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US-Soviet Peace Park Invites Cooperation On Array of Interests

Bering Sea unites friendlier neighbors over native cultures and resource management

By Yereth RosenSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / July 23, 1991


JOINT US and Soviet efforts to preserve the Bering Sea environment are accelerating.The United States National Park Service and the Soviet State Committee on Environmental Protection are working out details for an international peace park straddling the Bering Strait that could be established as early as next year. The Beringian International Heritage Park would encompass the 1 million-acre Bering Land Bridge National Preserve and possibly parts of Cape Krusenstern National Monument and Kobuk Valley National Park in Alaska with part of Siberia's 15 million-acre Chukotka Peninsula. The park was authorized by Presidents George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev at their 1990 summit meeting. It would be the third US park to receive international status, after Canada-bordering Glacier National Park in Montana and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska. The international plan is more than symbolic. The region where the ancestors of today's Native Americans, Alaska Eskimos, and Aleuts crossed on land from Asia to North America is one of the world's richest and most important ecosystems, environmentalists say. Some 200 kinds of birds from all seven continents migrate through the Beringia region, as do 19 species of marine mammals, including whales, polar bears, walruses, and seals. "Essentially, it's an international crossroads historically for people and for wildlife," said Dave Cline, regional vice president for the Audubon Society's Alaska-Hawaii office.

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Preservation of cultures The region is rich with archaelogical artifacts that date back to the periods of human migration more than 12,000 years ago. The park would help preserve both native history and present indigenous cultures on both sides of the Bering Strait as well as the ecological resources, organizers say. Preservation of indigenous cultures is a new goal in the Soviet Union, where officials once cited national security and communist ideology to relocate Far East natives from their traditional coastal villages into inland collective settlements. The Chuktotka region, home to Chukchi natives and Siberian Yup'ik Eskimos, is a key reindeer hunting center. Park organizers say the challenge lies in preserving resources while not interfering with the natives' subsistence lifestyle. "The first [priority for] use of the resource needs to be the traditional use of the natives," said Ludmilla Bogoslovskaya, chief scientist for the Soviet planning committee. The peace park initiative and other new Alaska-Siberia environmental programs come amid escalating development pressures on both sides of the strait. "One could say that we have a common threat ... industrial development," Ms. Bogoslovskaya said.