MOSCOW, February 20 (RIA Novosti) – A team of Greenpeace volunteers has set off from Moscow to help park rangers battle suspected wildfires in a national park in Russia’s south, the environmental organization said on its website Thursday.
Satellite images of the Astrakhan Biosphere Reserve have revealed several hotspots, which Greenpeace said likely indicate grass fires.
The unusually warm and dry winter conditions in the Astrakhan Region, which lies on the Volga River close to where it flows into the Caspian Sea, have increased the risk of the fires burning out of control, according to the organization.
The park on the Volga delta is a critical stopover site on the annual migration routes of a number of rare and endangered birds, including the Siberian crane.
Russian President Vladimir Putin famously attempted to lead a flock of Siberian cranes on their migration in an ultralight aircraft in 2012 as part of a project to save the species, which is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Locals and hunters set fires in the region for a variety of reasons, according to Greenpeace. Poachers have in the past put areas of the reserve to the torch to distract rangers while they hunt.
Russia suffered hundreds of devastating wildfires amid heatwaves in the summers of 2010 and 2012 that led to several deaths, destroyed crops, cost billions of dollars in damages and caused thick blankets of smog to descend on some urban areas, including Moscow.
Grigory Kuksin, head of Greenpeace Russia’s firefighting program, said the organization will continue to push for more regional laws banning the burning of dried grass.
A group of Greenpeace activists known as the Arctic 30 detained over a September protest at a Russian oil rig in the Arctic was granted amnesty in December.
Putin said that their time in custody should serve as a lesson, but that the country remained open to joint projects with the organization in the future.