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October, 14, 2017

“I have counted Far Eastern red deer and met a bear”: everyday life of the masters of taiga

A modest professional holiday of the workers of national reserves has been celebrated in Russia since 1999: October 14 was declared the Day of Reserved Forests. Our talk is timed to this day; we decided to discuss everyday work of people living away from civilization with a person standing on the guard of the protected taiga every day.

Mikhail Strelkov, the senior state inspector in the field of environmental protection came into touch with “Key to Baikal” directly from the depths of the Maritui Forestry. Maritui Forestry is a section of taiga in the south of Baikal with an area of ​​34 415 hectares, stretching along the coastline from Kultuk towards Listvyanka. This is the territory of the Baikal National Park - a specially protected natural territory; staying on it is possible only after the permission of its administration.

Key to Baikal: Mikhail Vasilievich, how can you describe your forestry?

Mikhail Strelkov: Maritui Forestry begins from Kultuk. At first, a birch grove goes in a narrow strip along the lake, then, after the tunnel in the rock, it goes deep into the taiga; then dwarf pines, berry acreages, pines and larches begin to appear. We have food for bears, squirrels, chipmunks. There are a lot of animals: moose, Far Eastern red deer, roe deer, wild boar, musk deer, sable, lynx. Wolves come in sometimes - we try to fight against these animals. There are also wood grouse and hazel grouse.

Key to Baikal: Excuse me for an indelicate question: how old are you and for how many years have you been working with the Maritui Forestry?

Mikhail Strelkov: I’m 56 years old, and I have worked in Kultuk for twenty-two years.

Key to Baikal: Did not you want to become a forester in your childhood? Please tell us where you were born and how you came to live on the coast of Lake Baikal.

Mikhail Strelkov: I was born in the Tunkinskaya valley, on the bank of Irkut, in a small settlement for four houses - it was called “Moigokot”. My father worked in the “Skotoimport” company – drove the herds of sheep, goats, bulls, sarlik (the Russian name of the yak derived from the Tibetan “yak male”, a mammal from the genus of true cattle) from Mongolia. The family was large, there were five children, and there was no school, so soon we moved to Karen, in the same valley, but the village was bigger. When I was in the third grade, my father went to work as a forester. And I spent all my childhood with my father in the woods, I have been riding horses since I was five, planted quicksets in the nursery, then went out with foresters and planted poplars and pine trees in the forest. After school I worked in the forestry, then served in the army, the forestry gave me an assignment to Krasnoyarsk, I graduated from the Siberian Technological Institute, went back to the Tunkinsky Forestry. But there were no working places, so I moved to Kultuk and worked with the Baikal National Park all my life.

Key to Baikal: Can you recall a case from your childhood related to the taiga?

Mikhail Strelkov: I studied in the tenth grade when we came to spend a night in the forest with foresters. It happened so that our horses left down the path from the camp. I was sent to look for them, as the youngest one. My father either decided to double-check, or had some kind of foreboding, so he followed me. I went without noticing anything, and the bear sneaked up after me at a fifty meters distance:  looking me in the back, hiding behind bushes, stopping, watching. And then the animal began to reduce the distance, coming closer, so my father following the path saw the beast. I did not understand anything: my father screamed in a terrible way, and the bear headed to the forest. I turned around and saw only a shadow. If my father did not follow me, it’s hard to say what it would end in. However, bear would not necessarily have attacked me: bears are very curious, they may just have a look and leave.

Key to Baikal: It is difficult for a city person to imagine what a forester’s job is, it seems that they walk around the taiga with a gun all day long. Please describe your working day.

Mikhail Strelkov: In the morning we have a briefing in our office. I have 15 forest rangers, some of them work on the Circum-Baikal railway, on Andriyanovskaya, on the periphery, so they come to the briefing only on Mondays and receive tasks for a week. The rest of the time they get the tasks on the phone - thanks to mobile communications. The forest rangers in Kultuk and Slyudyanka are engaged in planned work - forestry and biotechnical activities, recreation, work with tourists. We spend a lot of time on repairing machinery: tractors, quad bikes, snowmobiles, and our four motor boats.

Key to Baikal: Please tell us, what kind of work do you have in the taiga right now? Are there any seasonal works?

Mikhail Strelkov: Well, for example, now we are recording Far Eastern red deer during the bell period. We go out to count them in the evening: males start belling at six o’clock, uttering a kind of a piercing howl, I do not even know how to properly describe it. In the evening they can bell a couple of times and shut up. But when the harem gathers, when everything is serious, a rut of stags begins - they are belling all night. We think that when they howl from different directions, they are heard very well – one deer bells on the right, the other answers from far behind the mountain, then they come closer:  they’ve shouted something to each other and ran to meet each other halfway. Once again they belled already next to each other, then all we hear is silence: apparently, they knocked each other with their horns and ran away. 

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We count an average of a hundred or a little more Far Eastern red deer in our forestry. We also count roe deer, elk, bears - this year we saw twelve of them, and capercaillie during courtship: there are about three hundred of these birds.

Mikhail Strelkov, the senior state inspector in the field of environmental protection

Key to Baikal: The year is coming to its end, the fire season is over. What was the situation with fires this year?

Mikhail Strelkov: This year was quiet, we worked at home, in our forestry. There were fires in neighboring districts - I flew to help in extinguishing fires twice: in Kachug, in the Baikal-Lena Reserve, our team worked for two weeks. I work as a team leader on large forest fires, together with forest protection. There was a fire in our forest in April: we have extinguished it in three days, we have this thing very serious, we are not given any more time, so we have to stay within these limits. We extinguish fires all together: help comes from all sides, the air base helps, the neighbors came from the Baikal Reserve, 37 people participated in extinguishing, we even called the Be-200 aircraft.

Key to Baikal: Taiga and its animals always attract hunters, romantics loving to sit by the fire and fans of shooting. Do poachers bother you?

Mikhail Strelkov: When I first came to work, poaching was everywhere. Then they used the meanest method - they shot animals from Baikal. The more there is snow in the winter forest, the more often the red deer and goat go ashore, to the slopes of the mountains. Snow up to human waist covers the taiga, while the wind sweeps it away on the slopes, the grass is on the surface there. The animals go to feed. Hunters drove up on the ice and blinded them with headlights. A hunter can clearly see the animals - their eyes glow like light bulbs reflecting the headlights. They get fooled by the light and cannot move: you can shoot them like in a shooting gallery. The animals were slipping from the mountains; sometimes they were so broken up that they were not even taken. Now we have fought it all, there is no such thing now. It happens that people try to come in from Irkutsk and Shelekhov, but all roads are under supervision, there are camera traps. So I can confidently assure you that there is no longer any systematic poaching in the reserves of the Baikal region.

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