The state of conservation report was requested by the Committee at its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008) in relation to the above threats and in particular the impact of infrastructure development for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Experts and NGOs raised concerns that infrastructure development could impact the Outstanding Universal Value and integrity of this property which was inscribed as “the only large mountain area in Europe that has not experienced significant human impact, containing extensive tracts of undisturbed mountain forests unique on the European scale.” The area planned for construction is adjacent to the property and within the Sochi National Park Strict Nature Reserve which was recommended for inclusion in the property by the IUCN Evaluation in 1999. The developments represent a potential threat to the integrity of criterion (ix) ecosystem by affecting hydrology and habitat connectivity to winter feeding grounds, and criterion (x) biodiversity particularly endemic plants and threatened wildlife through disturbance from proximity to these developments.
In June 2008 the State Party relocated a part of the infrastructure development away from the boundary of the property, nearby but still within the Sochi National Park. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN have received repeated appeals from NGOs regarding the location and planning of development for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games and associated infrastructure.
On 30 January 2009 a report on the state of conservation of the Western Caucasus World Heritage property and brief expert opinion summaries of developments associated with the Winter Olympic Games were submitted to the World Heritage Centre. The reports provided some information on the progress made towards implementing the recommendations of the 2008 joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission. However, the State Party did not submit the following documents which were also requested: all new infrastructure planning and Environmental Impact Assessment documents, copy of the management plan, policy on tourism development, tourism strategy and tourism plan. The summary reports provided by the State Party were expert opinions of the impact studies which did not include any maps and did not demonstrate how developments would mitigate potential impacts on the Outstanding Universal Value and integrity of the property. The State Party also did not respond to the letter from the World Heritage Centre dated 7 November 2008 relating to concerns raised by NGOs.
The assessment for key conservation issues for the period 2008 to 2009 is as follows:
a) Property and buffer zone boundaries
The April 2008 joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN mission identified a lack of clarity on the buffer zones of the property. In particular, certain of the component reserves, nature monuments and national parks which make up the property have buffer zones while others do not. Some, but not all of these buffer zones are recognized as buffer zones of the World Heritage property. The mission team reported that the delimitation of the property was on-going and would be completed in 2008. In response to the need for clarification, the Caucasus Reserve Directorate submitted proposals on the establishment of a new conservation zone to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology of the Russian Federation in May 2008. The proposal has been returned to the Caucasus Reserve Directorate for amendment. The endorsement of the amended proposal is planned in 2009.
The State Party stated that laws “on organization of protected zone of Caucasus state biospheric wildlife preservation” within the Krasnodar Territory were cancelled in 1994 and consequently, conservation zone of the reserve was cancelled on the territory of the adjacent Sochi State Wildlife Reserve. In the Adygei Republic conservation within the buffer zone of the property was cancelled in 1998 and in the Karachi-Cherkess Republic there has never been a legal resolution in the conservation zone of the property.
b) Management plan
IUCN requested the State Party to “advise on mechanisms proposed for ensuring the integrated management of this [property] including the preparation of a management plan” in its Evaluation report in 1999. The State Party has yet to submit a management plan as requested again by the Committee at its 31st session (Decision 31 COM 7B.32). The 2008 joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission noted that a plan was being prepared only for the strict nature reserve and recommended a master management plan for the entire property which should focus on maintaining the Outstanding Universal Value and integrity of the property. The State Party did not provide any new information on progress in preparing a management plan for the entire property.
c) Research and monitoring
The State Party stated that a 1999-2008 wildlife comparison had been conducted and reported that there were no negative trends or decrease in biodiversity. However, the State Party did not provide any results of this study. IUCN has also received reports that the monitoring within the property is limited to the northern slope of Greater Caucasus and requests information to be provided on the monitoring programme for wildlife and habitat within the entire property.
d) Illegal logging
The Kurdijipskiy Forestry Enterprise stopped all forestry activities and removed equipment in November 2008. Forestry regulations are now being prepared to prohibit tree-felling. It will be necessary to monitor the recovery of the affected areas. IUCN encourages the State Party to use satellite or aerial photography to monitor forest cover and illegal activities within the property.
e) Transportation infrastructure
The 2008 joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN mission identified several proposed transport routes under planning. IUCN has received reports that the Federal target programme “South of Russia” (2008-2012) that was adopted by a Decision of the Government of the Russian Federation №10 of 14 January 2008 finances tourist infrastructure projects in the Adygei Republic. This Programme includes the construction of a highway “Guzeripl settlement - Lagonaki Plateau", which, according to reports and photographs sent to IUCN began after the joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission with significant asphalting completed by November 2008. Another route "Dakhovskaya village – Lagonaki Plateau" falls inside the property and the buffer zone of the Caucasus Biosphere Reserve. It is reported that this road is to access the planned ski resort on Lagonaki Plateau and photographs are available for part of the asphalted road inside the property. IUCN and the World Heritage Centre urge the State Party to amend the ”South of Russia” Programme to ensure that no road or other infrastructure construction takes place in the property.
The State Party reported that the construction of the road to Lunnaya Polyana has been stopped. An earth road remains for use by citizens and the Forestry Department. However, an unpaved area within the property is being used for parking by vehicles as photographic documentation in 2008 illustrate. Information received by IUCN indicates that the unpaved road was still being used as of November 2008 to access illegal cleared areas where a new and illegal villa is understood be be being built, contrary to the legal protection of the property.
f) Recreational use and development
The World Heritage Committee has also requested a Tourism strategy and plan. These documents have not been provided and would assist in the planning surrounding developments for the Olympic Games and other tourism infrastructure.
The State Party reported that activities in the Lagonaki plateau are limited to backpacking along five regulated tourist routes up to a limit of 40,000 people-days per year and that there are no plans for any recreational development in the areas of the Lagonaki Plateau or Fisht-Oshten mountain pass. However, IUCN has received reports that the project ‘Development of the Mountain Ski Complexes in Lagonaki Plateau’ has been included in the Federal Target Program ‘South of Russia 2008-2012’ adopted by Decision Nr. 10 of the Russian Government from 14 January 2008.
g) Developments for 2014 Winter Olympic Games
The State Party reported that the property is not directly affected by any construction of Olympic objects. However, IUCN has received reports of road building plans within the property. These plans include 2 km of road which access the Gazprom resort VIP-complex on the left bank of the Achipse River and are understood to be lie within the property. The plans which include this road were adopted by the Ministry of Regional Development on 31.12.2008 No. 324. A second road within the property along the Azhu River is shown in the ‘General Plan of Sochi District’ and to be developed by Olympstroy governmental corporation.
No information has been provided by the State Party on assessments of the possible impacts of projects on the Outstanding Universal Value and integrity of the property from any construction projects of the 2014 Winter Olympics facilities and infrastructure. However, the State Party states that “project documentation shall compulsorily contain the materials of asessment of objects impact on specially protected natural territory, as well as materials of object discussion by state ecological examination with citizens and public organizations (associations).“ As of February 2009 the public organisations in Sochi had not been given an opportunity to comment on the State Environmental Assessments.
Summary information provided by the State Party on “Extract from the Opinion of the Expert Commission for the State Environmental Expert Review of Design Documentation” of several construction projects do not include any maps and provide little information on assessment of threat or risk to the Outstanding Universal Value and integrity of the property or how any risk or threat will be mitigated.
The joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN mission requested that all developments be prevented in very sensitive areas such as the Grushevy ridge. However, the State Party reports that the biathlon complex will remain on the southwestern part of the Grushevy Ridge, within the Sochi National Park adjacent to the property.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that some positive steps taken on a few of the 2008 monitoring mission recommendations but note that many remain unfulfilled or only partially fulfilled. In particular, that the biathlon is still to be located on Grushevy ridge and this will require careful monitoring and mitigation. No information was provided on the ecological monitoring in place in the property and the State Party should be requested to share ecological monitoring programme information and baseline data that will be used to monitor the potential impact of the activities outside the property but within the Sochi National Park that are close to the World Heritage property.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN urge the State Party to halt all illegal activities within the property, including the construction of roads, car parking facilities, illegal villas and to ensure that no construction works take place within the property. It is recommended that the State Party implement enforcement patrols and use satellite and aerial photography to enable the monitoring of this large property. The completion and implementation of the master management plan, tourism policy and strategy, and tourism plan will greatly aid the State Party to harmonize the development plans and programmes in the buffer zone and areas neighbouring the property. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that there should be a mission organised to verity the progress in relation to the above points, which is likely to be required during 2010.