Understanding the New Fire: Lake Baikal, NE Siberia and Heart of Eurasia in Focus


Understanding the New Fire project, a joint action by Snowchange and Montpelier and Hampshire Foundations, attempted to summarize the moment in time regarding the proliferating fires of Siberia, understand them from a scientific and Indigenous viewpoint and offer solutions.

However, the devastation of the War of 2022 enabled only a part of the field mission to be completed. Nevertheless, all teams have worked tirelessly to release these three work reports and a documentary film to bring messages from the region forwards.

baikal1In Autumn 2021 a message was emerging clearly – the forest fires especially in the Lake Baikal area in Central Siberia and the never-before-seen tundra fires of Northeastern Siberia were a serious climate, environmental and social issue.

Snowchange and Montpelier and Hampshire Foundations embarked on a large mission across the region to document the key messages, quantify and assess the “new fires” from both scientific and Indigenous and traditional knowledge viewpoint and lastly – seek solutions.

Now, the findings can be released. Three work reports and a film summarize the work.

A documentary film, “Heart of Eurasia on Fire” captures participatory and professional footage from the region of Lake Baikal, from remote communities and food security issues in visual form. Hannibal Rhoades and Tero Mustonen directed and produced the film with original score from the acclaimed artist Thomas Miller in the US.

Biocultural assessment of the BNT – Baikal Natural Territory (BNT) reflects on the lake and its surroundings in the context of ecological, climate and cultural change in an era of run-away fires.

Natural Fire Regime produces the exact greenhouse gas exchange on a natural boreal IMG_4382forest fire site, reviews the biodiversity impact, and compares the natural fire regime impact to the present boreal forest ecology. Additionally the report discusses cultural links and cultural reflections of forest fires in the region.

Tundra fires of Yakutia and Chukotka appeared in late 2010s for the first time. Indigenous ranger teams worked in three Arctic Siberian locations to document participatory evidence and solutions to these completely new phenomena.

20200817_120845Local teams, scientists and experts summarized a range of solutions that have novel and inherent value despite the current state of multiple crises.

Each work report note key actions, including

  • It is very important to establish Indigenous knowledge – science baselines to understand the novel events and position them into a historic frame and scales regarding the fires
  • Community-led teams for early detection, documentation and response are possible, communities are ready and need support and capacity as they are in the tundra in any case, know the landscapes and maintain nomadic lifestyles central to knowledge of ecosystem change
  • Central coordination efforts in Yakutsk and regional centers are needed to be linked with the community teams and science institutions to provide an overall view of the 2023 fire season and beyond
  • Satellite images and feed could be provided in near real-time to the central authorities and the community teams to track, in the event of fires, their progress and speed to avoid harm and protect the people and the animals.

These unique materials are offered as solution spaces to the region.

Climate change does not wait. Fires are burning stronger, in new areas and in scales which are often called unprecedented. We need to prepare, seek solutions and be ready when the windows of collaboration emerge once again.

Snowchange extends utmost thanks to the Montpelier and Hampshire Foundations for their extensive and critically important support to accomplish this.

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