History of Kronotsky Reserve

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A. V. Ladigin, Y. B. Artyukhin — Kronotskiy Reserve. Seasons. — Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky: “New Book” Holding Company LLC, 2007. — 172 p.

[1739]

The place called Kronoki has long been settled — no surprise, given its rich fishing grounds. Although Kamchadals before the arrival of the Russians were interested in furs to some extent, the rivers on the future Reserve territory provided ample opportunity to catch different varieties of salmon, the main food source of the ancient inhabitants of Kamchatka. One of the first Russian naturalists to visit Kronoki, Stepan Krasheninnikov, was a student at the Academy of Sciences and a member of the Second Kamchatka Expedition of Vitus Bering. His was the first reliable information about the nature of the Kronotsky Reserve, the present territory of which he crossed by dog in March 1739.

According to the observations of S. P. Krasheninnikov, more than two hundred years ago the Kamchadals carefully guarded the unique “fir isle” near Semyachiksky Lagoon, which still exists today: “The Kamchadals kept one of their forests as a reserve…For they believe in the legends of their elders…That anyone who dares to touch those trees will die a miserable death.”

Krasheninnikov was also the first to record information about thermal developments in this region. Krasheninnikov’s naturalist duties even led him to double back 60 miles when he learned of the existence of hot springs at the source of the Semyachik River (then called Shemech) so he could examine them: “In many places in this region, hot steam rushes out forcefully and the sound of boiling water can be heard.”

In the days of Stepan Krasheninnikov, local residents often took routes traversing Petropavlovsk — Zhupanova River — Berezovaya River — Semyachik — Kamashki (now called Shumnaya River) — Kemshch (now a Reserve base located in the “Cape of Ancient Settlements,” so-called because of its abundance of former Kamchadal dwellings) — Kronoki — Chazhma River and further into the Lower Kamchatkan region. Numerous Kamchadals called all these locations home. There are even local registers showing how many “specialists” were in one Kamchadal settlement or another. In the Kronoki settlement, for example, there were six beaver trappers (otter fishermen), eight sable trappers, and 30 fox trappers. It’s apparent from these numbers that even then sable were four times less numerous than foxes. It’s not surprising, however, that Krasheninnikov himself wrote about it this way: “When the Siberian State was not yet under Russian control, but ruled by infidel peoples, there were many sable across Siberia…But now that there is a Russian settlement, there is no sable hunting.”

In Georg Steller’s “Description of Kamchatka Land,” a “naturalist history” of the Second Kamchatka Expedition, there are repeated references to several of the objects within the present boundaries of the Reserve. Steller wrote about Kronotskoye Lake, described its physical and geographical characteristics surprisingly accurately, and recorded that “there are not only hot springs, but also entire regions of smoldering mountains, hot springs, and warm rivers. These springs are inherently different…in that floating chunks of resin or oil can be observed floating on their surfaces. This terrain stretches between the Kronotsky and Shipunski Capes near the source of the river bearing the name Shemech and flowing into the Eastern Ocean.” Then, despite the fact that Russians were beginning to settle actively on Kamchatka, the Americas, and the Kuril, Commander, and Aleutian Islands and numerous exploratory expeditions were underway in this section of the Pacific basin, the Kronoki area disappeared from scientific accounts for almost 100 years. This is understandable given the area’s extreme degree of inaccessibility: even the closest populated points here were and are separated from this area by mountain ranges, rivers, rapids, and a rocky inhospitable coast unfit for even small vessels to dock. The Kronoki territory’s Age of Discovery lasted until the middle of last century, when, it seemed, man discovered all the secrets of Earth.

[1851]

In 1850, Maximilian Leuchtenberg, chairman of the Imperial Mineralogical Society, sent Woldemar Friedrich Carl von Ditmar, officer for special assignments, to serve the governor of Kamchatka and to conduct research on “the mountain region in order to provide valuable products of the mineral kingdom”. Ditmar undertook long and difficult journeys around the peninsula, including traveling by rowboat from Petropavlovsk to Ust-Kamchatsk. He stopped in Semyachik, at the mouth of the Kronotsky River in the Kronotsky peninsula, and tried unsuccessfully to row up the Kronotsky River to the eponymous lake.

Ditmar describes an entirely different picture of settling the Kronoki territory than Krasheninnikov did. Ditmar was struck by the total solitude of this region (presumably due to a smallpox epidemic that swept across the Kamchatka peninsula in the 1780s) and calls Kronoki a “very bearish place.” But most interesting was Ditmar’s ingress in fall 1854 into the Kronoki surroundings from the Kamchatka River valley across the Valaginsky ridge — the mysterious Kronotskoye Lake beckoned him. Ditmar was not able to reach the lake, since he began his journey too late, when the volcanic valleys in the mountainous parts of the Reserve were filled with snow and his horses refused to move from hunger. He made a much more interesting discovery instead — on 3 September 1854, he become the first European to set foot in the Uzon Volcano caldera.

It must be said that this was not an accidental discovery — Ditmar was accompanied by his longtime Kamchadal friend Afanasy Churkin. According to his accounts, Ditmar was already prepared to meet with Uzon — Churkin had grown up in the Semyachik region and knew its surroundings well, including the thermal fields of the Burlyashy Volcano and the sulfurous Uzon caldera. Ditmar’s return route led him through the famed fir grove on the shore of the Semyachiksky Lagoon, where he only found ruins of a chapel, school, and lighthouse.

[1880]

Another passionate character — Benedykt Tadeusz Dybowski- ended up on Kamchatka after 12 years in a Siberian labor camp for participation in anti-government riots in Poland. Prison rules allowed the energetic Benedykt Dybowski while still in Siberia to join the Russian Geographical Society (RGO) and study the fauna of the Baikal region, which brought him fame as a scientist and discoverer. Dybowski, like many before and after him, was captivated by the natural world of Siberia and the lifestyle of a naturalist. After his release, he arrived on Kamchatka as a district doctor in the summer of 1879 in order to continue his work on the zoogeography of Siberia. In carrying out his professional responsibilities, Dybowski toured the peninsula five times by dog and reindeer sleds, collecting information en route on the peninsula’s nature, life, and customs. A talented man fascinated by life and problems of Kamchatka, Dybowski began regulating the sable economy in 1880. Thanks to his efforts, the first seasonal prohibitions on sable hunting were established (from 1 March to 15 October). And in 1882, residents of the Petropavlovsk region approved a petition proposed by Dybowski to declare the Kronoki and Asacha regions a natural reserve for sable. We therefore owe the establishment of one of the first and largest Russian nature reserves to a former Polish revolutionary. The Kronotsky and Asachinsky Reserves are declared “forbidden,” that is, infiltration into their territories is forbidden. Curiously enough, until the end of the 19th century in Russia, there was a church practice reinforcing civil acts of protection: “it is done in a holy way: as the priest with icons or banners passes the people and officials, they sing, ‘Glory on high…’ and declare entry forbidden for a certain number of years.”

[1894]

A map of the Reserve is speckled with names of early explorers of Kronotsky land: on the Reserve territory are a volcano, bay, and small river named after Krasheninnikov, Gavrilova Volcano, volcano and river Komarov, Savich cone, Schmidt Volcano, and Konradi Volcano (these and all 11 islands in the Kronotskoye Lake are named in memory of members of the Ryabushinsky expedition).

[1908]

It’s difficult to say how strictly the 1882 decree about the Kronoki reserve was enforced — hardly any information about it remains. We now have only oral accounts about “popular control” over its enforcement. At that time, citizens of the Russian Empire, even aboriginal peoples, adhered to the law to a degree unseen by modern and, it would seem, civilized people today. “There is no one now who knows Kronoki, as all the elders have passed away; the current generation considers it a forbidden region and practically never goes there, fearing prosecution for harming sable” — written in 1909 by the academic V. L. Komarov, trying to find guides for an expedition among the villagers of Tolbachik and Shchapina. In addition, the degree of compliance with the commandments on the preservation of the fir grove (all 22 hectares) in terms of percentages of standing coniferous forests throughout Kamchatka’s eastern coast is worth of wonder.

With the approach of the restless and rebellious 20th century, all eyes in this huge country focused on its eastern outskirts. One after another scientific surveying expeditions arrived. The RGO’s complex expedition, equipped at the expense of well-known capitalist of the Old Believers F. P. Ryabushinsky, was on Kamchatka from 1908–1910. In the words of its leader, botanist V. L. Komarov, “the goal of the expedition was purely academic — perhaps a full and comprehensive description of Kamchatka”. This expedition was the first step in a procession of distinguished geographic enterprises by Russians in the Far East. Expedition teams worked in different parts of the peninsula. Many visited Kronoki: geologists headed by S. A. Konradi studied the sea coast, botanists conducted research in the Kronotskoye Lake basin, and the zoological team of P. Y. Schmidt also worked around the Kronotskoye Lake. N. G. Kell, the expedition’s geologist, was the first to create a detailed map of this region, providing descriptions and photographs of almost all the volcanoes.

[1911]

“Shelters of Russian nature” — so Andrey Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky one of the ideologues of “pure” preservation, called reserves. At the beginning of the century, questions of the establishment of Russian reserves, “resembling American national parks”, were widely discussed, even in the press. A committee on reserves, established by the Imperial RGO, published statutes detailing the procedure for creating and managing nature reserves. Due to the outbreak of the first World War, however, further legislative initiatives concerning the organization of “territories, created to preserve natural beauty” were abandoned. Greater success awaited conservation pragmatists — those who organized reserves for practical purposes — namely, protecting the most valuable fur-bearing animals, and, most of all, sable. The rapid depletion of its reserves in the start of the 20th century forced the country to resort to a widespread, including in Kamchatka, ban on trapping beginning in February 1913. That spring, A. A. Silantyev, who led the St. Petersburg school of game management established under the Imperial Forest Institute, proposed the “Investigative project on sable regions of Russia from 1913–1915”. The project’s main goal was to establish refuges (“reserves”) for sable before the expiration of the ban protecting them. The Department of Agriculture supported this project and organized three expeditions to, among other places, Kamchatka, which were led by S. V. Kertselli, who had previously worked in the Arkhangelsk region. Accompanying legislative initiatives were also undertaken: decree #304 article 2396 “On establishing rules for hunting reserves” was passed on 30 October 1916. However, after the passage of this law in the Ministry of Agriculture, only the Barguzinsky sable reserve was established.

[1917]

“All ownership of land, minerals, water, forests, and living forces of nature within the borders of the Russian Federal Soviet Republic is abolished FOREVER” (Decree “On the socialization of land”, article 1). It must be said that this was a bit naïve and even shortsighted on the part of the Soviet government’s scientific intelligentsia, as they attached much significance to this project yet did not see it through — this order was disobeyed many times in the 1920s in the course of organizing reserves. Naturally, the commission on reserves established by the Imperial RGO was abolished, but its work was continued through Soviet institution and prominent figures of science and culture advocated for the preservation of nature in reserves. Of course, their slogans at this time were formed with revolutionary style: “Free nature, like a great living museum, urgently demands protection” — declared the very same A. P. Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky in 1919. In 1922, G. G. Doppelmeyer, a participant in sable expedition during czarist times, proposed creating a geographic network of reserves for the special protection of fur-bearing animals and included Kronotsky as a significant spot. These ideas received official confirmation — the People’s Commissariat for Agriculture planned the creation of “pragmatic” hunting reserves: Voronezh, Kronotsky, and more in addition to the existing Barguzinsky. In the future, it would be exactly this strictly material view on nature that would dominate the Soviet system of reserves. Period documents eloquently testify to this: “It is necessary to review all construction and management on reserves from the point of view espoused in Comrade Stalin’s sixth principle, which states that a reserve must be both internally and externally self-supporting.” Unfortunately, it has to be acknowledged that the present-day leadership of the Russian reserve system faithfully follows the “sixth principle of Comrade Stalin”. Nevertheless, one must admit that it was Soviet rule that established this unique system of reserves, which has no close analogue in the world and in which we rightly take pride.

The organizational disorder of the revolutionary period had, strangely enough, a positive effect on the state of nature preservation. The number of sable in Kronoki can be judged from the words of veteran Reserve zoologist Y. V. Averin, who recorded twenty-five years earlier that one hunter in a trap caught 18 sable in 18 consecutive nights. The depletion of the population began then. During the 1925–26 season, three hunters caught 90 sable around the lower Kozlova River, and the next year there were a few more groups — 6. Therefore the decision reached in 1926 by the Far East Executive Committee to organize the Kronotsky Reserve was more than timely; the Kamchatkan Regional Executive Committee’s decree on 18 July 1929 established its borders. Unfortunately, nothing is known about the people who initiated this decision.

[1920–1930s]

In 1921, the Kamchatkan hunters Trukhin, Voronov, and Skurikhin found oil seepage in the Bogachevka River valley. The most enterprising of the hunters, T. S. Trukhin, whose name was later given to a small tributary of the Bogachevka, appealed for this discovery, which soon attracted the attention of geologists to Kamchatkan oil. In 1923, P. I. Polevoy’s expedition confirmed the presence of an oil field that gave grounds for expanded prospecting operations. In 1927, the oil field was licensed for three years to T. S. Trukhin and the “Lyuri Brothers” trading house, who funded and carried out geological surveying in the Olga, Tatyana, Polovinka, Tyushevka, and Bogachevka river valleys. Research showed the high quality and extraordinarily unusual character of Bogachevsky oil: its color is light, like weak tea, but with a bluish tint; its level of fluidity is close to water, with a very high vaporization property and instantaneous combustibility. In 1930, an expedition from the Petroleum Geological Institute began work in Kronoki. In the spring of 1940, a 70-person Bogachevsky expedition was organized by decision of the People’s Commissariat for Petroleum in order to reach a final assessment of the geologic structure of deposits. The expedition landed in the Olga Bay in late September. It traveled to the site of the oil seepage, built an airfield, and constructed a workers’ settlement. Large-scale drilling operations then began on the Reserve lands.

In the course of carrying out geological surveys, glaciers were discovered on the Kronotsky peninsula that are now one of the features on the Reserve. In the summer of 1930, N. I. Lazarenko, member of the Far East Geological Society, found and photographed modern glaciers at the source of the Tomsky, Big Chazhma, and Left Tyushevsky Rivers. This information first appeared in literature in 1925, after the Reserve was organized.

[1933]

In 1933, Boris Ivanovich Piip, renowned volcanologist and one of the founders and first director of the Institute of Volcanology, traveled from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to the Uzon volcano caldera to conduct detailed geological and geochemical research of its thermal activities. A great scientific enthusiast, beloved in Kamchatka, he recorded very emotional testimony about his impressions during his visit to this place: “It is delightful to distraction here…We went up a very easy grade uphill to the wall of the Uzon caldera. The stunning view of the caldera stirred me again to the depths of my soul…The moon emerged and illuminated our tents and campfire. What a beautiful sight this was against the dark blue walls of the caldera and the sparkling silver lake…When we were planning our trip here, people who have already visited told us that we would be going to the most beautiful place on Kamchatka. Indeed, I am now convinced of this: here there is no September, no summer, no fall — here now is paradise. There is no better in the world…We drank tea in the morning and instead of talking sat silently contemplating these hills. Peace and joy in my soul.”

Besides emotions, B. I. Piip recorded an interesting description of what was going on in the Lower Semyachiksky springs, which are that time were not included in the Reserve territory. Thermal springs were widely used by locals and by the newly arrived — Russian — population. During Piip’s visit to the hot springs, which would become part of the Reserve, he saw a dozen mud huts, “where many people gathered — it was a real health resort, not some untouched hot springs.”

Although the Uzon caldera seemed to researchers like an astounding and unimaginable object, B. I. Piip, like his predecessors Ditmar and Komarov, didn’t guess that this site was located next to another unique geological phenomenon — the Valley of the Geysers. According to his friends, Boris Ivanovich later recalled with great sadness the discovery that awaited him only a day’s walk away. It was as if the Valley was waiting for its own discoverer and would not accept any strangers.

[1934]

Based on the results of the Kronoki territory special research expedition on Far East furs, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) Presidium of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee (VtsIK) passed a resolution on 1 November 1934 declaring the Kronotsky sable reserve a State Nature Reserve of Federal Significance. This date is considered the official date of the Reserve’s establishment. Its first director was Filipp Georgievich Petrov, who led the Reserve for almost four years. The first scientific staff members came over the course of several years — first the game manager V. T. Gavrilov, then Y. V. Averin and T. I. Ustinova, who arrived here from the Ilmensky Reserve. Life for the first employees doesn’t differ much from that of the modern ones — their most important quality remains self-sufficiency — they lay in firewood, hay, fish. Their main means of transportation were: summer — horses, winter — dogs. The Reserve offered such positions as musher, groom, milkmaid, vender, and blacksmith; there was also a role in forest protection (the position was called “gamekeeper-inspector”).

[1938]

The Reserve was dependent on the hunting sector until 1938; it was then moved to the purview of the Committee on Reserves under the Presidium of the VtsIK. The value placed on the site’s protection so rose that by the middle of the 1930s it was practically untouched by economic activity. Hunting activities had not left notable consequences, even on the sable — the Reserve’s main protected population — which was still plentiful in some places. Even at the end of the 1950s, Y. V. Averin, based on his experience in the Reserve in its first years of existence, emphasized that nature there was “primitive, wild, with fearless animals”. [1939–1941]

The last five years before the war were the most productive for the Reserve in terms of scientific research, due, of course, to the enthusiasm of its young Soviet scientists — Y. V. Averin and T. I. Ustinova (permanently added to the staff by order #16 from the Head Governing Body on Reserves, Sanctuaries, and Zoos of the CPC RSFSR from 15.05.1940).

A more complete description was written of the territory, flora and fauna, and another round of astounding discoveries were made, the most notable of which, undoubtedly, was the discovery in 1941 of the Valley of the Geysers. During the course of fieldwork in the winter of 1940–41, the Reserve’s first scientific employee, V. T. Gavrilov, discovered five previously unseen volcanoes in the Gamchensky group, one of which was named after him.

[1941]

From October 1941 to October 1945 the Director of the Reserve was V. M. Elesh, participant in the struggle for Soviet power in the Far East. He recalls those difficult years for the entire country in glowing colors: “Work was easy and pleasant…a little close-knit collective of experienced game managers, carpenters, mechanics, and scientists. The first year on the Reserve, we built our residences, bases in Bogachevka and at the mouth of the Shumnaya, a banya, and a stockyard.” He did not write, however, that in 1945 the Bogachevsky oil exploration area was handed over to the Reserve: 115 thousand hectares with authority to fell 600 cubic meters of forest each year “while respecting the basic rules of forest protection” — as if this could be possible. During the war years, fieldwork, business activities, and infrastructure development in the preservation area continued. In 1944, funds were collected for the “Soviet Reserves” squadron. In general, it must be said, that during the war years not one Reserve in the USSR was closed or reduced in size!

During the war, Y. V. Averin researched the ecology of the Reserve’s wild beasts in connection with the restructuring of scientific subjects to address the needs of the national economy and worked as Deputy Director on administrative activities that drew him away from scientific research. In 1948, he published his monograph “Terrestrial Vertebrates of Eastern Kamchatka”. This was the first and, unfortunately, only work from the “Proceedings of the Kronotsky State Reserve”.

On H. G. Kell’s detailed and quite modern map, published only in 1926, there was a material deficiency regarding the Kronoki territory: the source of the Tikhaya River is marked in the Uzon Volcano caldera. In fact, the Tikhaya River, one of the few rivers in the Reserve’s characteristic plains, originates from a small forest lake in the foothills of the Kikhpinych volcano — that is, from an entirely different place. The Reserve’s 1941 research plan compelled geologist T. I. Ustinova to locate the sources of the Tikhaya and Shumnaya Rivers. So casually began the journey to the discovery that, it’s safe to say, changed T. I. Ustinova’s life and made her known to the whole world: together with her guide Anysyfor Krupenin, she traveled along one of the tributaries of the Shumnaya River into a previously unknown canyon and found the first geysers in the Soviet Union.

It’s amazing that for almost a century, since the expedition of K. Ditmar, researchers literally went in circles around the Valley, many of them passing just a few kilometers from the geysers. But the honor of discovery fell to a stubborn and courageous female scientist. In the winter, on dogsleds and skis over deep snow, sleeping in a tent, Tatyana Ivanovna traveled over 60 kilometers from the center of the Reserve by the Olga Bay to the Shumnaya River. Here they left their dogs and traveled to the river valley on skis. The discovery itself occurred quite unexpectedly, although not without its own drama: stopping to rest, the travelers were suddenly soaked by a spurt of boiling water — and so the first geyser debuted in Soviet science. But nature didn’t want to give up her long-kept secrets so easily: on the way back to Kronoki, Ustinova and Krupenin were caught in a blizzard, nearly lost their dogs, almost froze to death, and ran out of food. Despite the dramatic circumstances surrounding the discovery of the Valley of Geysers, it at first didn’t have a far-reaching effect against a backdrop of world war. Currently, however, the well-deserved popularity of the Valley of the Geysers is truly comparable with such reputable sites as Yellowstone and the Iceland geysers. Often it even exceeds every set standard: it’s possible not only to hear but also to read in international periodicals “There in the Valley of the Geysers in the Kronotsky Reserve…” According to research materials, an article on “The Geysers of Kamchatka” was published in 1946, after which came five more articles and a 1955 monograph “Kamchatkan Geysers”.

Anysyfor Pavlovich Krupenin, a former companion of Y. V. Averin and T. I. Ustinova on routes throughout the Reserve territory, worked in the Reserve from 1937 to 1950, first as a Senior Observer, then as a Laboratory Assistant. After the departure of Averin and Ustinova in September 1946, Krupenin served as deputy director during trips and vacations of the new Reserve Director, M. G. Volkov, whose respect he enjoyed. The following decree from 2 July 1947 pertained to Volkov in particular: “The 1 July ten-year anniversary of the Reserve work of laboratory assistant A. P. Krupenin, an expert on the Reserve territory and excellent, persistent aide to the scientific staff, moves us to express our gratitude and give from our existing stock a pair of boots and 15 meters of cloth from which a suit may be fashioned”.

Krupenin was certainly a very extraordinary person. He was called the Kamchatkan Dersu Uzala. Almost 40 years after the discovery of the Valley of the Geysers, Tatyana Ivanovna Ustinova recalled him thusly: “When we met, he was in his 28th year…An exceptionally hardy, unpretentious, brave person. Whatever you ask, he does. He finds a way out of the most difficult circumstances. With no food — he survives. Once, he drank only tea for a week. He was the ideal assistant in scientific matters. Krupenin’s travel records stood out in their accuracy and precision. He remembered everything and forgot nothing. He could do anything. In short, he was the ideal companion and a true comrade in our travels. I owe him my whole life.”

[1951]

“The further existence of the Reserve is pointless…”

This era of irresponsible political, social, and economic decisions had an immediate effect on the Reserve — in 1951 it was closed. The country was nearing the “final victory of communism,” the creation of a “new type” of person, and protecting its natural wealth seemed politically short-sighted. In addition, a geological exploratory party based in the fairly large village Bogachevka continued to work in the Reserve territory. The expedition had its own airfield in the Kronotsky tundra and even continued commercial logging operations in the Reserve. The number of wells drilled in the center of the Bogachevsky oil field reached 88. The discoverers and workers of this oilfield didn’t find the riches of El Dorado but earned the reputations of particularly cynical poachers. The fruits of rampant “collective consciousness” can be seen in the Reserve: even ferocious Kamchatkan plants couldn’t compete with the activities of this geological party after half a century.

The fundamental approach to closing a number of Soviet Reserves, including Kronotsky, in the early 1950s can be summed up in the following ideological formula: “The period of passive protection of flora and fauna is over and will never revive until the entire country’s economic and industrial sectors are developed to the same degree as its nature. Up to this point, reserves have drawn resources from our government; now it is time to give back.” It’s appropriate to recall the words of Maxim Gorky, said earlier but with the same sentiment: “We must destroy the enemies that stand in our way, and again take on our ancient enemy — our battle with nature.” So it was: we’ll settle for nothing less — destroy the enemy!

The formal decision was approved in 1949 by the Ruling board of Agricultural Commission CC on the Reserves. The Commission evaluated the ruling board’s work as unsatisfactory, singling out its central failing as its behavior with Michurinsk-Lysenko subjects, which at that time could be qualified as ideological sabotage with all its consequences.

The new leader of the Ruling board on Reserves A. V. Malinovsky, appointed in order to hold the party line, clearly articulated what the party and the government expected from the reserves: “A Reserve should be a laboratory showing how man can truly influence nature…We should cultivate what interests the national economy”. Thus everything turned on its head — instead of serving as models of nature free of human influence, the reserves are designated as sites for experiments of what people can create with nature. Reserves were used as farms.

The final document on “reorganizing” the reserves system in the name of Stalin was signed 13 December 1950. The USSR Council of Ministers’ resolution #3192 “On the reserves” was published 29 August 1951. Many Soviet officials and party members, and, above all, scientific and cultural figures objected to the plan. They sent letters and telegrams strongly opposing the closure of the Kronotsky Reserve, but the protests had no result. Some regional and central offices were already counting their yields of fur and timber…

[1957–1961]

The late 1950s and early 1960s are characterized by a great revival of enthusiasm in the scientific community, including in the realm of nature protection. This is partly explained by a series of revelations in Stalin’s cult of personality. In March 1958, an All-Union conference on reserves was held. A resolution was adopted that called for a return to “Leninist principles” of conservation and proposed to expand the geographic network of nature reserves and restore those that had been closed in the early 1950s. Relatively soon, on 1 July 1959, the Kronotsky Reserve was reopened. The Reserve’s area was doubled, putting it nearly to its present size (961 hectares), and the central Kronoki farmstead was relocated 100 km south to the village of Zhupanova. State inspectors and scientific staff amounted to 30 people. For the first time since the Reserve’s establishment, the fir grove, Semyachiksky Lagoon, and Bolshoi Semyachik Volcano were counted as separate protected areas.

In 1960, the “On environmental protection in the RSFSR” law was passed, according to which “reserve territories are permanently withdrawn from commercial use in scientific research and cultural and educational purposes”. But in less than a year, it became clear what meaning “permanent” had to the then leadership of this country of developed socialism: the newly-reopened Kronotsky was again closed in 1961.

If the 1951 closure of the Reserve was only vaguely associated with the personality of Stalin, the events of 1961 were directly connected to another Soviet leader — N. S. Khrushchev. The official reason for the liquidation of a large number of reserves, as was so common in the Soviet ruling system, was curious. At the 1961 assembly of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev said that he’d recently seen a documentary about a reserve. “The portrait was very well-done. It shows a healthy man…lying on a rock and watching through binoculars as a squirrel chews nuts…What is a Reserve? It is a sanctuary for its wildlife. Even if no people were there, that squirrel would still be chewing nuts. It doesn’t matter to her whether a scientist is present or not. The only difference is that when she chews nuts under the supervision of a scientist, the scientist gets good money for it (laughter in the hall). We must bring order to this matter”. So order was brought: according to decision #521 of the USSR Council of Ministers on 10 June 1961, the Reserve was closed as a “useless (according to Khrushchev) matter”.

[1967]

The Kronoki Reserve opened again in January 1967. This time, a decisive role in the restoration of environmental protection was played by the Second All-Union Volcanological Conference — a rare instance where the Reserve’s fate was decided by the need to protect inanimate natural objects. It seems that commercial activities on the Reserve territory had increased to such a degree that scientists even feared for the well-being of volcanoes!

The first director of the restored Reserve was N. B. Zorin, who served until 1971. The Reserve inherited many difficult projects: an All-Union tourist route actively functioned in the territory at this time, a large-scale hydrological survey was taking place on the Kronotsky River with the goal of constructing a hydroelectric power station, and a well-armed contingent of troops was stationed at Soviet Army frontier posts, weather stations, seismic stations, and lighthouses. The Reserve had to struggle with these outside organizations, protect its own rules, and punish poachers.

[1970s]

In 1971, B. N. Savinov was appointed Director of the Reserve. He served for 13 years. Under his leadership, many of the most notable advances in conservation and research occurred. The Departments of Research and Protection were expanded. The Reserve built a system of bases and guardhouses in order to conduct forestry management activities.

Its administrative and infrastructure work ceased to take place in Zhupanova village, as the administration and Department of Research moved to Yelizovo, 160 km from the Reserve’s southern border, in 1977. An administrative building and museum were built in Yelizovo. The Reserve kept several means of transportation, including horses, 3 cars, tractors, snowmobiles (replacing sled dogs), motorcycles, and motorboats. Accessing workers in the protected area and delivering necessary materials (fuel, construction materials and products, emergency medical care) was done by helicopters.

During this time, the foundation for the Reserve’s Department of Research was formed. It remains almost entirely the same today and was not influenced by 30 years of staff turnover. From the “mainland”, universities and other institutions of higher learning, came many young professionals: A. P. Nikanorov, L. I. Rassokhina, E. G. and L. E. Lobkov, V. I. Mosolov, A. P. Kononov, E. V. Rasskazov, many of whom continue to work on the Reserve. A. T. Naumenko deserves a separate mention — he was the Reserve’s Deputy Director of Research for 23 years. Through his efforts, the Reserve territory expanded and acquired the status of Biosphere Reserve. He began work on including the Reserve in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and founded a research endowment, museum, archive, and scientific library.

Exploratory expeditions continued on the Reserve: the so-called Valley of Death — a small area with a powerful output of hydrogen sulfide — was discovered in 1975 at the head of the Geysernaya River. In quiet, windless weather, gas accumulates in a concentration lethal to animals. The Valley of Death’s discoverers found several dead bears, foxes, mice, and ravens there.

[1980s] “Archipelago of freedom”

At this time, reserves had another responsibility which Soviet institutions are usually not given. The role of reserves in the Soviet era was not only to preserve nature but also to host many members of the scientific intelligentsia who managed to survive in remote regions during the most difficult years — not just during Stalin’s repressions, but also bitterly hopeless periods of stagnation. During these years, the Kronoki territory became a reserve for more than wildlife. Many creative people whose talents had no outlet in the police-bureaucratic state found a refuge at the Reserve. The style of living and working on the Reserve was very specific, even unique, given the remoteness and inaccessibility of its territory, where, as one distinguished visitor put it, “people run wild”. There is an anecdote about a prominent Soviet leader visiting the Reserve and commenting: “Here either nature enthusiasts or the insane may find work”. More of the former type can be found among the Reserve’s scientific staff.

A spiritual hunger that couldn’t be sated was relieved by communication between people. During these years, the Reserve staff, especially the Department of Research, was numerous, youthful, and at its intellectual peak.

The rate of business activity fell in the years of S. A. Alexeyev’s leadership; Alexeyev served as Director for 13 years — from 1985 to 1998. During this period, the Reserve considerably expanded its territory, annexing the Nikolsky spruce region with an area of 43 thousand hectares in the Kamchatka River valley, and was included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites as “Volcanoes of Kamchatka”. In 1985, the Reserve was given Biosphere status, that is, it became a “securely protected natural territory with characteristic biotical regions of Earth and part of the global network of Biospheres”. Interesting scientific research and fieldwork were conceived and carried out. At this time, many new and sturdier bases and more than 30 border huts were built to satisfy the needs of the Departments of Protection and Research employees. Life was humming along on the Reserve.

[1990] “The Order to Survive!”

Characters in the thusly-named Soviet film protected their homeland. What did the Reserve employees protect during these years when, similarly to wartime, food rationing was in place throughout the country, and the monthly salary of a scientist could buy a pound of sausage? Would it be too much to say that they protected nature itself?

As far as nature preservation was concerned, democratic Russia could return either to the “sixth principle of Comrade Stalin”, or to the pure pragmatism of Khrushchev: reserves were ordered…no, not to survive…to make money on the resources they were given to preserve. During these years, crowds of tourists, so-called scientific expeditions, researchers and state employees rushed to the Reserve. Some days in the Valley of the Geysers, one helicopter couldn’t land after the next, flying in circles nearby instead, because all available spaces were occupied by other vehicles. After the “Iron Curtain” fell, numerous foreign expeditions came to the Reserve, almost yearly and sometimes even simultaneously, in order to shoot films about Kronoki nature. It should be noted that all the films shot in the Reserve were done with great warmth toward wildlife. Don’t those filmmakers who succeeded in conveying their attitude toward nature’s miracles to strangers deserve recognition? One of these enthusiasts was Vitaly Alexandrovich Nikolaenko. He worked on the Reserve for 33 years — a record of Reserve experience, having starting his career as a forester in the Valley of the Geysers. Without any special biological education, Vitaly, thanks to his boundless energy and thirst for knowledge, became an internationally known specialist on the brown bear and an artist-photographer. To sum up his art and work, he wrote that he gave twenty years of his life to “comprehending the mysteries of a bear’s life”. In December 2003, Vitaly was killed in the field with his camera in his hand.

[2000s] “Last of the Mohicans”

Today’s travelers to the Reserve territory are greeted with nearly the same picture as Karl Ditmar saw when he arrived soon after the near-extinction of Kamchatka’s population due to a smallpox epidemic — entirely wild and deserted land. On one hand, it seems that this is exactly how a real Reserve should be. On the other, a probably destructive thought lingers: why is this all managed? Maybe the present is an echo of the time when locals forgot the very roads to Kronoki? That’s hard to believe — routes to the most attractive tourist sites are frequented by leading tour operators.

We want to ensure that the words of naturalist V. N. Tyushova are never repeated here: “What have we done for Kamchatka over this considerable period, sufficient to judge the results of our governance? We’ve depopulated it…We’ve destroyed, as soon as we could, fur-bearing animals…Where are the sea beavers and otters, and who now knows about the creatures who were hunted throughout Avachinsky Bay, Shipunski Point, Kronotsky and many others, where sable we can hardly recall could be counted not by the head but by the herd?”

In the history of Kronoki, the constant, even obsessive concept of protecting this territory is always present. For centuries, it arose again and again, even in what would seem the most unsuitable social, political, and economic climates (such as the 1917 meeting of the Kamchatkan population). The initial pragmatic component of preservation has long been relegated to the background — fur does not have the value that it once did. In addition, landmarks have changed drastically. Unfortunately, the pragmatic attitude has resurfaced: we somehow imagined that we built the mountains and volcanoes, planted forests and populated them with animals and birds, released the wind and waves, and decided that all of this fell under our own rule. But do we really command Kronoki? No, it commands us. We are simply custodians of a land entrusted to us, not its masters. Kronoki’s main wealth is its historically protected wilderness. The Reserve territory has corners where no human has ever set foot. It’s the duty of those who now protect Kronoki to ensure that these places are preserved as long as possible.