Wednesday, January 14, 2009

National Geographic examines Kamchatka

By David Quammen
Photograph by Michael Melford

Some places on this planet are so wondrous, and so frangible, that maybe we just shouldn't go there.

Maybe we should leave them alone and appreciate them from afar. Send a delegated observer who will absorb much, walk lightly, and report back as Neil Armstrong did from the moon—and let the rest of us stay home. That paradox applies to Kronotsky Zapovednik, a remote nature reserve on the east side of Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula, along the Pacific coast a thousand miles north of Japan. It's a splendorous landscape, dynamic and rich, tumultuous and delicate, encompassing 2.8 million acres of volcanic mountains and forest and tundra and river bottoms as well as more than 700 brown bears, thickets of Siberian dwarf pine (with edible nuts for the bears) and relict "graceful" fir (Abies sacha­linensis) left in the wake of Pleistocene glaciers, a major rookery of Steller sea lions on the coast, a population of kokanee salmon in Kronotskoye Lake, along with sea-run salmon and steelhead in the rivers, eagles and gyrfalcons and wolverines and many other species—terrain altogether too good to be a mere destination. With so much to offer, so much at stake, so much that can be quickly damaged but (because of the high latitudes, the slow growth of plants, the intri­cacies of its geothermal underpinnings, the specialness of its ecosystems, the delicacy of its topographic repose) not quickly repaired, does Kronotsky need people, even as visitors? I raise this question, acutely aware that it may sound hypocritical, or anyway inconsistent, given that I've recently left my own boot prints in Kronotsky's yielding crust.

To learn more go to: National Geographic

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