1.         Virgin Komi Forests (Russian Federation) (N 719)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1995

Criteria  (vii)(ix)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/719/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 0
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/719/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

N/A

Previous monitoring missions

N/A

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

a) Changes to the boundaries of Yugyd Va National Park;

b) Proposed gold mining.

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/719/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2012

On 29 February 2012 the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recall that the Committee, at its 35th session (UNESCO, 2011), urged the State Party to immediately implement the recommendations of the 2010 UNESCO/IUCN reactive monitoring mission in order to remove the threats posed by a planned gold mine within the property, and by boundary changes which removed the legal protection status of this mining site and three other areas within the property.

The status of the mission’s recommendations, endorsed by Committee Decision 35 COM 7B.25, is discussed below:

a) Halting gold mining within the property

The State Party notes that the gold mining company, CJSC Gold Minerals, is undertaking preparatory works and is implementing a monitoring program. Details on the nature of this program are not provided. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN have received reports and photographic evidence that full-scale preparatory mining works have begun within the north component of the property, Yugyd Va National Park (YVNP), including road works, drilling, and blast work. The preparatory works are visible from space through remote sensing imagery (see http://www.transparentworld.ru/ru/environment/monitoring/oopt/yugydva/ ). Stakeholders report that these preparatory works are causing environmental damage, including to rivers within the property. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recall that at the time of inscription, IUCN noted that gold mining in the Kozhym River Basin would seriously impair the values of the property. The UNESCO/IUCN mission also concluded that a gold mine at Chudnoe would have significant negative impacts on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value, including contamination of the Kozhym River within the property and impacts resulting from the construction of extensive infrastructure (roads, bridge over the Kozhym River, base camp, open-pit mine, treatment facilities for concentration of the ore etc.) The mission considered that the negative impacts of gold mining are likely to extend well beyond the 19.9 km square of the mining perimeter. To date, no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been submitted to the World Heritage Centre.

b) Reversing boundary changes made without the Committee’s approval

The State Party report does not provide information on its progress in reversing the boundary changes made to YVNP, the northern component of the property. These changes were implemented without the Committee’s approval and removed the legal protection status from four areas within the property. In its report, the State Party notes that it intends to submit a boundary modification proposal to the Committee by 1 February 2013. IUCN notes that it considers that boundary modifications to World Heritage properties should not be proposed for the purpose of facilitating mineral and oil/gas exploration and exploitation projects, and/or associated infrastructure, within or affecting a site. Any proposed changes to the boundaries of a World Heritage property should be subject to procedures at least as rigorous as those involved in the nomination of the property, as required under the Operational Guidelines (see IUCN’s Advice Note on Mining and Oil/Gas Projects). They recall that the Committee has decided that modifications to boundaries of World Heritage properties that are related to mining activities should be considered through the procedure for significant modifications of boundaries, in accordance with paragraph 165 of the Operational Guidelines, given the potential impact of such projects on Outstanding Universal Value.

c) Protection status of the property and adjacent areas

The State Party reports that it intends to create a buffer zone along the eastern border of the property, to incorporate the Upper Illych Basin forest within YVNP and to upgrade the protection status of the PL 350 forest enclave to that of a ‘specially protected natural site of regional significance’. The State Party notes that work has begun to upgrade the protection status of these areas, and cites a ‘substantiation’ report attached to the State Party report. However, this report does not appear to have been received by the World Heritage Centre.  The World Heritage Centre and IUCN further notes the new Federal Law No. 365-FZ dated 30 November 2011, which has significantly weakened the protection regime of Strict Nature Reserves, making it possible to construct large scale tourism infrastructure within these reserves. They consider that this issue should be addressed at federal level as it affects the protection status of all natural World Heritage sites in the Russian Federation.

d) Other conservation issues

The 2010 UNESCO/IUCN mission made a number of recommendations concerning hunting and poaching, logging, the SRTO-Torzhok gas pipeline, the Pdocherie-Vuktyl drinking water pipeline, forest fires, the potential for tourism development, as well as management planning, staffing and budgets. The State Party report briefly discusses a number of these points. In particular, the State Party reports that the budget of YVNP and Pechoro-Illichsky Strict Nature Reserve (PISNR – the southern component of the property) was increased by about 11 million roubles (374,000 USD), and that opportunities for alternative financing are also being pursued. The State Party report notes that environmental monitoring for the SRTO-Torzhok pipeline is undertaken by Gazprom in collaboration with park rangers, but does not report on the implementation of environmental Management Plans and phasing out for the two quarries within the property. 

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that neither of the mission’s key recommendations – namely halting gold mining within the property and reversing the boundary changes – were implemented by the State Party, as was requested by the Committee at its 35th session. They stress that there is now clear evidence that full-scale gold mining preparatory works are ongoing within the property.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN wish to draw the attention of the Committee on their grave concern by the commencement of gold mining and by the removal of the legal protection status of four areas within the property, including the 19.9 square km gold mining site at Chudnoe. They reiterate that they consider that gold mining within the property is likely to have significant negative impacts on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value.They consider that the ongoing mining in the property and the removal of the legal protection of part of its territory constitute an ascertained danger to the property’s Outstanding Universal Value, in line with Paragraph 180 of the Operational Guidelines. They call to the Committee’s attention that this paragraph specifically cites “a modification of the legal protective status of the area” as grounds for the World Heritage Committee to inscribe a property on the List of World Heritage in Danger. They also recall that mining is incompatible with World Heritage status, in line with the Committee’s established policy, which is supported by the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) international policy statement of not undertaking such activities within World Heritage properties. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN therefore reiterate their recommendation that the Committee inscribe the Virgin Komi Forests on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN also note the State Party’s positive intention to create an eastern buffer zone, to incorporate the Upper Illych Basin forest within YVNP and to also upgrade the protection status of PL 350 forest plot, as recommended by the 2010 UNESCO/IUCN mission. This should be welcomed by the Committee as the improvement in the protection status of these areas, particularly the UpperIllychBasin forest which links the northern and southern components of the property, will be important for its long-term integrity.

Decision Adopted: 36 COM 7B.24

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-12/36.COM/7B.Add,

2. Recalling Decision 35 COM 7B.25, adopted at its 35th session (UNESCO, 2011),

3. Deeply regrets that the State Party has not implemented the key recommendations of the UNESCO/IUCN mission, namely to immediately halt the planned gold mine within the property and to reverse the boundary changes which removed the legal protection status of four areas within the property, including the 19.9 square km gold mining site;

4. Expresses its utmost concern that since its 35th session, full-scale gold mining preparatory works have begun within the property;

5.  Reiterates its utmost concern with regard to the boundary changes of the northern component of the property, Yugyd Va National Park (YVNP), which removes the protection status of these areas, and about the approval of a gold mine within the property at Chudnoe;

6. Encourages the State Party to pursue its efforts for the protection of the property as a whole under its initial boundaries in accordance with existing legislation and regulations;

7. Considers that these issues constitute a danger to the property’s Outstanding Universal Value, in line with Paragraph 180 of the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention;

8. Also reiterates its request to the State Party to implement the recommendations of the 2010 World Heritage Centre /IUCN reactive monitoring mission;

9. Further reiterates its established policy that mining is incompatible with World Heritage status, which is supported by ICMM’s international policy statement of not undertaking such activities within World Heritage properties, and calls upon the involved mining companies not to proceed with gold mining within the property;

10.  Notes with appreciation the State Party’s positive intention to create an eastern buffer zone, to incorporate the Upper Illych Basin forest within YVNP, and to also upgrade the protection status of PL 350 forest plot, and also considers that the improvement in the protection status of these areas, particularly the Upper Illych Basin forest which links the northern and southern components of the property, will be important for its long-term integrity;

11.  Takes note of the State Party’s intention to submit a boundary modification proposal to the Committee, and further considers that any proposed changes to the boundaries of a World Heritage property should be subject to procedures at least as rigorous as those involved in the nomination of the property and should be considered through the procedure for significant modifications of boundaries, as required under Paragraph 165 of the Operational Guidelines;

12.  Also requests the State Party, in consultation with the World Heritage Centre and IUCN, to develop a Statement of Outstanding Universal Value;

13.  Recommends that all legal issues concerning natural properties in the Russian Federation, which are composed of federal and regional protected areas,  be addressed through a comprehensive national legal framework  for the protection and management of natural World Heritage properties in order to ensure the fulfillment of the State Party's obligations under the Convention and requests the State Party to convene a high-level workshop to assist in developing such a framework, in consultation with the World Heritage Centre and IUCN;

14.  Urges the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2013, as it was requested by Decision 35 COM 7B.25, a significant boundary modification request containing clarified boundaries of the property and following the recommendations of the 2010 World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission regarding establishment of a buffer zone and including other valuable forest lands and welcomes the efforts made by the State Party to that end;

15.  Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2013, a detailed report on the state of conservation of the property, describing the progress in the implementation of the recommendations of the joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN monitoring mission, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 37th session in 2013.