Stories of conflicts of interests of indigenous peoples with the ambitions and actions of environmental organizations or industrial companies have become quite common in many countries of the world. At the same time, conflict situations involving ecologists from the World Wildlife Fund often receive the greatest resonance among representatives of the indigenous peoples of the North, as they directly affect their rights and negatively affect the opportunities for leading a traditional lifestyle.
As an illustrative example, we can recall the case of the spring of 2022, when WWF employees actively tried to create a 12-mile buffer zone in the Chukchi Sea adjacent to the Beringia National Park. Then the indigenous communities of the region, as well as the district administrations actively opposed such initiatives that directly threaten their interests. Thanks to the media and social networks, the situation caused a great resonance far beyond the borders of Chukotka, including in the central regions of Russia, and also interested representatives of the international environmental community.
As it turned out, these actions of representatives of the Russian office of the World Fund were at odds not only with the opinion of local residents, but also with their colleagues from the Norwegian branch of this international environmental organization. According to Melanie Lancaster, senior specialist of WWF Norway’s Arctic program, such actions by environmentalists create negative consequences for the public’s perception of the importance of environmental protection and harm the reputation of the World Wildlife Fund. “Carrying out such works and environmental justification for the restrictions of the nature management regime in sensitive areas of the Arctic should be carried out only in consultation with representatives of the indigenous population of these territories. Attempts to create a buffer zone, despite the stated good goals, have caused significant reputational damage to WWF in the world and Russia in particular,” Melanie Lancaster said.
The fact that the Russian office of the World Fund, in its official statement, outlined important goals of its work and expressed bewilderment at the lack of awareness of the regional authorities about its plans, diminished confidence in the activities of environmentalists. Residents of the region are still outraged by WWF’s intentions to interfere in their traditional economic activities, which have always been conducted in the areas of their ancestral residence. “The indigenous peoples of Chukotka have always been attentive to the problems of environmental conservation, including for these reasons, there is no environmentally harmful production in our region. In this regard, it is completely incomprehensible to us why the World Fund is looking for problems here that have never happened,” said Svetlana Vozhikova, Deputy president of the public organization of Aleuts “Ansarko”.
At the same time, not far away, on the American coast of Alaska, local residents are sounding the alarm about the influx of a large amount of marine debris, which affects, including objects of the animal world. Representatives of the Alaska native population and volunteers are trying to activate the work of the United States authorities, the Coast Guard and regional environmental organizations to solve the problems of the garbage crisis. Currently, people are looking for opportunities to prevent non-recycled waste from entering local waters. The main source of pollution is industrial enterprises, active maritime navigation and an outdated fishing fleet. Perhaps the help of WWF employees in solving such issues may just be useful in the West, but at the same time, in the Russian sector of the Arctic, the work of the World Fund in most cases causes only controversy.