History of Nature Use and Environmental Impact in the Suojarvi District
Manual for high school teachers, local study experts and specialists involved in environmental education and tourism/A. Gromtsev, ed. Petrozavodsk: EU, 2005. 28 p.
The brochure has been prepared by a limited team of leading specialists from the Institutes of Biology, Forest Research and Northern Water Problems of the Karelian Research Centre (Russian Academy of Science), as well as from the Department of Geography of the Karelian State Pedagogical University. An extensive amount of new material revealing the specific features of the nature, the characteristics and consequences of human activities in the Suojarvi District have been gathered, analyzed and summarized.
The district's drainage network and status of water resources are considered. One of Karelia's largest drainage divides - between the watersheds of lakes Onego and Ladoga - cuts the district (total area - 13,500 km2) roughly into two. The drainage network is composed either of small rivers, or of relatively short channels, which connect numerous lakes, forming lake-river systems. There is a total of 339 lakes, of which 202 have a water surface area larger than 1 km2. Processing of the digital map raised the number of waterbodies to 4134 as small and very small lakes (forest ponds) were detected. It is lakes that are the main source for centralized water supply, although water uptake volumes are rather low. The quality of open waters is predominantly very low due to natural reasons wherefore lakes cannot be used for drinking water supply without pretreatment. As the result, the water supplied to many communities of the district does not fulfill the requirements of the national "Drinking water" standard. In many cases the good drinking water deficit can be relieved by bringing subsurface waters into use.
Forests cover over 65% of the territory. The general patterns in the forest cover formation in the postglacial period and its natural evolution are described. One part of it is the fire regime in pristine forests. Fires have been a powerful natural factor facilitating renovation of forest ecosystems at least for several millennia. Climax forests in protected areas can only survive in their initial condition if a certain fire regime that has established in the taiga landscape over the postglacial time is maintained. Land use history (slash-&-burn agriculture, clear-cutting and selective harvesting), specific features of the natural and man-induced dynamics of forests have been reviewed. In the post-war years forests were harvested by large-scope clear-cuttings with heavy logging machines. Harvesting volumes kept growing, peaking in the 1960s-1970s. Since the early 1990s, harvesting volumes have declined dramatically in line with the overall economic crisis in Russia. Lately, the volumes have been growing gradually so that today the allowable annual cut for the Suojarvi District is nearly used up. Harvesting is done by the most advanced machines. Today, nearly a half of the district's forest is young stands aged below 40 years, whereas forests older than 100 years occupy just about 1/5 of the territory. Hardly any climax (pristine) forests have survived in the Suojarvi District. Only small fragments scattered throughout the territory can be found. These will also be felled within the coming 10-15 years. By then, secondary forests established in sites that had been clear-cut, as well as repeatedly selectively felled more than 100 years ago will reach the harvestable condition. It is safe to conclude that despite the large-scope clear-cutting, there has been no decrease in the forested area in the district. The reason is successful natural regeneration. The area of forests has even been increasing somewhat owing to natural overgrowing of some drained mires, whilst the species composition shows no significant change - pine stands still clearly dominate the forest cover.
Patterns in the establishment and anthropogenic transformation of the regional flora are described. Science now knows of over 700 vascular plant species growing in the district. There occur 52 vascular plants listed in various Red Data Books: 10 - Russian Federation, 42 - Karelia, 41 - East Fennoscandia. Human impact on the local flora is quite diverse. A major impact of the current load on ecosystems is the arrival of new species, not typical of the climatic zone. They mostly settle within towns and villages and along roads, hardly ever integrating into the zonal plant communities. Native species stand quite firmly in their position, and even a heavy factor like logging has so far failed to make the district flora much poorer.
The status and trends in game populations of the district have been analyzed (for some species a comparison was drawn with Karelia at large and adjacent parts of Finland). The abundance and distribution of the brown bear, moose, reindeer, gray wolf, lynx, wolverine, red fox, squirrel, stoat, mountain hare, pine marten, polecat are represented in numbers and maps. Special notice is given to changes in the composition of the fauna upon the dispersal of new species (muskrat, American mink, Canadian beaver, raccoon dog, wild boar). Some forest dwellers in the district are rare and red-listed in Karelia (flying squirrel, weasel, badger, taiga reindeer). Some others however - wolf, bear, lynx - are common and even abundant in the district and in Karelia, but listed in the Red Data Book of East Fennoscandia.
The history of nature use and present-day status of the natural complexes of the Tolvajarvi landscape reserve are characterized. Information about the population and economic activities there are provided starting from the 16th century. Four major human impacts have been distinguished: agriculture, timber harvesting, military actions and recreation. Most significant transformations of the natural environment in the Tolvajarvi area have been caused by logging in the 1950s-1980s. The most prolonged human impact, despite the relatively infertile sandy soils, broken terrain and a great number of mires has been agriculture. By the 1930s, the area of the Tolvajarvi lake-river system became a central tourism area in Finland with a well-functioning infrastructure. Introduction of the frontier regime in the soviet period caused to activity to decline sharply.
Detailed mapping and description of the landscapes has been done for a key site in the Tolvajarvi area (7 km2). The matrix in the area is dwarf shrub-lichen-true moss pine stands growing on sandy loam and sandy podzols over glaciofluvial ridges and hills. Their transformations induced by human impact are demonstrated.
The annex describes an experience of organizing children's and youth eco-landscape camps. The reserve's location close to the central towns of southern Karelia, the relatively well-developed transport and recreational infrastructure make the task easier.
The materials included in the brochure are crucial for understanding the nature of the district, for the capacity to utilize its resource potential in a sustainable way and effectively restore it, for setting up a representative network of protected areas and organizing environmental education. The publication is meant for high school teachers, local lore specialists and enthusiasts, experts in environmental education and tourism.