Concern over the effects of human activity in the Arctic recently brought together representatives of the Arctic Council, including the United States and Russia. In mid-May, the Council met in Greenland to discuss, among other things, the implications of global warming and the melting of Arctic ice.
The same topic came up two weeks later, when U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev met on the sidelines of the G-8 meeting in Deauville, France. Among other topics, they discussed the two countries' collaboration in and around the Bering Strait, an area known as Beringia. Beringia is bounded on the west by the Lena River in Russia; on the east by the Mackenzie River in Canada's British Columbia; on the north by 72 degrees north latitude in the Chukchi Sea; and on the south by the tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula.
The United States and Russia began collaboration on Beringia in 1991 when Presidents George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to expand cooperation in the field of environmental protection, and in the study of global change.
Noting that the natural and cultural resources of Beringia are of international significance and present tangible proof that the North American and Asian continents were once connected by a vast land bridge, they created the Shared Beringian Heritage Program.
Twenty years later, Russia has begun planning to designate a 1.8 million hectare Russian National Park in Chukotka. This designation would open the door to discussions between the United States and Russia to establish an international protected area on both sides of the Bering Strait.
Presidents Obama and Medvedev recognize the unique Arctic ecosystems of Beringia, as well as the region's economic, cultural and natural importance to both countries.
And so, during their informal meeting in Deauville, the two leaders declared their intention to deepen cooperation between the United States and Russia and in the Bering Strait. They agreed to deepen cooperation between national authorities responsible for Beringia, to promote dialogue among indigenous peoples on both sides, and to identify specific problems and methods of cooperation.
Beringia is a region of common heritage between the Chukotka Peninsula and western Alaska. The effort to protect this area will come from both sides of the Bering Strait.