This article originally appeared in The Circle 03.17. Find back issues here.
The ecosystems of the Barents Region are diverse and include large areas of boreal forests or taiga, as well as vast areas of wetlands and tundra. BO STORRANK looks at how to protect and preserve these resources.
THE REGION HAS a diverse coastline bordering the Norwegian, Barents, Kara and Baltic seas. The Barents countries – Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway – face similar challenges in conservation of these unique ecosystems. Joint efforts are needed to safeguard the biodiversity and ecosystem services of the region. The Barents Euro-Arctic Council’s Working Group on Environment and its sub-group on nature protection coordinate cooperation on biodiversity and habitat conservation in the Barents Region. One main aim of the transboundary cooperation is to contribute to the fulfillment of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
In 2011-2014, national and regional authorities, scientific institutes and non-governmental organizations from Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia implemented the Barents Protected Area Network (BPAN, bpan.fi). The project produced unified information on protected areas in the Barents Region, including a comprehensive set of thematic maps, tables and figures. A follow-up project was launched in 2015 focusing mainly on forests important for biodiversity. The project – soon to be finalized – produced new information on forests with high conservation values in the Barents Region. This information can be utilized in the future development of the protected area systems of the region. As a short-term result, responsible authorities and other main stakeholders will be better informed about the value of important forest areas and their current protection status.
Preliminary project results show there are still many important forest areas that need protection. Enhancing the connectivity of the region’s protected area systems is also highlighted and data compiled by the project provides material for further analyses in this field. The project particularly underscores the importance of the main ecological mega-corridors of the region.
Strengthened efforts to protect valuable forest areas are in line with the Strategy for Protection of Intact Forests in the Barents Region. The strategy, acknowledged by the Environment Ministers of the Barents Region in November 2015, offers guidance for the preservation of forest biodiversity in this extensive region.
Mapping existing and planned protected areas in the coastal areas has also been undertaken. In 2016, an expert workshop produced updated information about the protection of coastal areas in the Barents Region. The experts concluded that the network of marine protected areas (MPAs) of the region should be further strengthened. Several actions need to be taken: more analyses to identify biodiversity hot spots; agreed-upon criteria for designation of MPAs and the designation of planned MPAs should be reinforced.
For example, the use of remote sens- ing data should be further explored when making large-scale analyses and assessments. It is also critical that climate change be taken into consideration in planning and developing MPA networks. Furthermore, improving the engagement of stakeholders such as local communities and Indigenous people is imperative when developing the management of MPAs.
Climate change and changes in land use influence the long-term viability of the protected area systems of the Barents Region. It is important to include nature considerations in forestry practices, to imple- ment existing plans for establishment of protected areas, and to strengthen the management of protected areas. Knowledge and data sets produced by joint transboundary projects are essential to future sustainability.
BO STORRANK is Project Manager at the Finnish Environment Institute