Feature: One of the Soviet era's most enduring legacies is ecological: a system of strict nature reserves

NEW HAVEN — Atop a granite cliff in Siberia this past winter, I stood gazing at what became, 100 years ago, the first in the world’s largest system of most protected nature reserves. To my west glistened mile-deep Lake Baikal. To the east rose snowy mountains, including one that reminded me of sharp-cut Half Dome, an icon of America’s Yosemite National Park. I was looking across Barguzinsky Zapovednik, a conservation area protecting more than 600,000 acres so free from human impact that visitors may not enter.

Barguzinsky began a chain of 103 zapovedniks, or nature reserves, that protect 68 million acres of Russia. Most zapovedniks date from the Soviet era and provide the world’s highest level of protection to the most land within any nation, under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s designation of “strict nature reserves.”

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