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Module 3 • Natural Resources: Case Study: Fact Finder
Background
of Chukotka’s landmass, including walrus rookeries off the Arctic coast; the Beringia Nature-Ethnic
Park (which lies on this year’s GoNorth! expedition route) with its Whalebone Alley of 500-year old
giant bowhead skeletons; and Wrangel Island Federal Strict Nature Reserve, listed by UNESCO as a
site of outstanding importance to the common heritage of humankind. While organizations such as
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) wish to see more protection, the reality of deteriorating social and eco-
nomic conditions has made it increasingly difficult.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Chukotka’s remote communities have faced extreme isolation
and dire economic conditions, with native peoples resorting to traditional subsistence. The maritime
Chukchi and Yu’pik survive primarily by hunting and fishing, whereas the inland Chukchi have lived
with the reindeer for thousands of years. Reindeer husbandry developed in the 13th century and is
Chukotka’s most important agricultural activity, though it has been in sharp decline since the collapse
of the Soviet Union. The total headcount of reindeer fell from 540,000 heads in 1980 to 80,000 in
2001. Reindeer husbandry is virtually not commercialized because there is almost no market for the
products. Marketing outside the region is inhibited by poor infrastructure and the lack of industrial
cities nearby to process or consume meat.
At the peak of the strip mining era, many reindeer pastures were destroyed. Most mined land has
not been restored. It is estimated that 75,000 hectares of land in Chukotka has been harmed by
open-pit mining. Caterpillar and truck machinery has damaged another 80,000 hectares.
In spite of this environmental toll, some argue argued that a responsible mining industry can be the
first step in industrial development. A so-called foundation industry, mining often provides the critical
mass for the development of electricity, water, road, and rail transport in a region.
Many believe Chukotka should grab the opportunity to extract and sell its natural resources. In 2001
the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich who lives in London and is considered to be not just
Russia’s but also Britain’s richest man, became governor of Chukotka. Abramovich has spent hundreds
of millions of dollars of his personal wealth in Chukotka: chartering ships loaded with humanitarian
aid, increasing the reindeer stock, and building a hospital and a food processing plant in the region’s
capital of Anadyr. In 2005 alone, revenues funneled to the region by the governor and a handful of
his business partners amounted to $224 million. This has lead Chukotka’s economy to quintuple since
2001, bringing the average salary to $847. However, Abramovich’s term as governor expires in 2009,
and there is no indication he will stay beyond.
Three proposals for the future of Chukotka without Abramovich has been submitted to Russia’s fed-
eral government by his current administration. One would be to convert Chukotka into a national
park, relocating non-native residents to other areas and maintaining minimal infrastructure to support
the native population. This would promote the push for adventure tourism as a main component of
Chukotka’s economy. The second proposal is to leave Chukotka unchanged and increase federal
subsidies to maintain the current infrastructure. The third option is to secure a wave of investment
to explore Chukotka’s national resources and to augment its underdeveloped infrastructure.
The golden challenge for Chukotka is obviously to chart a path that not only lifts all of its 50,000
people out of poverty but also leaves a sustainable future for generations ahead, taking into account
the vast value of its rich lands and its ancient traditional cultures.
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© NOMADS Online Classroom Expeditions GoNorth! Chukotka 2007 Curriculum 29
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