Community Moose Monitoring Project and Community Ecological Monitoring Project (The Russian Federation)
An Integrated Ecosystem Management Approach to Conserve Biodiversity and Minimize Habitat Fragmentation in Three Selected Model Areas in the Russian Arctic. (The acronym ECORA was derived from the Russian language title of the project and then was transliterated in English and, eventually, became the most commonly used name for the project).
The Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) Working Group of the Arctic Council, UNEP/GRID – Arendal, and the Russian Federation initiated ECORA, a Global Environment Facility (GEF) project in the Russian Arctic to address threats to habitats, fragmentation of ecosystems, and disruption of ecological balance, especially in lowland tundra, forest tundra, and coast and nearshore marine areas. The main goal of ECORA is the harmonization of relationships between environmental protection, industries, and indigenous populations leading to the sustainable use of biodiversity in the Russian Arctic, as demonstrated in the Model areas through the implementation of integrated ecosystem management (IEM) strategies. The Model Areas, Kolguyev Island, Kolyma River Basin, and Beringovsky District, were selected because of their rich biodiversity, the presence of resource development industries, and indigenous population. The project activities range from strengthening legislative, administrative and institutional frameworks to enhancing the knowledge base through involvement of local residents and integration of indigenous and traditional environmental observation.
Status and Contact Details
Dr. Evgeny Kuznetsov
National Institute for Nature Protection Ministry for Natural Resources of the Russian Federation
Moscow, Russian Federation
Project time: 1999 – 2009
Funding: GEF, in-kind contributions from Arctic Council’s member states.
Q1. What are the main goals and activities of the project?
The main objective of CBM in ECORA was to develop long-term monitoring of selected biodiversity components that would serve as indicators of species’ status and trends, habitat fragmentation, and climate change. However, in Russia the results of such monitoring would be difficult to apply in the same manner as official scientific data are used. In addition, there are no rigorous standards to comply with. So, there were opportunities for creativity and flexibility. The focus of CBM was turned into nurturing partnership relationships between local participants and project scientists, with special attention paid to cultivating interest and respect for traditional knowledge and the people who hold it.
Q2. Who are the participants?
ECORA has a complex collaboration of international participants. The project is co-led by Russia and United Nations Environment Programme-Global Resource Information Databank – Arendal (UNEP GRID- Arendal) with the participation of advisors from other Arctic Countries and Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the Far North, Siberia and Far East and (RAIPON). Local residents are participating in the CBM component of the project.
Q3. Who initiated the project?
ECORA was conceived in 1999 by CAFF and UNEP-GRID Arendal and went through a multi-year planning and approval
Q4. What are the locations and how were they selected?
The Model areas were selected by a group of project experts based on the following criteria:
presence of indigenous peoples;
rich biodiversity of global significance,
current or planned industrial activities; and
location within CAFF geographical territory
Other factors that played a role were the presence of other large international programs in the area, willingness and good-spirit cooperation from local and regional authorities. The Model Areas were selected in 2003. Since all three areas had small populations and only a few villages, all ten communities were included in the project. They were Bugrino (Kolguyev Island); Chersky, Kolymsk, Andryushkino, Pokhodsk, Nutendli (Kolyma), and Beringivski, Meinypylgino, Khatyrka, and Alkatvaam (Beringovsky District).
Q5. How difficult was it to find funding and how long did it take?
ECORA’s budget consisted of a three million dollar grant from GEF, which was matched by in-kind contributions from the Russian federal government and additional grants from the Arctic states for specific project activities. GEF requires at least a 50% match. So the total project budget can be estimated at 6 million US dollars. The portion allocated to the CBM effort is relatively small.
Q6. What are the relationships between the project researchers and the communities?
Despite many logistical difficulties, ECORA’s research team has developed good partner relationships with participating communities. Local residents were invited to meetings with researchers and had opportunities to ask questions. All too familiar complaints that some scientists came, village folks participated by providing information, then scientists left and no one heard from them again, were brought up many times. Sometimes residents of remote villages, not spoiled with the attention of the regional government, perceive scientists and especially foreign researchers as a venue to vent their frustration and to pass information about local issues to the outside world. It’s important that researchers have the patience and humility to listen to what people have to say.
Relationships with regional governments vary from very active engagement and support in Yakutia (Kolyma) to polite indifference in the other two regions. Reporting to Russian officials is necessary regardless of their interest in the project. Unfortunately, there are no incentives for government officials to support projects with community based monitoring, as data derived from this research cannot be used officially in natural resource management. However, it can be used as a reference material, and ECORA, acting through other components of the program, has had success in doing this. The most tangible benefit to communities from the project’s interactions with the regional governments was drawing authorities’ attention to the dire situations in those remote and almost forgotten communities.
Q7. What type of monitoring and what methods do you use?
Two types of community based monitoring are used in ECORA: 1.) a sentinel monitoring performed by a selected observer who regularly fills out questionnaires and sends them to the researchers for data management and analysis, and 2.) a freestyle diary of observations by one individual.
A set of a dozen of thematic questionnaires was designed by the researchers based on the results of population surveys to determine subsistence activities in each Model Area. Two local observers were hired and trained in each village. The training took place in the village for about two days with a visiting researcher. Each observer has a set of questionnaires based on the types of harvesting activities of that individual. They are also equipped with digital cameras so they can take pictures of bird colonies and other objects of observation. Completed questionnaires are sent to regional coordinators by whatever means available, and then mailed to the Moscow ECORA office.
An experienced subsistence harvester writes about 100 pages of observations over one year, creating an environmental observation diary. No instructions are provided, except one – the writer should document everything that he/she deems important. This document is his/her vision of the environment. All participating villages are using the same set of survey materials and standardized methodology.
The frequency depends on the theme, e.g. the phenology questionnaire is completed once a year but observations of bird colonies are recorded 2-3 times a year. For traditional knowledge interviews, ECORA asked for assistance from Snowchange, another project active in community based monitoring and with particular experience in the gathering of oral traditions. This partnership developed a good synergy and complemented each others work.
Q8. How do you organize your data management?
All collected data (questionnaires, diaries) are processed and stored in the Manager’s office in Moscow. No special qualitative and quantitative software is used for analysis because researchers consider the volume too low. Currently, only a preliminary analysis has been performed, such as verification for obvious mistakes. A final report will be prepared after all activities are completed. There are no restrictions to the access to the data and it is under discretion of the Manager. The research team welcomes collaborative requests.
Q9. Volunteers vs. paid staff and participants: how did you address this issue in your project?
Local observers receive a modest compensation for their time. The size of the payment is a small portion of an average salary in the area. In general, there is an opinion that excessive compensation could entice people who are interested in a financial gain more than in the project and that could negatively affect the quality of the recorded data. Payments to respondents of surveys are not common in Russia and often do not have much influence on the decision to participate. If people are willing to participate, they will do it without payment.
Q10. What problems have you encountered and how did you work them out?
Unfortunately, one very important factor – accessibility of a remote location – was overlooked. That created difficulties with establishing communication and keeping the work plan on schedule. That was one of the reasons why the communities did not participate in the planning and selection process and were informed about participation in the project only after the formal selection. The two most important methodological challenges for community based monitoring are the application of standardized approaches and training people how to record their observations (e.g. filling out questionnaires) based on these approaches. While the original plan called for synchronized observations in all areas, difficulties with finding local coordinators and experts impeded the schedule. The target year for the beginning of monitoring was 2004 but the delays pushed it to 2006, when the Beringovsky District began working. The other regions joined in 2007 (Kolyma), and in 2008 (Kolguyev).
The remoteness of the Model Areas makes it difficult, even for the regional coordinator to visit villages more that just a few times a year. This presents problems with verification of information and with timely assistance for local observers when they experience difficulties. For example, one of the problems encountered was incomplete questionnaires. More opportunities for on-site training could have reduced such problems.
Public relations should not be overlooked. Local newspapers and radio stations are good ways to provide information back to the community and should be used year-round to report to the whole community about project activities. Every time a meeting takes place, be it a city-hall meeting or talks with authorities, a short news item should be submitted to the local media. ECORA began doing this too late into the project and should have started doing this when the project was still in the planning stages.
Q11. What do you think is the main achievement of the project?
Local participants feel an increase in the awareness of the value of their knowledge and traditional ways of life. After several centuries of government-induced assimilation, society is beginning to recognize that traditional ways of life that indigenous peoples led for millennia are efficient and healthy ways of living in the Arctic. Participation in the project leads to increased interest in learning from elders about traditional ways and promotes the transfer of this knowledge to the younger generation. While the goal of meaningful participation in resource management may seem to be unattainable at this time, this project builds the qualities that communities need to advance this cause, such as growing self awareness and a renewed reliance on traditional ways of life. Cooperation with scientists is a two-way learning process: while traditional knowledge is shared with scientists, many learn new skills working as research assistants. Involving schools in the project is an investment in a new generation of local observers.
Q12. What advice would you give to others who would like to develop a similar project?
There are no recipes for success. Community based monitoring is an invaluable component of any large-scale monitoring because of one simple fact – without local residents it is impossible to collect year-around data in the vast Arctic region. There are not enough scientists in the world to do this. Community based monitoring is based on human relationships. What is invested in that relationship will define what the final result will be. It’s a fine balance between give and take. Q13. What future do you see for this project? It is important to recognize Community based monitoring as a valid monitoring method and give it an “official” status in Russia. The National Institute for Nature Protection has not had any funding for field work since the 1990’s. The prospects for project continuation are not very bright at this time. A new proposal, related to climate change, is being prepared in cooperation with UNEP/GRID – Arendal and if successful, would allow the continuation of the work that began in ECORA.
Developed standardized protocols and instruments
Promoted an increase of self-awareness and value of ITK
Advance ITK as one of the important components of resource management in Russia
Opportunities for Improvement
- Training of local personnel
Methods to validate Community based monitoring for natural resource management in Russia