This state of conservation report was requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 32nd session (Québec City, 2008) in relation to the implementation of the recommendation to establish a management plan as requested at the time of the inscription of the property at its 28th Session (Suzhou, 2004). The World Heritage Committee requested the State Party to take the necessary steps to complete the management plan for the property as soon as possible, and send it to the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies for review, before the 33rd session of the World Heritage Committee in 2009.
The State Party submitted a report on the conservation of the property on 30 January 2009, and annexed a copy of a newly completed “Wrangel Island Nature Reserve Mid-Term management plan for 2009-13”.
IUCN has carried out, with expert advice from its network, a brief technical desk review of the submitted plan and finds it to be a substantive piece of work with sound objectives. It is also welcomed that the plan is linked to a broader sustainable development plan for the region and that the cultural heritage of the area is incorporated within the plan. The plan provides a reasonably complete action plan which addresses many of the key issues considered critical for the property. It is also welcomed that the need for increased inspectors/enforcement officers is noted. In terms of content two issues for further attention are priorities within the further development of the management plan:
- An embryonic tourism plan is provided and it is recommended that a more thorough plan should be prepared with the assistance of international experts, to both consider the opportunities for ecotourism and cultural tourism whilst avoiding disturbance to its natural and cultural values; and
- Increased attention to climate change as well as; monitoring and planning a response to its impacts will be required.
Climate change impacts on northern Russia’s ecosystem, including islands, is now an urgent issue and is probably the most serious threat to the values of Wrangel Island at the present time, with increasing evidence that the rate and scale of change may be greater than even relatively recent predictions. Wrangel Island would also benefit from a more comprehensive monitoring plan, considering climate change, and which should not only be based solely on indicator species, but also potential changes due to climate change, such as shifts in species composition. Such monitoring should be integrated with international efforts on monitoring within the Arctic. The World Heritage Centre further encourages the State Party to take into account the recommendations of the expert meeting on “World Heritage and the Arctic” (Narvik, Norway, 2007) (http://whc.unesco.org/en/arctic/), as well as the outcome of the UNESCO International Expert Meeting on Climate Change and Arctic Sustainable Development: scientific, social, cultural and educational challenges” (Monaco, 3-6 March 2009).
Provision of adequate and increased federal funding for the implementation of the management plan is essential. Federal and other budget support is indicated within the plan, however the State Party report also indicates that the plan is subject to the approval of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology, thus it is not clear whether the plan is approved or the necessary funding to implement it is in place. The State Party report also notes the urgent problems faced by the reserve related to modernisation in general, and the replacement of vehicles to be better adapted to the vulnerable soil of tundra communities. A further key priority is the enhancement of surveillance staff, and provision for monitoring.
The property’s potential to act as a model for climate change monitoring and assessment of wider importance in the Arctic Region might also provide a basis for attracting external funding to this. It is recommended that verification of the adequacy of levels of finance to implement the plan can be addressed through correspondence between the World Heritage Centre and the State Party.
Based on a review of the plan and regional assessments, very little has changed structurally at the property since 2002, although there will have been an escalation in changes to the ecosystem due to climate change. Given this situation and that the action plan is not yet implemented, the property does not appear to warrant a mission by the World Heritage Centre and/or IUCN at this stage. It would however be valuable to request further information on a number of points and to request a further consideration of the state of conservation of the property at a future date. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend, unless there are newly emerging conservation issues, that a three year period is allowed before a further report regarding the implementation of the management plan and the response to the other points above is assessed.