Russia’s Kola peninsula gets a new national park

Parts of the area now protected are of importance for the reindeer herders and Sámi people that are hunting and fishing.

The Khibiny Mountains are within the largest wilderness area in Europe. (Thomas Nilsen / The Independent Barents Observer)

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Monday signed a decree protecting 840 square kilometers (about 325 square miles) of the Khibiny Mountains.

Environmental groups, including WWF Russia, have for years been lobbying creation of a national park in the mountains between the two towns of Lovozero and Kirovsk on the Kola Peninsula. Most of the area is forest and mountain massif.

The Khibiny national park, along with one other new park in the Baikal region, is now official, according to the transcript from Dmitry Medvedev’s meeting with vice-premiers on Monday.

“The purpose of creating a national park is to preserve the natural complexes of the mountain tundra and northerns taiga of the Khibiny- and Lovozero mountain ranges of the western part of the Kola Peninsula, which are of great ecological, scientific and recreational significance,” the Russian Governmental decree reads.

With the national park, 840 square kilometers of the 1,300-square-kilometer Khibiny massif is protected. The massif has the highest mountains on the Kola Peninsula with an average elevation of about 1,100 meters.

Parts of the area now protected are of importance for the reindeer herders and Sámi people that are hunting and fishing.

Aleksandr Khloponin, deputy prime minister, assured at the meeting with Dmitry Medvedev that Sámi people’s economic activities in the area shall continue, preserving their traditions and culture.

Oleg Sutkaitis, Director of WWF Russia’s Barents Office welcomes the decision.

“We are glad that 101 years after the idea of creating a national park in the Khibiny was first voiced, this territory finally gets a secured statues,” Sutkaitis says.

WWF Russia has worked with partner organizations and regional Murmansk Government on the issue for many years.

A difficult task has been negotiations with mining companies operating in the area. The final boundaries of the park covers an area on third of what WWF originally hoped for.

The Khibiny Mountains, in Russia’s Kola Peninsula in a fall 2016 photo. (Dmitry A. Mottl / CC 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)