrawn illegally in 1990; in Surkhansky Zapovednik, people resided, developed land and grazed cattle illegally in the protected area since its designation,.

Violations of protection regime, such as illegal use of natural resources (gathering nuts and other products) take place regularly. In zapovedniks managed by the Chief Forestry Management Department, Uzbekistan Red Data Book animals are hunted although, according to the national legislation, offenders should bear responsibility for this criminal offence. In Nuratinsky Zapovednik foreigners were killing male Severtsev rams in the middle of the 1990s, in 2002 and 2003. Surukhansky Zapovednik was deprived of 3000 ha of most valuable lands in 2002 when its management organisation, the Department of Hunting and Reserves, decided to make the procedure of hunting in the zapovednik less complicated and attached the lands to the newly-designated Markhur research and production centre. In 2003, the new organisation launched wolf-hunting tours for Spaniards. Such measures as annihilation of plants and game shooting are scheduled in Chatkalsky Zapovednik.

The Chief Forestry Department does not assign funds for research studies since expenses are planned in accordance with articles of technical-industrial-financial plans of forestry enterprises (leskhozes), the objectives and functions of which do not correspond to the objectives and functions of zapovedniks. Therefore, the scope and quality of research studies in the zapovedniks remain on a very low level; some zapovedniks do not carry out researches at all. Chronicles of Nature, the main scientific document and chief research output of zapovedniks, are either not maintained at all, or have considerable gaps. Scientific collections whose development was funded from the budget for decades are not systemised; they are gradually degrading, becoming useless, and sometimes even get lost. All these contradict the Article 13 of the National Act “On Protected Natural Areas”. The Industrial Hunting Department is willing to actively use zapovedniks for recreation purposes despite the direct instruction of the Act prohibiting recreation in the zapovedniks.

Due to the facts listed above, numerous commissions came to a uniform conclusion that the zapovedniks should be managed the State Committee for Environmental Protection. Similar conclusions have been made by the UN Committee for Environmental Policy. In 2001, in the report “Review of environmental performance. Uzbekistan” the Committee gave Recommendation 8.1: “The State Committee for Environmental Protection should be shortly made the only governmental body responsible for the development and management of the integral system of protected areas. In order to do so, it is necessary to develop adequate legal, management and budget statements”.

Never the less, the transfer of zapovedniks has been delayed due to a number of reasons. Mainly, this is the lack of understanding among the public and public institutions of zapovednik functions, their place in the overall system of PAs, and, finally, the very idea of territorial environmental conservation.

The ministries and departments responsible for zapovedniks have already remonstrated against their subordination to one governmental agency. What were their arguments? The main opponent here is the governmental forestry department (currently, the Chief Forestry Department of the Uzbekistan Ministry of Agriculture and Water Economy. The six state zapovedniks are subordinate to the Department of Hunting and Zapovedniks (note that the very name of the agency indicates two activities controversial to each other) within the Head Forestry Department. The following main objections were set forward by opponents:

— according to the national legislation, the State Committee for Environmental Protection is a supervisory body. Therefore, it has no authority to act as an economic unit;

— all the state zapovedniks were designated by the forestry enterprise and are its integral parts. Thus, the transfer of the zapovedniks to the State Committee for Environmental Protection could damage best forest massifs in the republic;

— all the zapovedniks are located in forest fund lands that are managed by forestry departments.

The analysis of these arguments reveals their lack of knowledge of the current legislation as well as the matter itself. It is true that Article 11 of the Act “On Nature Conservation” delegates the State Committee for Environmental Protection state control functions. The same article also indicated that powers of the Committee should be set in the Committee Statute. The Statute, as an Act approved by the Oliy Majilis (the Parliament of the country), authorises the State Committee for Environmental Protection to manage the zapovedniks and fulfil a number of other functions and objectives.

Belief that the governmental agency for nature conservation is a supervisory institution reflects very simplified understanding of the very problem the agency had been established to solve. The necessity to establish a specialised governmental body was caused by the need for analytical and constructive conservation work. Perhaps, the formulation “governmental control” in the Act disorientates specialists who are not enough competent in nature conservation matters.

The second part of the argument (regarding “acting as an economic unit”) reflects the narrow understanding of zapovedniks by officials working in economic units responsible for forestry enterprise management. However, the zapovedniks are not economic entities – they are nature conservation tools with their own specific functions. The Uzbekistan Act “On PAs” prohibits all economic activities in the state zapovedniks. Never the less, forestry departments constantly obtrude various economic objectives upon these PAs.

The argument that all the zapovedniks were designated by forestry departments needs explanation. Exactly, all the current zapovedniks used to be parts of the forestry framework. However, their designation and management were always funded from the state budget. They were incorporated into the forestry framework only due to the absence of a specialised nature conservation body. When in the 1930s there was an independent department for zapovednik management in the Republic, the zapovedniks were subordinate to it. This is the history of the issue.

The second part of the same argument that the transfer of zapovedniks into the environmental protection framework could damage forest massifs shows that the opponents are ignorant of the regime limitations existing in zapovedniks. The argument that zapovedniks are located in lands constituting the forest fund also contradicts the legislation. According to the Article 8 of Uzbekistan Forest Code, lands of the forest fund and lands of conservation, health care and recreational designation belong to different land categories.

The situation when departments acting as economic units and resource users manage zapovedniks leads to interdepartmental conflicts of interests, and sometimes even to direct breaches of the law. The main goals of establishing the State Committee for Environmental Protection was to distinguish natural resource protection from resource using, while one of the tasks was to establish an integral department responsible for the state zapovedniks management.

Here I would like to address in detail the PA system in Uzbekistan as well as the role and the place of zapovedniks in this system. As it was already said above, some incompetent specialists believe that the term ‘zapovednik’ is a synonym to ‘protected area’. In fact, state nature reserves (i.e. zapovedniks) constitute only a part of the PA system – although a very important one; only in zapovedniks economic development is completely forbidden. In addition to the state zapovedniks, 17 other areas have the PA status and belong to various PA categories. All of them have different protection regimes, including those allowing limited economic development (recreation, etc.). The Chief Forestry Department possesses millions of hectares of forest fund lands where recreation, international tourism, trophy hunting, etc. are possible without any violations of resource use regimes. However, the department does not promote the activities listed above in forest fund lands and continues to cling tenaciously to the zapovedniks and tries to tasks them with irrelevant functions.

Departmental disconnection and consequent fuzziness of zapovednik objectives prevent the PAs from fulfilling their key function – be chains of and the base for ecological monitoring. In order to fulfil this function properly, the zapovedniks should be united into one integral management and informational network covering all the regions of the country. The zapovedniks should follow a uniform methodology and have a uniform data collection and processing framework. The network should be administratively united, or, in other words, it should be subordinate to one department because all management improvements achieved by separate departments bring only cosmetic effects. It is very important that the zapovedniks are to be united under the jurisdiction of a conservation department, since Chronicles of Nature should be used, first of all, for conservation purposes.

Absolute protection regime and total nature conservation in zapovedniks have very practical purposes. About a hundred years ago, founders of first zapovedniks assumed that economic resource use (in the broad sense) requires thorough study of all natural processes and phenomena in certain model areas, and then, on the basis of objective scientific data, it would be possible to ensure sustainable resource use and planning. Objective monitoring of all natural processes and phenomena in the Chronicles of Nature provides information that, according to the Act “On PAs”, is the main output (product) of zapovedniks. It is impossible to obtain such information somewhere else.

Low demand on this product, although it is sometimes used by the official science, indicates the absence of an information distribution framework essential for planning at national and regional levels and conservation decision making.

In order to monitor and record all environmental changes in the country, the zapovedniks should cover all existing physical-geographic landscapes. Currently, this requirement is not met by the Uzbekistan PAs. However, by 2010, according to the Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and the Action Plan (1998), the total area of PAs should be at least 10% of the country’s area.

Since 2000, the State Cadastre Service started its work in Uzbekistan. The Table above presents data of PA Cadastre for 2001—2002. After 1998, Vardanzy nature monument (300 ha) and Karakul nursery (8,300 ha) that had been managed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Economy were abolished, while the area of Djeiran Eco-Center increased almost by 2,000 ha.

The majority of the zapovedniks in Uzbekistan are located in mountain regions, although these constitute less than one third of the overall area of the country. This phenomenon could be explained not only by the uniqueness of nature of the majority of mountain massifs, but also by the undervalued importance of protection of typical desert ecosystems.

Unique ecosystems of relic mountain massifs of the central Kyzylkum desert are not protected at all. Probably, the situation would change after the designation of Central-Kyzylkum Zapovednik. The Uzbekistan State Committee for Nature Protection has already drafted materials to designate the largest in the republic (over 500,000 ha) Central-Kyzylkum Zapovednik. After the adoption of the relevant governmental statement, territorial protection of these ecosystems would be ensured.

Sizes of most zapovedniks and other PAs are too small (for example, areas of Zeravshan and Badai-Tugai zapovedniks are noticeably less than 10,000 ha). Small areas prevents the zapovedniks from ensuring proper territorial protection both for ecosystems and individual species. In addition, Uzbekistan does not have a river zapovednik to protect fish resources.

Almost all the zapovedniks are located in frontier areas which makes their management very specific — the state has set certain protection regime at its borders. The state borders passing along watersheds fragmentize integral populations and complicate their conservation. Sometimes, proper conservation of migratory populations becomes very difficult or even impossible, and the populations are therefore endangered.

In this connection, most interesting is the experience of the Western Tjan-Shan intergovernmental project sponsored by TASIS. In the framework of this project, three adjacent countries have mutually planned ecological corridors and co-ordinated their relevant management plans. Simila trans-boundary objectives are to be implemented during the designation of South-Ustjurta Zapovednik which will serve as a link between Kaplankyr (Turkmenistan) and Ustjurta (Kazakhstan) zapovedniks. The zapovedniks will form a unique trans-boundary PA that will include sites located below the Ustjurt plateau and a considerable part of the plateau itself that still remains one of the less-researched areas in the Central Asia.

The designation of zapovedniks in Uzbekistan in the 1970s was a relatively chaotic process; it gave birth to multiple conflicts with local communities. Currently, the process of PA designation is more thoughtful and goal-orientated. Thus, such criteria as community involvement into PA management, equitable distribution of benefits, and consideration of local communities’ interests are implemented in the framework of a joint project of the Uzbekistan Government and the UNDP aimed at the designation of Nuratau-Kyzylkum Biosphere Reserve.

The system of protected natural areas in Uzbekistan still is not complete; it has not been turned yet into a reliable network of PAs of different categories linked by green (ecological) corridors. The first step towards it should be to incorporate such concepts as “ecological network” and “ecological corridor” in the national legislation. This is being implemented during the preparation of the new edition of the Act “On PAs”. The new edition should also include a number of other progressive PA management aspects that have already been internationally tested. This work is carried out in the framework of an international PA-related project funded by TASIS. Currently the work continues in the framework of another project supported by FAO UN Programme.

The main objective of the current WWF—GEF project is biodiversity conservation in the Central-Asian region through the development of ecological network integrating all the five countries of the region. The project will produce recommendations regarding the designation of new PAs linked by ecological corridors, selection of most suitable status for them, and identification of the designation sequence. The authors hope that this project will give a new impetus to protected area management and development.

E. A. Chernogaiev,
The State Biological Control Department
of the State Nature Protection Committee of Uzbekistan,

Y. A. Chikin,
The Institute of Zoology, the Academy of Science of Uzbekistan,

O. I. Tsaruk,
“Biostan Ecocenter”

 

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