During the 20th century, Russia set aside more land for scientific study than any other country in the world. Because traditionally these strict nature reserves (known as Zapovedniki) are open only to researchers, they remain one of the country's best-kept secrets, even to Russians themselves. Recently, however, the author and two photographers were given permission to visit a continent-wide cross section. Stretching from Europe to the Pacific coast of Asia, the stunning landscapes they saw are as diverse as the system that inspired their creation: America's national parks.
The reserves combine beauty and remoteness. They're also more vulnerable, in newly democratic Russia, than ever before to depredations by miners, poachers and loggers. It was clear to the Smithsonian's three-person team at the end of their six-week, 5,000-mile journey that Russia's reserves are at a crossroads. Now that the people have the freedom to choose, will they continue to safeguard lands that must remain forever beyond their reach?