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Conservation of Wetland Biodiversity in the Lower Volga Region
Commissioning Unit: Russian Federation
Evaluation Plan: 2011-2017
Evaluation Type: Project
Completion Date: 11/2012
Unit Responsible for providing Management Response: Russian Federation
Documents Related to overall Management Response:
1. Recommendation: Engage the Tourism Industry to Green its Practices. The area receives large numbers of tourists who come to enjoy nature, although with primary interests around recreational fishing and hunting. The fact that these tourists visit well-established tourism facilities within all budget ranges (from very modest to high luxury) demonstrates that private entrepreneurs have been able to successfully establish and run these operations. Given the large number of tourists, estimated at upwards of 2 million per year in Astrakhan alone, there are enormous synergies through which the current practices can be ?greened? progressively and making it clear that a strong link exists between the sustainability of the tourism industry and the health of these ecosystems.
Management Response: [Added: 2013/02/21]

The Project did not have a specific task to ?green? the tourism business. However, a range of measures aimed at ?greening? the tourism operators have been implemented to make biodiversity conservation within the project sites more efficient. The following measures have been taken to make the tourism business under the Project greener: 1. Inventory has been performed of the recreational resources and the current status of tourism development, evaluation of the outlooks for ecotourism development in the target areas, a work plan for ecotourism development in each of the target areas and a plan for joint ecotourism development. The outcomes of these activities have been submitted to the three regions? executive bodies responsible for tourism development and analysed in an ecotourism workshop for the stakeholders. 2. A guide on environmentally safe tourism has been published and distributed to all the stakeholders. 3. An ecotourism development agreement has been signed on the cooperation between the Project and the Astrakhan Region Ministry for Economic Development and a joint action plan for the ecotourism development in the project area in the Kamyziak district project area adjacent to the Astrakhan Nature Reserve has been approved. 4. Reference materials on ecotourism development for representatives of PAs, regional authorities and tourism businesses have been developed. 5. Recommendations have been developed on the norms of recreational loads on ecosystems. The recommendations have been approved by three ministries in the Republic of Kalmykia and recommended as a guideline for the preparation of action programmes and plans for tourism development in the Republic of Kalmykia for all economic entities and tourism business entities. The regions will implement the recommendations in the Astrakhan Region and Volgograd Region independently, as a follow-up to the project activities. The regions intend to use the recreational load norms worked out as part of the Project in shaping target programmes and plans for tourism development. The guidelines contain a list of recommendations on ?greening? the tourism industry, such as: ?catch and release?, ?hunting with a camera?, dispersion of tourist flows, holding various festivals etc., which allows to say that the tourism industry is transiting from the ?consumer? stage to the stage of renewability or, at least, to a stage where the terrain stops degenerating. The management decisions system proposed under the UNDP/GEF project and implemented in the form of guidelines aimed at regulation of recreational loads and recreational capacity of nature complexes, improvement of the recreational nature use with reliance on positive international experience, and making tourism greener will allow the regions to improve the efficiency of social and economic relations and ensure sustainable regional development, as a follow-up to the project?s endeavours towards greening the local tourism sector.

Key Actions:

2. Recommendation: Continue the Long-Term Ecological Monitoring Programs.The project has successfully developed and deployed biological and ecosystem-level monitoring protocols (i.e. Oak forests). Given the complexity of these ecosystems, the large natural variations in ecological cycles, and the strong dependence of various habitats and species upon water regimes, it is critical to continue monitoring key biological and ecosystem features to continue learning and adapting management regimes.
Management Response: [Added: 2013/02/21]

The project has prepared recommendations on monitoring the status of the LV plant and animal communities affected by the Volgograd Water Reservoir operation. Taking the stock of oak forests has allowed collecting and presenting objective facts on the state of the forests to government agencies and to issue recommendations on how organise monitoring. The Project?s work dedicated to restoration of degraded habitats is yet another example of how the Project has helped reinforcing the capacities and potential of the structures involved in monitoring of ecosystems affected by hydrological regimes. A regional model for assessment of integrity (extent of damage) of the water systems? biotic parameters using international experience gained in the course of similar procedures. This work will be continued as part of the Federal Target Programme ?Development of the Water Resource Utilisation System in the Russian Federation in the Years 2012 through 2020.? Freshwater ecosystem monitoring is carried out using the hydrobiological network of the Russian Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring Agency. However, this network is not sufficient to observe the inner floodplains, so a pilot automated monitoring project was established within the Project, and the equipment was installed in the Nature Park ?Volga-Akhtuba Interfleuve?, so that the park is able to perform monitoring the state of ecosystems affected by water discharges.

Key Actions:

3. Recommendation: Consider Introducing Systems of Payments for Environmental Services (PES).The area is a fertile ground for the deployment of PES systems. Although the project has made enormous progress linking water, ecosystems, and biodiversity, with major consequences upon water use by other sectors, the proper long-term management of water requires efficient water allocation among sectors and users, and PES can be a very useful tool in many cases including compensating small farmers, charging tourism operators, fishermen compensations, etc.
Management Response: [Added: 2013/02/21]

The project agrees with the FE that developing a system of payments for ecosystem services can become a new tool that will help control high pollution of the Volga basin water resources. One of the works carried out in the UNDP/GEF project demonstrates the role of and necessity for preservation of ecosystem services and biodiversity in the LV region (?Analysis of Environmental Implications of the Volgograd Reservoir Operation for the Preservation of Biodiversity of the Main Floodplains in the LV Region?). The survey concludes that the situation in the LV region depends not only local factor, but is also directly determined by the state of water resources in the Volga basin on the whole and of the entire cascade. The work also raises the issue of loads along the inner floodplains (road building, gas pipeline construction, filling of bodies of water for agricultural development purposes, residential construction besides water flows etc.). Any follow-up activities will be limited as at present, there is no legal framework supporting PES introduction in Russia. A step towards a PES system can be made by engaging in negotiations and agreement with hydraulic power engineering companies (RusHydro) and oil producers so as to develop a prototype voluntary PES Programme and involve the tourism business, farmers, PAs etc. This might be tested by the recently started UNDP/GEF project on biodiversity mainstreaming into energy sector.

Key Actions:

4. Recommendation: Engage the Energy Sector to Develop Biodiversity-Friendly Practices.The project has already established strong working relationships with the energy sector, in particular with the hydropower sector (RusHydro), and with the Oil and Gas industries. The LV provides extraordinary opportunities to develop biodiversity-friendly practices with science as its foundation. The existing trust among key players represents a significant comparative advantage that usually does not exist in other settings. Some possible approaches include (i) introducing minimum impact practices upon habitats, (ii) eco-compensation schemes, and (iii) biodiversity offsets.
Management Response: [Added: 2013/02/21]

The LV Project?s cooperation with large private companies (hydro, oil, gas) will continue in UNDP/GEF new project for the biodiversity mainstreaming into energy sector. Practical proposals for this projects include: - Creation of balanced cultural landscape in the areas where private business is operating and where its operations have been completed, which includes restoration of damaged ecosystems and establishment of special recreation areas. - Establishment of partnerships for landscape preservation (business and local population + government agencies + academic science)

Key Actions:

Key Action Responsible DueDate Status Comments Documents
The LV project has already shared all its experience and practices with the new GEF project, in particular, the draft Protocol of Agreement between Three Regions (in the area of preservation, tourism business, hydroenergetics, and restoration). This Protocol will be promoted by an action group consisting of NGOs and PAs in the Astrakhan Region, Volgograd Region and Republic of Kalmykia. This work will continue under the new Biodiversity Mainstreaming project; to this end, RusHydro and Lukoil, possibly Shell will join the Protocol. Furthermore, it would be a good idea to provide for the continuation of joint work with hydroenergetics companies (in accordance with the results of preliminary work on the hydroelectric power plants; outcomes of hydrological studies performed by the Lower Volga work have been shared with the Biodiversity Mainstreaming project). The Biodiversity Mainstreaming project might also plan practical measures aimed at restoration of degraded areas (jointly with RusHydro, Lukoil, and Shell).
[Added: 2013/06/26]
UNDP/GEF Biodiversity Mainstreaming project team and experts, LV NGOs; PAs No due date No deadline established
5. Recommendation: Follow-up the Biodiversity Impacts of the Micro-Credit Facility.It is important to understand the actual biodiversity impacts of the micro-credit facility; in this sense, it is erroneous to pretend that each and every loan will have a measurable impact upon biodiversity; instead, what needs to be learned is the extent to which ?marginally-friendly? biodiversity productive practices can have strong cumulative impacts at the landscape level by removing threats in a sustainable manner.
Management Response: [Added: 2013/02/21]

A simplified scoring methodology for evaluation of grant/ microcredit projects in terms of biodiversity impacts has been developed and proposed within the framework of the LV Project. Indeed, it does not take into account complex aspects of the influence that ?marginally-friendly?, in terms of biodiversity, projects (e.g., voluntary fishing certification) have on the reduction of risks at the ecosystem and landscape levels (e.g., poaching). Firstly, a comprehensive and quantitative threat assessment for the region has never been performed, and it is difficult to value impacts against threats if the latter haven?t been assessed/scored. Scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences have embarked on this work as part of the Federal Target Programme in late 2012 targeting the LV region. The threat assessment is expected to be completed by the end of 2013, following which it would become possible to rate possible microcredit projects types by their impact on the reduction of risks for biodiversity and ecosystems. According to the agreement on microcrediting concluded by the LV Project to ensure post-project sustainability of this endavour, the Astrakhan Region Ministry of Agriculture will undertake control over the granting of microcredits, and the credit institution Narodny Kredit will assess the impact of microcredits on biodiversity. However, it is questionable whether the existing microcredit foundation Narodny Kredit undertakes the methodology of and evaluation of projects? impact on threat reduction because this would seriously complicate the existing procedure for loan granting based on the approved method worked out by the UNDP/GEF project. A more comprehensive methodology for evaluation of projects and their biodiverisity and threat reduction impact could be worked out in case the granting of microcredits to biodiversity-productive practices continues at a new level; e.g., in case a target fund is established with the money provided by big business giants operating in the region (RusHydro, Lukoil, GazProm, Shell etc.) to demonstrate successful public-private partnership models. If the microcredit tool is implemented under the new UNDP/GEF Biodiversity Mainstreaming project, such a methodology must be definitely developed.

Key Actions:

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