previous chapter
Chapter Seventeen— Science Doesn't Stand Still
next chapter

Chapter Seventeen—
Science Doesn't Stand Still

Because of its role as the scientific justification for an expanding network of zapovedniki , a holistic understanding of the natural community or biocenosis retained its hold on Russian ecologists and field biologists longer than in the United States or other countries. Through the 1980s advocacy (support for inviolable zapovedniki as institutions) continued to be dressed up as science (biocenology, the study of ecological communities). That linkage began to weaken during the 1960s and 1970s when, first, biocenologists finally had to acknowledge that their theory and practice did not cohere; second, they recognized that the theory was out of step with international science; and third, new paradigms and institutions began to challenge their monopoly within Soviet ecological science. These challenges to the ecological community concept, in turn, presented challenges to the raison d'être of the zapovedniki , which were amplified by the growth of Soviet tourist demand for scenery. Some environmentalists sought a new scientific theoretical grounding for protected territories to supplant the shaky old one, while others acknowledged their subjective view of the zapovedniki as simply sacred space. By the late 1980s the rationales for zapovedniki focused more on their roles as protected habitats, buffers for an overindustrialized landscape, aesthetically valuable undisturbed nature, and areas where the flow of life could still go its own way.

Beginning in the late 1960s, philosophers, economists, and political scientists discovered environmental rhetoric—I hesitate to describe it as "advocacy." Although each environmental writer was trying to make a name for himself (or, rarely, herself) and implicitly made claims for his or her discipline's central role in developing environmental theory, collectively these individuals represented a regime-approved and regime-sponsored means of blunting the critical edge of environmental speech. At the same time,


the abundance of "environmental" publications in the social sciences represented proof of the regime's good intentions. This appropriation of environmental rhetoric went largely unchallenged by authentic activists because it also served their purposes: it confirmed environmental issues as one of the few zones of relatively free speech in the Soviet Union.

The evolution of ecological thought in America was neatly summed up by boreal ecologist Hugh Raup, director of the Harvard Experimental Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts:

Ecological and conservation thought at the turn of the century was nearly all in what might be called closed systems of one kind or another. In all of them some kind of balance or near balance was to be achieved. The geologists had their peneplain; the ecologists visualized a self-perpetuating climax; the soil scientists proposed a thoroughly mature soil profile, which eventually would lose all trace of its geological origin and become a sort of balanced organism in itself. . . . I believe that there is evidence in all of these fields that the systems are open, not closed, and that probably there is no consistent trend toward balance. Rather, in the present state of our knowledge and ability to rationalize, we should think in terms of massive uncertainty, flexibility, and adjustability.[1]

Since 1910 the latter approach had been championed in Russia by Leontii Grigor'evich Ramenskii, but it had made little headway against the holistic, supraorganismic model of the biogeocenosis (ecological community plus abiotic environment) championed by Sukachëv and his many allies.

During the early 1960s things began to change slightly with the appearance of two important articles by V. D. Aleksandrova, which showed a certain sympathy for the continuum notion, but even they fell short of a clean break with organismic holism.[2] Soviet ecologists, particularly plant ecologists, were caught in a bind. On the one hand, they prided themselves on claiming to be an important part of international science. This logic should have pushed them to give up the holistic biogeocenosis for the more Western and relativistic "ecosystem" and for the continuum. On the other hand, they still needed a scientific justification for the zapovedniki , and in the absence of any other compelling ecological model clung to that of the biogeocenosis.

The plan the Lavrenko commission (see chapter 11) released in 1957 for future expansion of the network of reserves could have been drafted by G. A. Kozhevnikov himself. At its core was the recommendation that representative etalony be chosen on the basis of the geobotanical maps of the USSR that Lavrenko's team at the Botanical Institute had compiled. Once again, the Soviet scientific elite would have its own "archipelago"—islands of natural diversity and research autonomy, embodying the broader values


of diversity and autonomy, a kind of "free territory of the intelligentsia," as Stalinist critic Lepeshinskaia once implied. Encouraging results followed endorsements by V. A. Engel'gardt, the new secretary of the Biological Division, and by Academy president Nesmeianov.[3]

However, the specter loomed of another zapovednik war like those of the 1920s and early 1930s. Repeating history, the USSR Agriculture Ministry's Glavpriroda, where utilitarians were still ensconced, sought to annex the newly created or restored zapovedniki of the Russian Republic's Glavokhota system and of other republican systems to its own, centralized all-Union network. Eerily, the issues had hardly changed since the 1930s, for Glavpriroda's reserves were still pursuing the same income-maximizing goals as before, while the Glavokhota reserves, heirs to the Kozhevnikov tradition, continued to reaffirm both the etalon mission of the zapovedniki as well as the inviolability of their regime.[4] In this reprise of the debate, ecological questions played a central role.

The Zapovednik Question in the 1960s and 1970s

The reiterative nature of the struggle over reserves was amply revealed by the statements of nature protection activists at Glavokhota's conference of zapovednik directors held May 22–24, 1963 at the Voronezhskii zapovednik . A. M. Krasnitskii, director of the Central Black Earth zapovednik , took to task the utilitarian construal of zapovednik functions (especially maximizing game) presented by A. G. Bannikov, a kind of quasi-official personage who was generally regarded as working for the secret police. Instead, Krasnitskii unabashedly defended the pure-science nature of research in the reserves.[5] Mikhail Aleksandrovich Zablotskii, the savior of the zubr , reminded his coparticipants of how much had been neglected, destroyed, or forgotten as he explicitly invoked the name of V. V. Stanchinskii:

That which the comrade from the Voronezhskii zapovednik just defended here with so much zeal for us [old timers] is not news. In the years before the war, quite formidable scientists worked in our system, among whom the late Prof. V. V. Stanchinskii, doubtless known to many of you, occupied far from last place . . . Some jokingly say that things go around in a spiral; the circle has closed and now we are again talking about these same interdisciplinary investigations.[6]

Someone else trotted out the memory of Malinovskii, now in retirement, as the symbol of oppression and unhealthy management. What especially rankled the speaker was the "double" expropriation of the zapovedniki Malinovskii carried out. Not only was he complicit in the Stalin plan of 1951, but he had the insulting temerity to replace zoologists with foresters as dep-


uty directors for research in the reserves. This was a legacy that cried out to be fully reversed.[7]

Perhaps the most striking defense of the traditional vision of the zapovednik during the 1960s was the speech of Glavokhota's director of zapovedniki , A. Kondratenko, at the All-Union Conference on Zapovedniki on February 12, 1968. Declaring that to give a speech and pretend that the zapovedniki were no longer faced with powerful threats and impediments would be "to engage in simple phrase-mongering and empty words," Kondratenko outlined four broad areas in which the "Leninist principles of organization and management of zapovedniki " were undercut or trammeled.

First was inviolability. Kondratenko noted that, as a result of the Stalin and Khrushchëv liquidations of 1951 and 1961, "research over many years' duration was interrupted and considerable amounts of state funds were thereby wasted. . . . Consequently, the elimination of zapovedniki is not a process linked with the development of our society . . . but merely the thoughtless actions of specific individuals who have misled government and higher political organs."[8] The consequences were sometimes dramatic. After the 1961 elimination of the Bashkirskii zapovednik , 1,343 hectares of forest in the most accessible areas along the banks of rivers were cut down. Almost all of the maral, roe deer, and moose were killed off. The Kronotskii reserve fared no better. Almost all of the larch forest around Lake Kronotskoe was chopped down, and geological and topographical expeditions engaged in illegal hunting out of season. The Bogachëv Geological Expedition managed to destroy sixty-four brown bears in two months after the zapovednik was decertified in 1961. The Soviet military was not far behind. A military detachment at the Gulf of Ol'ga used a colony of elephant seals as target practice to try out a new gun; the carcasses were just left there, unused. Tourists, unsupervised, engaged in practices that threatened the living and nonliving elements of the landscape.[9]

The second "act of destruction" was Khrushchëv's conversion of some of the most historic and important zapovedniki in 1957 to so-called zapovedno-okhotnich 'ia khoziaistva . "Is there any need to explain the absurdity of this marriage of concepts?" Kondratenko asked. At the very least these areas needed to be renamed.[10]

The third was the regime's failure to enforce existing laws. Kondratenko spoke of the USSR Ministry of Agriculture's "gross violation" of the RSFSR's October 27, 1960 law on nature protection by permitting its zapovedniki on RSFSR territory to allocate up to 50 percent of their land to "experiments," some of which entailed significant alteration of natural conditions.[11]

The fourth sin was using the press to promote false and distorted notions of the role of zapovedniki . Kondratenko singled out the article "The Zapovedniki Need a Single Administration" by the head of the USSR Ministry of Agriculture's zapovednik administration and the head of its Party cell,


V. B. Kozlovskii, an agronomist. The article, which ran in 1966 in Okhota i okhotnich'e khoziaistvo and the following year in Nedelia , in addition to trying to make the case for Ministry of Agriculture suzerainty over all USSR protected territories also promoted the usual ways in which nature within the reserves could be "improved." Kondratenko quoted from a hostile reader response to Kozlovskii as well as from D. L. Armand's For Us and Our Grandchildren , which also emphasized the eternal nature of zapovedniki as a "closed 'holy of holies."[12] In line with this emphasis on inviolability, all experiments in acclimatization had to stop. "It is well known that the most typical way in which the natural balance is destroyed is by introducing nonnative biological species to an area, which often leads to the most unexpected conseqences."[13]

If Kondratenko's remarks were sharply phrased, it must be appreciated that as the representative of Glavokhota RSFSR he was not simply echoing the principles of the old-line scientists who dominated his agency's scientific advisory council. He was also defending the historic interests and prerogatives of the Russian Republic against a frequently aggrandizing all-Union center. Less than three years earlier, by means of a decree of the USSR Council of Ministers, the USSR Ministry of Agriculture successfully "raided" seven of Glavokhota RSFSR's zapovedniki .[14]

What distinguished these seven reserves was that they were among the most picturesque and the most accessible. Because the USSR Ministry of Agriculture's Glavpriroda had now been designated as the official Soviet "lead agency" for international contacts concerning nature protection and protected territories, there was a concern that the ministry have within its jurisdiction appropriately interesting reserves that it could show to foreign scientists and dignitaries. Not coincidentally, Bannikov's guidebook of the Ministry of Agriculture zapovedniki , complete with beguiling color photos, appeared in early 1966.[15] That infuriated "authentic" nature protection activists even more, as their foreign counterparts would be meeting with second– and third-rate scientists and bureaucrats of the Ministry of Agriculture system and would never learn of the existence of their "real" colleagues sequestered in the Glavokhota and other systems.

These and a cavalcade of real abuses committed by and in the USSR Ministry of Agriculture system provided constant reinforcement for the scientific intelligentsia's continuing fixation on the zapovedniki as the central issue of nature protection well into the Brezhnev era. Trouble started even before the new regime's first anniversary; agriculture minister V. V. Matskevich in October 1965 had issued an order stripping the newly acquired Astrakhanskii and Kavkazskii reserves of zapovednik status and converting them into branches of local game management areas, only months after an attempted transfer of 5,000 hectares from the Kavkazskii reserve to local forest authorities had been successfully fought.[16]


Official poaching and other abuses of zapovedniki in the Brezhnev era were ubiquitous. In Tadzhikistan's Tigrovaia Balka (where the last tiger's tracks were recorded in 1953), runoff from cotton fields had poisoned the northern portion of the reserve. A hunting lodge had been built on the reserve's territory for the shah of Afghanistan. In the Kzyl-Agach reserve on Azerbaijan's Caspian Sea coast, Marshal Chuikov, the hero of Berlin, led a military-style assault on the wintering waterfowl, scoring a major victory. Several years later, in 1976, Marshal Grechko did Chuikov one better, employing helicopters to obliterate the recalcitrant herons, flamingos, and geese.[17]

One of the worst embarrassments occurred when Minister Matskevich invited Academy of Sciences president Stubbe of the German Democratic Republic to the Voronezh zapovednik and then proposed a deer hunt. In deference to the scientific mission of the reserve, Stubbe refused, complicating the diplomatic atmosphere. Matskevich's practices were then held up to sharp criticism at the February 1968 all-Union Conference on Nature Protection, and when the head of the Department of Zapovedniki of the USSR Ministry of Agriculture tried to defend his boss, "tens of people started to shout from their seats 'Matskevich is a poacher!' The young naturalists—protégés of P. P. Smolin—made the most noise, for they had been to many of the zapovedniki and knew everything firsthand, even to the point of witnessing some of these outrages."[18]

Bannikov and others tried to play a constructive behind-the-scenes role. In August 1966 Bannikov wrote to Matskevich on the eve of the minister's trip to Tadzhikistan about the abuses in the Ramit zapovednik and the need to create a zapovednik in the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous oblast' .[19] And Glavpriroda began work on a draft law on nature protection for the entire USSR.[20] Yet the prevailing sentiment was that sounded by Glavokhota director Kondratenko: the forces of light (Glavokhota and nauchnaia obshchestvennost' ) were still locked in battle with the forces of darkness (Glavpriroda and transformism).

One complex of issues that still retained its emotional force was that of acclimatization and the campaign to eliminate large predators. For the scientific intelligentsia, this was an unsurpassed metaphor for the careless, scientifically uninformed, and dangerous transformism of the Soviet regime generally: chaotic capriciousness under the guise of "rational planning." It was difficult to escape the parallels in the realm of social and public policy: the "liquidation" of the "kulaks as a class," the deportation of peoples from ancestral lands to places half a continent away, the communal apartment, and other social experiments. Linkage with Lysenko and his ally Pëtr Aleksandrovich Manteifel' only deepened acclimatization's reputation as quackery and "Stalinist science." It was all the more odious that the regime had at various times forced this profane policy into the precincts of the zapovedniki .


Khrushchëv's thaw provided the first opportunity for opponents of acclimatization to go public. Writing in MOIP's Bulletin , game biologist V. N. Skalon took first crack at the symbolically charged program. "Acclimatization was advanced under the slogan of the transformation of nature," began Skalon, but "it could only be assessed favorably; no criticism of it was tolerated." As a result of that lack of peer review and the consummate haste in which measures were effected, "there was no small number of failures, which cannot be passed over in silence."[21]

Many schemes were hopeless from the first, such as the attempt to improve the Siberian red fox by releasing Canadian foxes. Introduced animals became pests: squirrels in the Crimea, mink in Eastern Siberia (where they preyed on the muskrat, which had also been introduced from North America, but never achieved great enough density to become economically harvestable), and the raccoon dog almost everywhere it was introduced, particularly in central European Russia, where it attacked ground-nesting birds.

Some acclimatization schemes were even fraught with threats to human health. Raccoon dogs carried rabies. Ground squirrels, introduced to the Caucasus, created a variety of epidemiological problems. Although those taken from the Altai were certified to be free of infectious diseases, they quickly became receptive hosts to the endozootics of the Caucasus. When the tufted-eared Altai red squirrel was introduced to Kirgizia, the "planners" were not as careful. It brought with it the flea Tarsopsylla octodecimdentata , which carried encephalitis. To top things off, the quality of the fur of the introduced animals declined, in some cases to economic uselessness. One additional consequence of these blunders was a certain resistance to reacclimatization, which is always safe and economically reliable.[22]

There were a few instances in which acclimatization was undertaken for loftier motives. The best example is the acclimatization of the sika deer from the Far East to the Caucasus and other places during World War II, when it was feared that the animal would be driven to extinction should war break out between Japan and the USSR.[23] One or two such examples, however, were hardly enough to outweigh the emotional animus of the scientific intelligentsia. Geptner, in a 1963 article, called once and for all for a renunciation "of that harmful idea that acclimatization may be a basic means of increasing the productivity of game resources."[24] Acclimatization was harmful "not only because it does not hold up, but even more so because it deflects us from serious and thoughtful work to a search for ways of quickly overcoming difficulties and deficiencies without expending a great deal of effort."[25] Skalon weighed in again later in 1963, as did A. A. Nasimovich in 1966 with a major attack on the consequences of the muskrat's acclimatization.[26] In 1965 the Tadzhik Academy of Sciences' Institute of Zoology and Parasitology took the opportunity of Lysenko's downfall to eliminate acclimatization from its research program.[27] Six years later Skalon, in a


highly polemical piece, "The Essence of Biotechnics," mounted a spirited attack on the claims of acclimatizers and other "biotechnicians" to speak in the name of science.[28]

One study that struck out at biotechnics and acclimatization simultaneously was Konstantin Pavlovich Filonov's doctoral dissertation on the population dynamics of ungulates in zapovedniki .[29] A research scientist in Glavokhota RSFSR, Filonov culled thousands upon thousands of entries on index cards from the letopisi prirody (nature logs) kept by each zapovednik since the mid-1930s. His aim was to see what effect the policies of provision of salt licks, winter feeding, and other non-natural care of hoofed mammals, combined with campaigns to eliminate wolves and other predators and acclimatization of exotics, had on the ungulates' population dynamics. He found increasingly wide fluctuations: huge increases followed by catastrophic diebacks. As natural predation was eliminated, population densities increased, but so did the percentage of genetically less adaptive individuals. No longer culled from the herd by wolves and bears, these weaker and often sick individuals spread infection throughout the population. In the former Crimean zapovednik , deer with six-point antlers constituted 20.5 percent of the herd during the 1920s and only 16.3 percent in the 1950s. More robust ninepointers, meanwhile, had completely disappeared.[30]

Acclimatized animals, such as the sika deer in the Okskii and Mordovskii reserves, deflected selection pressure from the native moose, becoming another prey species for wolves. In consequence, the moose population was no longer "policed" as efficiently for defective, older, and weak individuals.[31] Ultimately, concluded Filonov, to "undo" the effects of Stalinist "biotechnics," deer and moose herds now had to be thinned on a regular basis. Humans were now condemned, like it or not, to intervene in the life of a no longer pristine nature, but such intervention should always be only a form of damage control.[32]

Once the police power of the Party-state was withdrawn from the arena of biological research and teaching, geneticists and ecologists exerted efforts to decertify Stalin-era "schools" and their practitioners. Controlling scientific credentials was central to the social identity of the scientific intelligentsia and to its norm of scientific autonomy, and scientists lost no time trying to reclaim lost ground.

Paradigms in Motion

Among conservationists, voices of qualification, such as that of G. P. Dement'ev, the new president of the Academy of Science's Conservation Commission, warned that "it was time to renounce the view that zapovedniki are a 'higher' form of conservation." Instead, Dement'ev noted that the areas


the reserves incorporated were only "conditionally natural" and that the tasks of conservation transcended the preservation of natural areas and their denizens (no matter how worthy that cause).[33] However, his words went largely unheeded by the restorationists.

Nonetheless, a conference called by the Academy's Conservation Commission and those of the republics, meeting at the Zoological Institute in Leningrad on January 25, 1956, revealed the incipient divergence within the ecologist-conservationist camp. Professor V. B. Dubinin, microbiologist and vice president of the Commission, emphasized not zapovedniki but resource problems in his keynote address. For the first time there was a vigorous call for the study of the ecological impacts of migrating radioactive compounds, now identified as a serious health threat to humans.[34] Articles on the ecological consequences of pollutants and pesticides also began to appear in the Commission's journal, Okhrana prirody i zapovednoe delo v SSSR .

Accompanied by a disturbing photo showing a lifeless stretch of the Kamyshevakha River downstream from a coking plant where unfiltered phenols were discharged, T. E. Nagibina's exposé, one of the first published articles to provide facts and figures on water pollution, cleverly juxtaposed a second photo showing revegetation following a cleanup of the stream, so as to maintain the mood of official optimism.[35] As a sanitary inspector of the USSR Ministry of Public Health, Nagibina approached the problem from the standpoint of human health. Natural conditions of water bodies had been vastly altered, she noted, and the amount of runoff from industry and agriculture had undergone a quantum increase. Pollution threatened the purity of water for drinking and recreational uses, promoted new outbreaks of infectious diseases, and impaired the water bodies' capacity for self-cleansing.[36] She invoked historical precedents: great tsarist-era public health experts such as Erisman and Khlopin had warned of such things, as had Chekhov, who was also a medical doctor. Water pollution was discussed at the 1896 and 1902 Pirogov Society congresses and at the Sewage Congress of 1905, which called for government standards of water quality.[37]

Despite this long-standing awareness plus Soviet-era legislation of 1923 and 1937 and the drinking water standards of 1954, observed Nagibina, the discharge of untreated waste water continued to inflict "great harm on the population and on the economy." The Volga directly received 500,000 cubic meters of untreated wastewater daily, while the Oka basin, which flows into the Volga, received an additional 370,000. Those waters were unusable for drinking or aquatic sports. Some waters were so polluted that they could not be used even by industry. Fishing and agriculture were the major victims.[38]

The main culprits were the oil extracting and refining, pulp and paper, chemical, metallurgical, and some consumer industries. In 1952, 550,000


tons of oil and petroleum products were lost after extraction, 350,000 tons of which polluted river basins through runoff. The concentration of emulsified oil in the Volga near the city of Gor'kii (Nizhnyi) exceeded permissible limits by twenty-five to seventy times. Such pollution also had international implications, added Nagibina, as when flocks of migratory birds died in the Caspian as a result of waters polluted by oil. Rivers and the factories that polluted them were mentioned by name. And while Nagibina pointed to alleged improvement since 1951, "there has still not been the requisite attention paid [to the issue] by the leaders of ministries, agencies, and individual enterprises." Moreover, there were far too few opportunities for public health scientists to test and apply their laboratory findings in the real world; one procedure proposed by scientists in 1951 for filtering petroleum products from waste water had still not been tested under production conditions. Nagibina also criticized the reluctance of industrial ministries to rethink their production processes, which led to an overreliance on technology to detoxify currently generated wastes. Only an all-Union organ for the protection of water bodies with the authority to enforce its decisions could guarantee truly safe production.[39]

That same issue of Okhrana prirody i zapovednoe delo v SSSR featured one article about air pollution and another about radioactivity. In much the same vein as Nagibina's piece, the article by M. S. Gol'dberg of the Laboratory of Air Quality in the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences' Institute of General and Public Health focused on public health. However, Gol'dberg also pointed out the special danger of sulfur dioxide to plants, especially trees.[40] A. M. Kuzin and A. A. Peredel'skii of the USSR Academy of Sciences' Institute of Biophysics, researchers in "radiation ecology," provided a history of the emergence of the study of radioisotopes in nature. Recalling the work of Vernadskii, Baranov, Cannon, and others, the authors showed how certain plants functioned as indicator species in areas containing deposits of uranium and other radioactive elements. Those plants that were coadapted to relatively high natural levels of radiation in many cases showed a higher metabolic rate. This was also the case with nitrogen-fixing bacteria exposed to high rates of natural radiation. Consequently, before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was believed that radiation was some kind of tonic that could make living things more productive.[41]

Now, with atmospheric testing, the situation had become qualitatively different. Japanese research on contaminated fish conclusively demonstrated the accumulation of isotopes in the internal organs of fish. If the irradiation of plankton was also taken into account, then whole food chains, up to and including humans, were placed in danger. True, some organisms, such as jellyfish and other swimmers, seemed to be largely unaffected, but that was a comparatively minor bright spot in the overall gloom.[42] Most ominous, as


was brought out at the 1955 Geneva Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, were the implications of exposure to high doses of radioactivity for human genetic integrity. Even with the peaceful use of the atom, noted the authors, the problem of disposal of radioactive wastes remained critical.[43]

"Having learned how to use atomic energy," philosophized the authors,

humanity has still not fully grasped the responsibilities that attend this development, both with respect to our contemporaries and to future generations of people, as well as to nature the whole world over. . . . The expansion of work on the peaceful use of atomic energy demands the development of research in the area of radiation ecology, the training of radiation ecologists, and attracting in the broadest way the attention of scientific public opinion to this problem.[44]

These articles represented a new style of ecology on four counts. First, radiation and pollution were human health issues, to be studied in the tainted earth and waters around nuclear test sites, reactor sites, farms, and factories, remote from the allegedly self-regulating etalony of virgin nature. Second, the analytic framework for studying the effects of radiation and pollution was the species population, not the vaguely defined community. Third, this new current of ecological research was pervaded by the optimistic supposition that nature was fully knowable and would eventually be reducible to mathematical description. Finally, adherents of the new ecology believed that each of the new, serious environmental problems confronting society was susceptible of a technical solution, in principle.

This trend was reflected in new institutional arrangements, such as V. A. Kovda's Institute on Soil Science and Stanislav Semënovich Shvarts' Institute for the Ecology of Plants and Animals (established 1955), attached to the Ural Scientific Center of the Academy in Sverdlovsk, which had been fortified by waves of physicists and mathematicians seeking to apply their latest theoretical models to the study of living systems.

S. S. Shvarts, a "new man" of Soviet biology not unlike the geneticist N. P. Dubinin, began developing his critique of the older school as early as the 1950s. A disciple of Nikolai Vladimirovich Timofeev-Resovskii (the "zubr " who, exiled to Shvarts' institute, studied ecological aspects of radioactive cycling) and Pavel V. Terent'ev, both of whom strongly championed the population approach and the use of mathematical methods, Shvarts was first drawn to the problem of acclimatization, one of the pet programs of the nature-transformers, although he openly critiqued Manteifel's neoLamarckian approach to it from a modern, population-oriented standpoint.[45] Above all Shvarts, traumatized by the arrest in 137 of his father, an Old Bolshevik, resolved on a course of political acceptability, avoiding even the faintest whiff of dissidence.[46]


After having helped to launch the journal Ekologiia (Ecology ) in 1969, Shvarts began to speak out emphatically on the relationship between ecology as a science and resource development. In a talk at a 1973 special Academy-wide conference on conservation, he first underscored the sharp distinction that needed to be made between professional ecological science and conservation. Owing to a wrongheaded conflation of the two in the public mind, "broad circles of readers began to understand ecology as . . . a science with a social agenda, whose task boiled down to the protection of nature, the amelioration of the microclimate in urban areas, the development of various methods of detoxifying effluents, etc. However, speaking about ecology, it is always essential to emphasize that ecology is a biological discipline with its own . . . specific research methods."[47] Nevertheless, Shvarts did see a central role for ecology in addressing the environmental problems of the day.[48] But to play such a role, ecology needed to be unflinchingly scientific, abandoning all traces of muddy, idealist thinking and values.

One year later, in a talk to Party leaders in the Urals, Shvarts went further, deriding the ecological alarmists. "I am deeply convinced," he declared, "that their assertions are illegitimate." Discussions about the "exhaustion of nature," he continued, "sow doubt about the powers of man. . . . There is a wise aphorism: 'A resource deficit is simply . . . a deficit of knowledge.'"[49] The ultimate goal, he explained, was not some prehuman harmony but the ability "to direct natural processes." "We have no other alternative," he asserted, recommending the development of a general theory of ecological engineering.[50]

Although Shvarts' ecological engineering cannot be equated with I. I. Prezent's voluntaristic call in 1932 for Soviet biologists to become "engineers" in the great transformation of nature, there is at least one common thread: the notion that static natural harmonies do not exist. If, as Shvarts noted, ecology was "a science of the environment," then that environment has become increasingly transformed by humans. Consequently, "the most progressive ecologists see the main task of their science as developing a theory governing the creation of a transformed world." The world "could not remain untransformed," Shvarts declared, adding that such a process of transformation needed to be governed by considerations of human needs.[51] Shvarts radically diverged from his colleagues in considering the framing of economic and developmental strategies as the proper preserve of the political authorities, not of scientists with technocratic aspirations.

A year before his death Shvarts participated in a series of sharp debates with the writer and conservation activist Boris Stepanovich Riabinin, a member of the Central Council of the All-Russian Society for Conservation.[52] Held during the spring of 1975 at the Academy's House of Scholars and the "Ural" Palace of Culture, both in Sverdlovsk, they marked the ultimate


development of Shvarts's positions, which provided powerful ecologicalscientific justifications for the prodevelopment point of view. At that time Shvarts was perhaps the best-known ecologist in the Soviet Union among the lay public.

Throughout the debates, Shvarts's main argument was that prehuman, "pristine" nature no longer existed. Using the same example offered by Kozhevnikov nearly seventy years earlier, Shvarts noted that almost all of the forests of Western Europe were at least second-growth. However, Shvarts and Kozhevnikov drew diametrically opposite conclusions. Kozhevnikov conjured up the image of German forest plantations as a warning to Russians to preserve what virgin nature remained; for him, the deceptive luxuriance of the human-altered vegetation concealed a less stable, less biologically diverse assemblage of organisms than the community that had been supplanted. Shvarts asserted, on the contrary, that there were no grounds to consider second-growth inferior to original ecosystems. "In general," he noted, "it is not at all easy to determine how a bad or good ecosystem might be defined."[53] The "luxuriant tropical forest," he pointed out, would be choked by industrial effluents in only a few years, while the relatively species-poor taiga was able to withstand such abuse for centuries. The value of a given ecosystem had to be calculated in the context of its value to human society, argued Shvarts, not by some abstract principle of diversity or harmony.[54]

Another aspect of this problem cropped up during the discussion about the place of predators in the modern world. Riabinin quoted from the newspaper article "Nature Has No Stepchildren" to bolster his contention that predators played a necessary role in the economy of nature and should be preserved. He asked Shvarts to comment as an ecologist. Shvarts addressed the fate of the wolf as exemplifying the problem of large predators in the modern world. Through the mid-1950s, the wolf had been hunted down, even in the zapovedniki . However, with the triumph of the etalon view in the 1960s, the campaigns ceased, and the wolf population surged to over 100,000. Soon wolves once again became an object of public concern. Shvarts distinguished between those few remaining natural areas, such as the tundra, where the wolf still fulfilled a role of sanitary predation, and elsewhere. In the vast, anthropogenetic majority of Russia's modern agricultural landscapes, the wolf needed to be exterminated; there was no going back to the prehuman balance.[55] One practical conclusion that flowed from this was Shvarts's support for active management within nature reserves, which he did not recognize as incorporating self-regulating nature.[56]

In 1979 a roundtable was held in the pages of the main hunting and conservation journal, Okhota i okhotnich'e khoziaistvo (Hunting and Game Management ). The head of the Ministry of Agriculture's Glavpriroda, A. Borodin, repeated Shvarts's argument that zapovedniki were only truncated islands of natural systems and, therefore, the ecological argument that wolves were


necessary for maintaining those systems' self-regulating properties was spurious.[57] More revealing, however, was the argument of Oleg Kirillovich Gusev, the editor of Okhota i okhotnich'e khoziaistvo , who accused the bulk of Soviet biologists of "losing their objectivity" and "idealizing nature" while wolves were destroying thirty million rubles' worth of agricultural stock a year. They were purveying a baseless ecological catechism.[58] Ridiculing the ecologists, Gusev suggested that they had fallen into the teleological fallacy of believing that the wolf was created in order to prey on ungulates, ungulates to eat grass, and "both, in order to testify to the glory of the wise Creator." Their "murky" theory of "natural equilibrium" was the philosophical equivalent of a Divine Plan. Starry-eyed "idealization of nature" was to be contrasted with Gusev's hard-nosed realism: "The crux is this, that with the elimination of predators their place will be taken by other factors of selection, including human beings, whom the entire course of evolution on Earth prepared for a decisive role in the evolution of the biosphere."

This belief in a fated role for humans as the new chiefs of evolution was also sketched out by Shvarts, who, like the Tomsk zoologist-acclimatizer Nikolai Feofanovich Kashchenko (and the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia, many of whom envisioned socialism as a time when humans would become "gods on earth") almost eighty years earlier, proclaimed the end of the wild. All species would come under the management and stewardship of humans. "But this is nothing to fear," Shvarts reassured Riabinin; nature in the future would be better suited to human aspirations and needs, at least according to Shvarts's material understanding of them.[59]

The nub of the matter was a conflict over values. Shvarts dismissed Riabinin's contention that industrialization and urbanization were leading to the "impoverishment of nature" as an emotional reaction not deserving serious consideration. The only relevant understanding of "impoverishment" was in its quantifiable, "professional sense," namely, a lowering of biological productivity. There was no room for aesthetic or emotional criteria. Riabinin stuck to his critique of the urban "rat race," which "cut the heart out of life," warning that "blind faith in science is one of the modern varieties of ignorance."[60] There were absolutely no grounds for technological optimism à la Shvarts; "no," Riabinin warned, "there must not and cannot be easy and quick solutions."[61] For his part, Shvarts declared the "alarmists'" slogan "Back to Nature" not only "reactionary" but also "antiscientific." "Man cannot return to the caves," he intoned.[62]

The Crisis of the Biocenosis

As late as 1967 the great population ecologist and geneticist Timofeev-Resovskii still endorsed the concept of the closed ecological community.[63]


In an article designed to support Soviet involvement in the International Biological Program (IBP), Timofeev-Resovskii stressed the functionalist definition of the biogeocenosis that, inspired by V. I. Vernadskii, he and Sukachëv each had been developing based on observed and measured patterns of closed cycling of nutrients and minerals within circumscribed units of territory. "The biogeocenosis," he stated without qualification,

is an objectively existing, logically explicable, and irreducible complex, holistic elementary structural unit of the biosphere, which exists in a long-term stasis that could conditionally be defined as a dynamic equilibrium. Biogeocenoses are the elementary building blocks of the biogeochemical activity of the biosphere. . . . Biogeocenology, which was born in the womb of biology, is not a [branch of] biological science, but an independent natural-historical discipline in the same sense that (and to an even greater degree than) Dokuchaev understood genetic soil science to be. The creation of biogeocenology by Sukachëv is one of the very greatest achievements of natural science of our era.[64]

More up-to-date than Sukachëv, Timofeev-Resovskii pinned his hopes on the application of mathematical models that, united with the power of computers and the information derived from natural historical observations (including the use of radioisotopes to trace trophic pathways, which he helped to pioneer in the USSR), would be able to simulate biocenotic systems and identify the conditions under which they were able to maintain "equilibrium." This was particularly important in the assessment of the actual and potential biological productivity of the earth's many biogeographical regions and zones, which was the claimed promise of the IBP.[65] Indeed, like his student Shvarts, Timofeev saw ecology's purchase in the development of its managerial-predictive possibilities, culminating in the eventual realization of Vernadskii's (and Gor'kii's and Stalin's) dream of a planet completely redesigned by human reason (noosphere).[66] Serving as the technical empowering agent of such a transformation would truly clinch for ecology/biocenology the title "queen of the sciences."[67]

Timofeev was a bridge figure in the sense that he was a bona fide field naturalist who also displayed emerging technocratic tendencies. His student, Shvarts, was already much more technocrat than naturalist, and those who came after—Iu. M. Svirezhev, D. O. Logofet, M. I. Budyko, Rem Grigor'evich Khlebopros, V. G. Nesterov, and others—were almost totally absorbed in the theoretical universe of mathematical models.[68]

Of course, ecology's entire past was a story of managerial claims and pretensions; only ecologists' expertise could identify "appropriate land use" or set target quotas for the extraction of living and renewable resources. What was new was a sense that the older, natural history or field research style of investigation was inadequate. Hence the emergence of a new gen-


eration of computer whiz kids and modelers, who would restore hope for ecology's technocratic agenda. As everywhere else, however, in the USSR the IBP failed to produce the magic formula for predicting and controlling the multifactoral, nonlinear web of nature. By the 1980s the closed, balanced "biocenosis" began to look less and less tenable.

This crisis of community ecology and of ecology generally was bound up with the crisis the nature protection movement faced in finding workable scientific rationales for the protection of the living world, particularly in light of biocenology's historic service as the scientific justification for the Soviet network of zapovedniki . Only in the late 1970s, however, was this linkage consciously addressed, as the crisis of ecological science intersected with a crisis of nature protection strategy in the USSR, especially regarding protected territories.

The Perils of the Etalon : A Little Reserve Raises Big Questions

One of the ironies of the history of Soviet nature reserves is that at its moment of resurrection, the ecological etalon concept fell into new contradictions. By the end of the 1960s, the ecological program for reserves had swept the field. In 1967, the Ministry of Agriculture finally banned acclimatization in its reserves and had even ceased its raids of Glavokhota zapovedniki . Yet, in addition to the serious practical problems of poaching, recreational abuse, and continuing harvesting of resources in the zapovedniki (particularly those of the Ministry of Agriculture), conceptual problems also remained.

Critics such as Ramenskii and Shvarts had pointed out ecologists' pervasive ignorance about the most basic problems of their science, beginning with the problem of determining the boundaries of putative integral, natural communities. However, a shift in thinking among ecologists could occur only with the ripening of a number of other developments in their intellectual and social environment. These included the rise of biosphere studies, the emergence of island biogeography theory, the increase of leisure time, a new attitude toward science, and the renewed legitimacy of aesthetic motives for nature protection. By the mid-1970s, leading conservation ecologists began their most daring intellectual journey, one that has not yet ended—the flight from the biocenosis. It led to a radical reconceptualization of the role and nature of protected territories, including zapovedniki .

In 1957 the Academy of Sciences' Presidium officially endorsed a plan for the broad expansion ofzapovedniki throughout the USSR. Developed by a special commission chaired by botanical ecologist Evgenii Mikhailovich Lavrenko,[69] who had been active in conservation biology beginning in the


1920s, the "Long-Range Plan for a Geographical Network of Zapovedniki in the USSR" sought to restore or create no fewer than eighty-one new reserves. To justify this ambitious plan three main rationales for zapovedniki were advanced:

1. The basic task of zapovedniki is the preservation of typical natural landscapes and their constituent elements both for scientific as well as general cultural aims. Zapovedniki must be the chief bases for stationary study of natural complexes and their dynamics over a span of many decades and, eventually, centuries . . . . The results of well designed scientific research in zapovedniki should, within just a few years, be able to provide highly valuable guidelines for the renewal of natural resources—the restoration of impaired forests and pasturages, of soil fertility, of populations of useful animals and plants.

2. . . . [T]he preservation of [genetic] populations of a large number of species of animals and plants. It is extremely difficult and often even impossible to preserve those species of plants and animals whose numbers are reduced to a few individuals. A good example of this is the European bison, restoration of whose population has proceeded extremely slowly owing to the small number of breeders. Moreover, it is additionally essential to be aware of genetic variability of populations of one and the same species of animal or plant . . . and for that reason we must protect the species in various parts of its overall range of distribution. [The commission here also argued for preservation of biodiversity on practical grounds, because species are ever-new sources of information and resources.]

3. Aside from their scientific importance, zapovedniki have enormous general cultural importance. In them not just one but many generations of people may acquaint themselves with age-old parcels of their native nature. Zapovedniki must serve as bases for popular tourism.[70]

Although Lavrenko and his colleagues strategically highlighted tourism and mentioned the practical uses of preserving species diversity, the heart of Lavrenko's project was identifying allegedly pristine, representative tracts that could serve as baselines of healthy nature. Increasingly, however, the etalon concept began to founder on its own theoretical and practical shortcomings. First, ecology continued to lack a general agreement on the definition of the biocenosis (or biogeocenosis, since 1944). Second, none of the numerous competing ecological approaches could satisfactorily resolve nagging problems that were undermining the etalon idea. One was that of the so-called downstream effect. Even if one accepted the possibility of encompassing a discrete biocenosis in a nature reserve, there was still no way to isolate such an area from potent, ambient in-migrating factors, such as air- and water-borne pollutants, feral dog packs, fertilizer runoff, and water table drops owing to regional drainage.


The most visible examples of zapovednik victims of downstream effect were the Berezina (in Belorussia),[71] the Astrakhan' reserve (in the Volga delta), and the Khopër (in the Black Earth region). Irrigation water taken from the Khopër river together with regional drainage had dried up the pools in the reserve's flood plain, changing its natural character. The most dramatic effect was the further decline of the vykhukhol' (desman, or aquatic mole) in one of its last habitats on earth.[72] Another small reserve with a big problem was the Central Black Earth zapovednik , which was admittedly too small (4,500 hectares) to be a self-regulating system in any meaningful sense.

Not two years after his plan for a renewed reserve system had been endorsed by the Academy leadership, Evgenii Mikhailovich Lavrenko received a note from L. K. Shaposhnikov, asking him to approve and, if possible, sign on to an extensive set of recommendations for the management of the Central Black Earth reserve prepared by veteran botanical ecologists Genrietta Ivanovna Dokhman and Larisa Vasil'evna Shvergunova.[73] The management plan was a cry for help on the part of the reserve's director, I. N. Iaitskii, and deputy director for research, geobotanist V. N. Golubëv, who wrote to Shaposhnikov that only the authority of the Academy could halt the Kursk oblispolkom's sponsorship of excessive hay-mowing on the territory of the zapovednik .[74]

The report began with the initial proposition that the aim of the reserve was to "preserve the natural components characteristic for the central part of the European forest-steppe," including broadleaf forests and meadowlands drying into steppe. However, this undertaking was complicated because the land had at one time or another been subject to intensive human use. Forests were cut and fields were mowed, used as pasture, and even turned over for cropping.

Complicating the issue further, scientists were divided over the very nature of the "primeval" natural condition of the area today identified as forest-steppe. Was today's forest-steppe a consequence of human occupation? Which vegetational components of the contemporary landscape, if any, represented the "primeval" plant community? Such confusion over the baseline conditions of the region implied an equal confusion regarding the management of the reserve lands. If the current biota were in fact the result of human activities and if managers sought to reverse this "impairment of the natural components" of the reserve, then those findings mandated active intervention to restore the natural state and eliminate the consequences of previous human activity.[75] But what, then, would become of the idea of the zapovednik as an existing baseline of pristine nature? And could other zapovedniki have the same problem?

One component of the dispute was the presence of simple, one-storeyed


oak groves, which some botanists (V. V. Alëkhin, N. A. Prozorovskii) considered to be of recent vintage. Local botanist G. M. Zozulin, however, disputed that finding, asserting that they were the depauperate remains of complex forests that had been destroyed by human settlement.[76] The reserve officials also agonized over what to do with American maple trees planted when reserves were under greater pressure to acclimatize exotics and over whether to continue with sanitary clearing, pest-control measures, and the collection of windfall.

As for vegetation that the botanists grouped under the general term "meadow-steppe" (lugovaia step '), there was an equally sharp dispute among the experts concerning what here was "original" or "natural." Some scientists (again including Alëkhin and Prozorovskii, together with Dokhman) held that the reserve represented a northern type of steppe that had nothing in common with a true meadow. Others (including B. A. Keller) described the vegetation as that of meadow-steppe, a transitional form from meadow to steppe. A third camp, which included Zozulin, M. S. Shalyt, A. P. Shennikov, and Lavrenko himself in his last works, viewed the vegetation as true meadow but with an incursion of steppe vegetation.[77]

Complicating the picture further was the hypothesis that this meadow-steppe seemed to have its origins in centuries-long hay-mowing and pasturing of livestock, which led to an increasingly xerophytic vegetation. "In this sense, the pristine steppe that survived up to the time of its protection as a zapovednik may only conditionally be termed a natural vegetation of the central portion of the forest-steppe zone," they wrote.[78] If that were the case, the consequences of a hands-off management regime would be startling and perhaps aesthetically and scientifically disquieting. With the end of hay-mowing the profile of the vegetation would change. A large number of steppe-based species would disappear, and vegetation would become overgrown and characteristic of meadows. If preserving the existing vegetational mix was the goal, asserted Golubëv and Iaitskii, then either large herds of ungulate browsers needed to be introduced or the grass had to be mown. Understandably, recognizing all of the scientific uncertainties even of their own positions, the authors of the plan sought to hedge their bets and recommended retaining a number of unmowed tracts as a permanent experiment.[79]

Whereas in 1959 this conundrum was the subject of discussion in discreetly transmitted memoranda and among a small circle of botanists, the problem of the etalon became a very public question for the nature protection community by the early 1980s.

When Aleksei Mikhailovich Krasnitskii, the Central Black Earth reserve's thoughtful late director, first assumed his duties in the late 1960s he believed generally that zapovedniki should only incorporate "self-regulating systems." Ruminating about the problem, he posed the key question, first in a


series of articles and then, in 1983, in a major monograph: "Even were a steppe zapovednik to exist of a dimension one hundred, or even one thousand times as large as the Kursk reserve, what sort of a 'model of nature' would it be?"[80] Since the steppe could easily have been created as a consequence of human economic activity (intensive grazing of livestock), attempting to restore the steppe in the tiny zapovednik would ironically amount to the reconstruction, not of a natural etalon , but of a previous anthropogenetic or human-caused condition.[81] Reacting to this conundrum, Krasnitskii finally tackled the fetish of trying to preserve "pristine" nature head on: "the desire that vegetation in the zapovednik have a preagricultural character seems antidialectical," he pronounced. It was an act of intellectual courage.

Instead, Krasnitskii proposed that ecological communities in zapovedniki must meet at least two criteria: to be self-regulating communities, and to be maximally insulated from intrusive human factors in the present. With these conditions met, the natural biota would be able to develop spontaneously and the informational value of the system would be saved, he argued. There was no need to make an insupportable fetish of "primeval" prehuman nature.[82] Here, for the first time, was a willingness to accord semi-natural, human-transformed systems the same protection—as "communities" and even etalonythat "pristine" biocenoses had enjoyed. This decision opened up a new range of second-growth areas as candidates for status as protected territories—a virtue born of necessity.[83]

Finally, Krasnitskii grappled with the issue of identifying adequate boundaries for the ecological community that the zapovednik allegedly encompassed.

Although Krasnitskii began his book with a declaration of faith that "the zapovednik is a baseline of nature," thirty pages later he would feel constrained to admit that "anthropogenetic transformations of the environment of our entire planet have attained such dimensions that there hardly remain any biogeocenoses on earth that to one or another degree have not been affected by human activity."[84] Of course, there were vast differences of degree, he noted, proposing a set of "indirect, theoretical criteria for the identification of 'healthy' biogeocenoses," even if they were not "pristine."[85] Taking his scientific cue from Shvarts,[86] Krasnitskii held that such a "healthy" system

1. would not have a great preponderance of phytobiomass over faunal biomass;

2. would have a high level of biomass production and high productivity, with productivity maximally directed toward the increase of biomass;

3. would have a high level of stability, both of the biogeocenosis and of its dominant species, for a broad range of external conditions;


4. should guarantee, through the dynamic equilibrium of the biogeocenosis, homeostasis for the nonliving components of the biogeocenosis: the hydrological regime and the composition of atmospheric gases on its territory;

5. would have a rapid exchange of matter and energy;

6. would have the ability to quickly transform the structure of its community and of its dominant species' populations, and thus to evolve quickly.

For Krasnitskii it did not matter whether the system was located in the distant, uninhabited countryside or in an urban setting. Nevertheless, not even Krasnitskii could part with the dualistic framework of "self-regulating" and "truncated" nature; those areas that would qualify for zapovedniki , he repeated, should be those "maximally defended from the influence of human activity" as well as those that in a meaningful sense were "self-regulating."[87]

That view, however, still left open the question of how to determine and certify the presence (or, indeed, existence) of those factors and natural communities. Krasnitskii, attempting to address the linked problem of setting actual boundaries for reserves, saw island biogeography theory as inadequate but flailed around trying to find a suitable alternative.[88] It was obvious that biocenology and the "zapovednik cause" (zapovednoe delo ) were as much theological as scientific issues.

Where to Draw the Line? The Boundary Problem of the Biocenosis

By the early 1980s even diehard defenders of the biocenosis had to acknowledge a crisis in the practical application of their concept to the setting of boundaries for zapovedniki . Little scientific progress had been made since the 1920s. The director of planning of new zapovedniki of Glavokhota RSFSR's Central Laboratory for Game Management and Zapovedniki , Kirill Dmitrievich Zykov, together with coauthor L. D. Alekseeva, explicitly admitted that "up to the present time there has been no theory that could provide either the geographical or the ecological normative bases or practical direction for establishing the area of zapovedniki ."[89] Iu. D. Nukhimovskaia of Glavokhota RSFSR, admitting that many existing zapovedniki were non-self-regulating, unstable and unrepresentative, proposed a return to a floristic approach; viable zapovedniki would include more than 75 percent of the significant species for a given biogeographical zone.[90] Citing her colleague Feliks Robertovich Shtil'mark's estimates, she noted that this approach meant that the minimal area for Arctic zone zapovedniki would be one million hectares; those for eastern and western Siberia, 500,000; for the


alpine Far East, 300,000; for the Urals, 200,000; for northern European Russia, the southern Urals, and the alpine Caucasus, 100,000; for central European Russia, 50,000; and for the forest-steppe, steppe, and delta zones, 20,000 hectares.[91]

Konstantin Pavlovich Filonov took a more functionalist approach, arguing that the minimal area should assure the "normal functioning" of the biocenosis, but that response begged the question of how to know when an ecological community was "normally functioning." Filonov did take into account the complication of migratory species, arguing that any reserve system needed to protect all essential migratory points and pathways. But he maintained that the outer boundary of the reserve should be set by the range of the most dispersed of the ecological community's members, usually the largest mammals and birds. Examples that proved his point were the Caucasus zapovednik , which was not large enough to support its population of brown bears, and the Sikhote-Alinskii zapovednik , which was not large enough to prevent the gradual extinction of the Siberian tiger.[92]

What kind of etalony , then, were the 145 zapovedniki of the USSR (in 1983)? Exceptional for his honesty, A. A. Nasimovich admitted that the boundaries for zapovedniki had always been set by trial and error. Indeed, ventured Nasimovich, if Sukachëv were alive today (that is, 1980) he would admit that "pure" etalony or biocenoses could not exist in today's biosphere.[93] Scientifically, the etalon had no clothes.

The Legacy of Vernadskii

If the concept of biocenoses, those "basic building blocks of the biosphere," was in crisis, the scientific star of the biosphere itself was only rising. From the 1960s on, a new sensitivity to global ecological problems gave wide currency to the ideas of Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadskii, who had pointed to the biosphere as a single system as early as the second and third decades of this century.[94] This trend led to new priorities for conservation. Because, in the words of the late Nikolai Fëdorovich Reimers, one of the most influential of the new ecological-conservation theorists, "one can benefit through reshaping nature in some region [of the biosphere] only by losing in another area,"[95] it was no longer adequate to plan land-use policies on the level of the local biocenosis; a nationwide, even global, perspective was required.

Also on Reimers's mind were questions about how nature works. A creative yet sensible thinker, Reimers found himself increasingly disturbed by the claims made by S. S. Shvarts and partisans of his school about the predictive and technological potency of mathematical ecology. In a series of popularized pamphlets for the Znanie (Knowledge) Society, he began to express serious doubts about ecological engineering. Why, he asked, have


environmental disasters occurred? Sometimes, he responded, we are unable to come to grips with the facts at our disposal; sometimes we are not in possession of the facts; sometimes unforeseen circumstances occur; and sometimes circumstances occur that are unpredictable in principle.[96] Given such epistemological limitations, he characterized the recent "fashionable 'prognosis' for the transformation of the biosphere into the technosphere" as folly, a revolutionary conclusion for a Soviet scholar. From an informational standpoint, description of some natural phenomena—let alone their simulation—is impossible. The genetic combinations within one single species, Reimers noted as an example, can range from 1050 to 101000 variations.[97] These warnings, plus the wide publicity given to the Meadows (The Limits to Growth ) and, later, Mesarovich forecasts for the Club of Rome, encouraged conservationists to think on a global scale from the mid-1970s.

Another new ingredient in zapovednik affairs had to do with the rise of island biogeography, a branch of ecology. Pioneered by Robert MacArthur and then adapted to conservation problems by Jared Diamond, Michael E. Soulé, and Bruce A. Wilcox, the field focuses not on the dynamics of a putative closed ecological community, but rather on the study of those conditions that affect the viability of populations of individual species living in a particular area, considered as an "island." (Originally, real islands were studied.) For those who were prepared to abandon the concept of a closed ecological community, here seemingly was an empirically oriented conservation program that studied identifiable entities (populations) and whose success could be measured.

Using Jared Diamond's ideas of island biogeography, a group of Belorussian ecologists recommended a "joining up of all the conservation districts having a sufficiently large total area into a single, spatially continuous system preserving the entire diversity of species, populations, and groups" as the most effective way of "controlling balanced development of a natural-anthropogenic complex." Such a complex would also include disturbed lands, since the object was the protection of biodiversity and not the fetishizing of "pristine" nature.[98] One of the most important figures in introducing this perspective in the Soviet Union was Aleksei Vladimirovich Iablokov, who edited the Russian edition of Soulé and Wilcox's Conservation Biology and who helped to gain the backing of the influential Journal of General Biology (Zhurnal obshchei biologii ) for that approach.

Sociodemographics also played a role in this story. By the mid-1970s, the highly urbanized population of the USSR was taking to the backroads in increasing numbers in search of scenery and serenity. Whereas the prewar emphasis was on rest homes and sanatoria, modern Soviet vacationers sought more active recreational pursuits.[99] Tourists streamed to zapovedniki to see what had frequently been publicized as the "Soviet Yellowstones," and recreational geography became institutionalized.[100]


By the late 1960s the official regime spokesperson for nature protection, Andrei Grigor'evich Bannikov, had broached the issue in a piece in Priroda entitled "From Zapovednik to Nature Park," in which he noted that the demand for recreation in nature warranted a system of nature parks alongside the inviolable zapovedniki , which should remain largely off-limits to tourists.[101] At first, the most committed supporters of nature protection were at most wanly enthusiastic. Some even saw swarms of tourists as human locusts, little less destructive than acclimatizers, flocks of sheep, and belching refineries. However, the Soviet tourist was a potentially powerful ally in the fight to save natural amenities. A new type of protected territory, the national park, could be a boon in the fight to save elements of natural diversity in the USSR.[102]

Along with Bannikov's call for national parks and Krasnitskii's monograph, there appeared a widely discussed book by Reimers and Feliks Robertovich Shtil'mark, Protected Natural Territories , published in 1978. Reimers was a biologist affiliated with the Central Mathematical-Economics Institute who had earlier studied the relationship between forest types (by age and species composition) and the population of game animals they could support, while Shtil'mark (see figure 27), trained as a game management specialist, had long worked for the Russian Republic's Glavokhota as one of its key planners of new zapovedniki . The salient points, representing more Reimers' global-oriented rethinking than Shtil'mark's sacral view of protected territories, were:

1. The system of protected territories needed to be redefined as an integral, distinct branch of the economy—its stabilizing sector, enabling the rest of the economy to function. Popular perceptions of these territories as unproductive lands, reflected in their zoning status as "nonagricultural lands," needed to be revised. Instead, the USSR should follow the lead of the Kyrgyz SSR, which had established a republican State Land Fund as a special permanent category of land.

2. Principles of siting and determining areas of zapovedniki should be revised. Rather than selecting zapovedniki according to the old formula of one per biogeographical unit (the etalon principle), planners should create zapovedniki to provide enough healthy nature in the proper areas so as to ensure no breakdown of the socioecological equilibrium.

3. The socioecological equilibrium, defined as the balance between economic activity and the carrying capacity of the environment that permits a maximum level of production to be sustained, was to be assessed from a broad, nationwide if not global perspective.

4. To accommodate the various needs and levels of conservation,


Figure 27.
Feliks Robertovich Shtil'mark (1931– ).

from the protection of rare species to recreation, a new, efficient multifunctional system of protected territories was needed. While appropriate minimum areas of individual reserves dedicated to preserving particular species complexes could be determined with the aid of island biogeography theory, for example, other types of protected territories might have more flexible requirements.[103] These could be regulated so that all of the different protected territories taken together would then be integrated into an overall system of providing for the maintenance of the socioecological equilibrium.[104]

Addressing the constituency of Soviet tourists, Reimers and Shtil'mark warmly greeted the new national park movement, though they emphasized that natsional'nye parki should not be established at the expense of or through the conversion of zapovedniki .

In 1979, shortly after the appearance of their book, Reimers and Shtil'mark wrote a popular piece for Priroda i chelovek (Man and Nature). Although it was titled "Etalony prirody" (Models of Nature) it mentioned little about representative biocenoses. If the old–line biocenology was out of the picture, two themes were salient: diversity and aesthetics. Arguments for diversity were reflected in the protest literature of the "Village Prose School," and especially by the bards of distinctive Siberia and the Far North


(V. Rasputin, V. Astaf'ev, A. V. Skalon, and Shtil'mark himself). And although Shtil'mark and Reimers continued to make scientific arguments for preserving diversity (especially genetic diversity), they struck out on an unabashed, purely literary, nonscientific defense of aesthetic values and diversity (more Shtil'mark than Reimers). In their joint article Shtil'mark resurrected an arresting quotation from the early Russian botanist and conservation leader Valerian Ivanovich Taliev:

The virgin forest and the unplowed virgin steppe attract the contemporary mature individual not only with the prospect of clean air, wide open spaces, and freedom from the confines of everyday life. They are also sources of experiences of a higher order. They speak to us! . . . [N]ature is not only something outside of us, but it forms together with us an integral whole; we ourselves are only a small unit within the one great organism of nature. To learn how to penetrate to this unity, to feel around oneself the beating of the unbroken pulse of life, means to create a positive foundation for spiritual development, to incorporate into the developing soul a powerful counterweight to the narrow practical "I," and to develop the ability to perceive the world in an artistic and aesthetic way.[105]

Such ideas could not have found an outlet in the days when ecology was dominated by Prezent, and would have been denounced as "idealism" as late as the mid-1960s. Aesthetic argumentation had finally come out of hiding in the USSR.

Enter the Philosophers (and Others): "Environmentalism" as Self-Promotion

Nowhere is the renewed legitimacy of aesthetic rationales for conservation clearer than in the article "The Philosophical Bases of Contemporary Ecology," by the influential philosophers Ivan Timofeevich Frolov, a key Gorbachëv adviser and recent editor of the Party's ideological journal Kommunist and later Pravda , and Viktor Aleksandrovich Los', of the Soviet Academy of Sciences' Institute of Philosophy.[106]

The aesthetic attraction of nature, asserted the authors, increases in importance as society becomes more and more urbanized. Indeed, they explained, "it would be a mistake to conceive of the biosphere merely as a source of resources or a 'disposer' of wastes."[107] Equally important was the need to reintegrate both aesthetics and values into our way of relating to the world and into our science. Did not Einstein, Bohr, and Heisenberg (no soft humanists or biologists, they, but physicists!) invoke aesthetic criteria in their search for the "best" scientific explanation?[108] Frolov and Los' took pains to debunk a number of "myths" about the society-nature relationship. The first was the myth of the inexhaustibility of nature and nature's capacity to assimilate wastes. Previously, Soviet philosophical writing had stressed (as had


Shvarts) the notion that resources were socially defined and not fixed entities, and that surrogates could be found both for resources and natural processes. The position of Frolov and Los' constituted a reversal of decades of voluntarist thinking.

The second myth they exploded was that of the desirability, or even the possibility, of "man's 'domination' over nature":

Under the influence of the crisis nature of the developing socioecological situation, man is gradually moving away from the illusion of anthropocentrism and rejecting the traditional hegemonistic relationship to nature. His thinking has ceased to limit itself to notions centering around needs and designs of him and him alone. His activity is acquiring an ever-broader biosphere orientation, and his thinking is drawn to "biocentrism." . . . Biospherocentrism assumes an orientation of human activity and thinking in directions that consider human interests both as subject and as object, as man and nature.[109]

Intriguingly, they recommended a return to Marx's original monistic notion—subsequently elaborated by the great biogeochemist V. I. Vernadskii—that human beings and the environment are parts of a dialectically interactive whole. We act on nature as both subject and object; when we alter our environment, we often create dislocation and dangers for ourselves.[110] This point is crucial because we know that in the Soviet past, owing to a constrictingly narrow definition of the human being, not merely aesthetic but other psychological and, indeed, biological dimensions were disregarded in setting social and economic policies.

Despite their undeniably constructive services of opening up what it was possible to discuss in print and in public, the philosophers (and, we might add, the economists, jurists, systems analysts, human geographers, environmental psychologists, and others) represented a distinct new subgroup within the "environmentalist community" whose impact ultimately must be reckoned in felled trees. Environmentalism comes in a variety of flavors, and for these philosophers and social scientists, it could best be described as a double scoop: professional advancement and maintaining the appearance (not least for themselves) of engagement in relevant, "clean" work. This was particularly poignant given social science's tawdry reputation as the propagandist of Stalinist and post-Stalinist repression.

Joan DeBardeleben has provided a useful portrait of the evolution of those debates.[111] But perhaps more to the point were the innumerable trips to IIASA in Laxenberg-Vienna and the Wenner-Gren Center in Stockholm, the countless conferences and roundtables, and the numberless anthologies whose titles were variations on Nature, Environment, and Society.[112] Especially from the mid-1970s on, there was a torrent of materials from this group touting the promise of the "scientific-technological revolution," systems analysis, and their combined capacity to fix environmental problems.[113]


The major issue was which of the disciplines would provide the conceptual framework for environmental discourse and research.[114] I. P. Gerasimov claimed that role for geography, but this did not go uncontested. The economist P. G. Oldak promoted what he called a "bioeconomics," while Ivan Timofeevich Frolov, editor of Voprosy filosofii , together with E. V. Girusov, V. A. Los', and others tried to assert a leading role for philosophy. Championing environmental law were O. S. Kolbasov and V. V. Petrov. Many claimed to follow in the footsteps of Iurii Nikolaevich Kurazhkovskii, who in the late 1950s had advanced the new disciplinary rubric of prirodopol'zovanie , or the science of proper land and resource use. Of these, perhaps the most radical was Oldak, who argued that the ultimate criterion of a socioeconomic order's success must be well-being and not the creation of material goods.[115]

One of the most interesting of DeBardeleben's conclusions was that the official "Marxian" categories of analysis and rhetoric precluded any truly critical analysis of the real socioeconomic system in which these social scientists lived. Because, by definition, the Soviet Union was a "socialist" society, observed negative phenomena, by definition, either did not really exist or else represented an aberration. Therefore, researchers could not "expose the structural or socioeconomic causes which lead enterprises and ministry officials to externalize environmental costs."[116] In other words, social scientists could not engage in Marxist analysis of the political economy of their own society.

Occasional insights and the (timid) questioning of the developmental strategies of the regime aside, these economists, philosophers, jurists, and other social scientists must be viewed chiefly as a component of the regime's propaganda apparatus. From Stockholm (1972) to Rio de Janeiro (1992), Soviet rhetoricians made the circuit from UNEP conferences to UNESCO symposia and then off to annual meetings of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Nor was the USSR reticent to host such events.[117]

Thus, even as global awareness helped to precipitate a doctrinal crisis for the scientific intelligentsia in its focus on biocenoses and zapovedniki , it generated a new scientific justification (island biogeography) for those institutions. It also spawned a new stratum of academics whose social role was to make environmentalism safe for the Soviet regime. For these new men of environmentalism who helped to constitute the public and international face of Soviet concern for the environment, nature protection-as-rhetoric led to picaresque new careers. The Soviet case demonstrates that the social meanings of "environmentalism" are highly variable social constructs, even in the same society. Similar-sounding discourses employing some of the same terms and ostensible referents can have entirely opposite political goals and effects.


previous chapter
Chapter Seventeen— Science Doesn't Stand Still
next chapter