Kronotsky Reserve

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The Federal State Institution «Kronotsky Nature Biosphere Reserve» (Kronotsky Reserve) is a federal-level conservation, scientific, and ecological education institution under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation.

map of Kronotsky Reserve

«The said forest is saved by Kamchadals as protected, so not one of them dare to chop it up or touch it, because they believe in the tradition of their elders, which shows many examples whereby anyone who dare touch the forest ends with disastrous death” — these words were written in the middle of the XVIII century by Stepan Krasheninnikov, the famous explorer of the Kamchatka Peninsula, about the only fir grove on Kamchatka. The Itelmen people did not let anyone near the mystical coniferous island in southeastern Kamchatka, covering two dozen hectares. In those days, this parcel was only a “forefather” of the Reserve, the first spontaneous refuge in the land, preserved by traditional customs alone. After almost three centuries, Russian scientists have yet to determine how the graceful fir (Abies gracilis) could come to this land — the trees may have been planted by ancient mariners, or the species is the only conifer in Kamchatka to survive the Ice Age.

The next era for this territory began in 1882. A special commission led by Major General Iosif Gavrilovich Baranov, the Military Governor of Primorskaya Oblast, at the initiative of the great researcher of the Far East Benedict Thaddeus Janovic Dybovski, approved two plans for protected areas in Kamchatka: Kronotsky in the eastern part of the peninsula and Asachinsky in the southern part. Ranger services (state inspections) didn’t exist back then, so the protected areas were safeguarded by local hunters. In those days, the irregularity of enforcement activities was compensated by the severity of sanctions. Sanctions could even call for cruel lynching of “predators”, as locals called the poachers. There are known cases of such extreme penalty! The main task for the new reserve was to conserve sable, which was almost totally annihilated by hunters for its fur, known as “soft gold”. The population of this small but valuable creature has rebounded after several generations, and the beautiful sable fares well in the reserve today.

The third and probably most important era in the reserve’s history began on November 1, 1934, when the then government, VTsIK, established Kronotsky Reserve as part of the network of federal strictly protected nature reserves (zapovedniks) and awarded government funding for its operation. But 1951 and 1961 were anxious and dark times for the reserve, when it was shut down. But each time, the Kronotsky Reserve, like the fabled Phoenix, was reborn, even getting bigger and stronger. The most recent additions to the territory were the Lazovsky parcel and a three-mile marine area adjoining Kronotsky on the Pacific Ocean, created to protect marine mammals and birds.

Here’s an intriguing fact: though it is commonly thought that Kronotsky Reserve is synonymous with the Valley of Geysers, the reserve was founded before the natural phenomenon had even been discovered! A full seven years lapsed from the time the territory received state protected status and the time the outstanding discovery of the Valley of the Geysers was made… The honor of filling this gap on the globe fell to geologist Tatyana Ivanovna Ustinova. On April 14, 1941 she, accompanied by guide Anisifor Pavlovich Krupenin, discovered the first geyser, later named Pervenets (Firstborn). On July 25 of the same year, the same persistent researchers went for the first time into the steaming canyon, now known as the Valley of the Geysers. The Valley of the Geysers is the most compact of any geyser field in the work, situated on just four square kilometers, and filled with several hundred splashing, hissing, seething, and sizzling pulsing brooks and geysers. Visitors to this place are always surprised to find not an empty plateau but the vibrant and blooming slopes of the canyon interspersed among these geothermal miracles. The biggest geysers are Grot (Grotto) and Velikan (Giant), emitting up to 60 tons of boiling water. There are only five large geyser fields in the world: Haukadalur Valley of Iceland, Yellowstone in Wyoming, USA, the North Island of New Zealand, the Valley of the Geysers in Kamchatka, Russia, and El Tatio in Atacama, Chili.

Following the natural catastrophe of June 3, 2007, the Valley of the Geysers was transformed. It did not lose its attraction, instead the now frozen “waves” of the rocky landslide, together with the remaining geysers and mud caldrons, gave this unique corner of the Kronotsky Reserve an even more Kamchatkan wild and capricious look. Death Valley, a place with an ominous name near Kikhpinych Volcano and seven kilometers from the Valley of the Geysers, is a near gas-chamber, where dozens of birds and animals die every year. The composition of its poison gas cocktail has no analog in the world.

Another natural phenomenon — the caldera of the extinct Uzon Volcano — is 15 kilometers from Kronotsky’s Valley of the Geysers. This volcanic giant self-destructed during several massive explosions 40,000 years ago. Even now, the earth here remains hot, unpredictable, and fickle.

Nine of the 12 square kilometers of the caldera boil up, sputter, and mix in unimaginable cocktails, as if concocted by a crazy alchemist. Characters of the film “Land of Sannikov” (shot on location in Uzon Caldera) could find here not only the gold they coveted, but also antimony, arsenic, the youngest oil on the planet, and the uzonite mineral — unique to the Caldera. Viewing platforms allow one to rest beside mud caldrons in the caldera. The most beautiful of the cauldrons — Artist and Sculptor — have a hypnotic effect. For scientists the world over, Uzon is an interesting site of active ore- and mineral-formations.

Fire-breathing mountains are another symbol of the Kronotsky Reserve. Of the 26 volcanoes, eight are active! Kronotskaya Volcano towers above its neighbors at 3,528 meters above sea level. The top of the volcano is encircled by clouds, twisting them into unusual rings and spirals. Its reflection resides on the deep waters of Kronotskoye Lake. Krasheninnikov Volcano is home to bighorn sheep. Though these animals are virtually extinct on Kamchatka, they are still on the list of commercial game species. Since December 2010, the Kizimen Volcano has been erupting powerfully and fabulously. This volcano was dormant for 80 years, but now its slopes are covered with scorched lava and ash.

The cold peaks of Kronotsky’s volcanoes are unthawing and perpetually beautiful with snowfields and glaciers frozen in time. The biggest of these is Tyushevsky, which runs eight kilometers in length.

The northern border of the Kronotsky Reserve lies at 55˚NL, the same as the southern longitude of Moscow. But this number is deceptive, as the climate here is more severe. In mountain areas, average annual temperatures are between -2.5 and -5˚; snow appears in mid to late October and melts in late May. Average annual precipitation is 500 mm. Landscape diversity of the Kronotsky Reserve is closest to Beringia forest-tundra, but in its southern variation, enriched with forest vegetation.

Species commonly found in taiga forests, such as chipmunk, flying squirrel, musk deer, and many species of beetles, do not inhabit the Kronotsky Reserve or other parts of Kamchatka, because they are closely associated with conifers. The vegetation of geothermal systems in these volcanic regions is unique in Russia and the world. The largest protected population of brown bears in the world, with 800 individuals, lives here, as well as a large abundance of sable, fox, and otter; swans and Steller’s sea eagles are also numerous. Wild reindeer were quite abundant in the past, but today there are fewer than 1,000 head, all within the reserve.

The graceful bighorn sheep is encountered in the mountains of the reserve. At times, alien species occupy the reserve, in the last hundred years, squirrel, lynx, mink, muskrat and moose were added to the list of fauna in Kronotsky. Some bird species, such as golden eagle, peregrine falcon, gyrfalcon, snipes, and a large population of Steller’s sea eagles are now rare, but still find refuge here. Chinese egret, red crowned crane, redstart, black-winged stilt, hoopoe, and others, are uncommon wayward visitors.

In 1996 the Kronotsky Reserve was added to the list of UNESCO’s Natural and Cultural World Heritage sites under the “Volcanoes of Kamchatka” nomination.

UNIQUE NATURAL ECOSYSTEMS OF KRONOTSKY RESERVE

Valley of the Geysers

Death Valley

Uzon Volcano Caldera

Bolshoy (Great) Semyachik Volcano

Graceful Fir Grove

Kronotskoye Lake

Nizhne-Semyachikskiye (Lower Semyachik) Hot Springs

Larch Forest of the Kronotskoye Lake Basin

Glaciers of Kronotsky Peninsula

Semyachiksky Lagoon

Bolshiye and Maliye Tyushevskiye Hot Springs

Nizhne-Chazhminskiye Hot Springs