Virgin Komi Forests, Russian Federation

Geographical Location

The Virgin Komi Forests (61°25'-65°45'N, 57°27'-61°20'E) are a World Heritage Site located in the north-western region of the Komi Republic on the western slopes of the Northern Ural Mountains. It is located in the biogeographical province of the West Eurasian Taiga, within the boundaries of Russia.

Date and History of Establishment

  • 4 May 1930 - Pechoro-Ilychsky Nature Reserve was established by RSFSR Soviet of People's Commissars Decree
  • 1984 - accepted as a biosphere reserve under the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme
  • 23 April 1994 - Russian Federation Decree No. 377 established Yugyd Va National Park under the Federal Forestry Service of Russia in the Komi Republic

caption Virgin Komi Forests. (Source: UNESCO)

There are 17 reservations but there is insufficient data to precisely describe their establishment. No definition of the term `reservation' is given. Salbia and Vangeriusky Reservations were both established according to the Komi Council of Ministers Decree No.90 on 29 March 1984. Kharota-Jagineisky, Maldynsky, Shchugorsky, Niart-Siuiu, Vode-Shor, Kozhim, Podchermsky, Syninsky and Bolshesyninsky reservations were all established by the Komi Council of Ministers Decree No.193 on 26 September 1989. There are 33 nature monuments and three state forestry farms, the latter are owned by the Forestry Department and could be used for wood production.

Pechoro Ilychsky Nature Reserve, Buffer zone and Yugyd-Va National Park were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1995.


3,280,000 hectares (ha), with the main elements being Pechoro-Ilychsky Reserve and Biosphere Reserve (730,000 ha), Yugyd Va National Park (1,900,000 ha) and a buffer zone of 650,000 ha.

Land Tenure

The biosphere reserve is under federal ownership and the rest of the site is owned by the Republic of Komi.


Ranges from 98 meters (m) to 1,895 m.

Physical Features

The eastern area of the forest is dominated by the North Ural mountains which are orientated in a north-south direction. They are characterized by mountain-glacier formations, of which the southernmost glaciers occur within the Telpossky massif. The dissolution of limestone along the foothills has resulted in the formation of a karst landscape with subterranean caves, craters and river beds which are seasonally flooded. Weathering in the Ilych, Podcherema, Shchugora and Bolshaya Syn basins has resulted in the formation of columns and residual mountain structures. These are protected as nature monuments. Many of these features are remnant reef structures, the oldest of which date back to the Ordovician Period. The undulating terrain to the west comprises marshes, lowlands and several hills which also give way to mountains. The eastern mountainous and western lowland regions are linked by the Uniya and upper reaches of the Ilych river basins. The south central part of the Pechoro-Ilychsky Reserve lies on the Pripechova lowlands, a plain of sand and morainic loam at the foot of the North Urals and is traversed by the Pechora River and its tributary the Ilych.


Pechoro-Ilychsky Reserve has a mean January temperature of -17°C and July temperatures range between 12°C and 20.5°C. The estimated mean annual rainfall 525 millimeters (mm). Snow cover to a depth of 100 centimeters (cm) is present for a period of seven months.


caption Cranberry, Vaccinium oxycoccus. (Source: University of Washington)

The area to the west comprises marshes and floodplain islands. Low altitude wetter areas such as Sphagnum bogs support Sphagnum moss with cranberry Vaccinium oxycoccus, bilberries and cloudberries. The floodplain island terraces are dominated by willow Salix spp., rowan Sorbus aucuparia, blackcurrant Ribes nigrum and bird cherry Prunus padus. Boreal forest extends from the marshes into the Ural's foothills and predominantly comprises pine Pinus sylvestris and larch Larix sibirica forest, the latter of which is found in higher areas. Ground cover consists of cowberry Vaccinium vitis-idaea (R), bilberry V. myrtillus and reindeer mosses Cladonia spp.. Extensive spruce Picea abies, fir Abies sibirica and pine Pinus sylvestris forests are found in the valleys. The Virgin Komi Forests is the only place in Europe where the Siberian pine Pinus sibirica grows. Boreal forest is superseded by subalpine scrub woodlands, meadows, tundras and bear rock areas. Subalpine meadow plants include Anemone sp., Paeonia sp., and umbellifer Pleurospermum uralensis, Myosotis sp., whilst the tundra includes Saxifraga tenuis, Dryas sp. and Thymus sp.


The fauna includes both European and Asiatic species and some 43 mammals have been recorded including hare Lepus timidus, squirrel Sciurus vulgaris, flying squirrel Pteromys volans, beaver Castor fiber (reintroduced) (E), grey wolf Canis lupus (V), fox Vulpes vulpes, brown bear Ursus arctos, weasel Mustela spp., otter Lutra lutra, pine marten Martes martes, sable M. zibellina (I), wolverine Gulo gulo (V), lynx Lynx lynx, and elk Alces alces. Musk rat Andatra zibethicus has been introduced to the area. The 204 bird species include capercaillie Tetrao urogallus, black grouse Lyrurus tetrix, willow grouse Lagopus lagopus, hazel grouse Tetrastes bonasia, black woodpecker Dryocopus martius, three-toed woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes and red-flanked bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus. A number of waterfowl species including goldeneye Bucephala clangula, goosander Mergus merganser, wigeon Anas penelope, teal Anas crecca and bean goose Anser fabalis breed in the area. The 16 fish species include salmon Salmo salar, grayling Thymallus arcticus and whitefish Coregonus spp. and almost all rivers in the designated site provide salmon spawning grounds.

Cultural Heritage

Prior to Russians settling in the area during the 17th century, the residents included the Pechera and Zyriane groups of the Komi people, the Ostiaki group of the Khanty people and the Voguly group of the Mansi people, of which the latter group were driven out of the Urals. The 10th and 11th century chronicles named the Chiud, Merya, Ves and Pechera people as the main inhabitants. The hills of this region have traces of Paleolithic camp sites and fossil remains and an ancient sanctuary of the Mansi people has also been found.

Local Human Population

Present settlements within the Uniya basin include those of the Komi people and the Old Believers, a religious sect who were proscribed by Russian authorities in the 17th century. Kozhim a settlement in the Intinsky district, has a population of 733 and the Podcherie settlement in the Vuktylsky district a population of 2,329. There are four settlements within the Troitsko-Pechorsky district, namely Jaksha (whose population totals 1,832), Ust-Uniya (156), Svetly Rodnik (11) and Ust-Berdysh (13).

Visitors and Visitor Facilities

About 2,000 people visit the large waterfalls, islands, rapids, and "gates", the name given to the river-breaches in the rocks at Yugyd Va National Park. Cabins are available at Ozernaya.

Scientific Research and Facilities

The region remained unstudied until the late 1800's as a result of inaccessibility. Pole (1907) carried out field studies along the Ilych and Paliu rivers and in 1915, a forester who worked in the region, published an article stressing the necessity of creating a nature reserve. In 1928, a special commission was set up to survey the area with a view to establishing a reserve. An experimental farm was established in 1949 to study the the breeding of domesticated elk. A number of research stations and permanent plots have been set up in the Pechora-Ilychsky Biosphere Reserve where long-term research is conducted in association with the Komi Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences.

Conservation Value

The numerous nature monuments and mountain-glacier formations provide models of on-going geological processes. The territory represents a vast expanse of virgin boreal forest ecosystem which provides a significant habitat for threatened flora and fauna.

Conservation Management

The headquarters of Yugyd Va National Park and Pechoro-Ilychsky are in Pechora and Jaksha, respectively. Both the Yugyd Va National Park and the Pechoro-Ilychsky Reserve have restricted access. In the latter, all economic and recreational activities are prohibited and only scientific research is permitted. Yugyd Va National Park is of recreational importance. A three year project in Pechoro-Ilychsky Reserve will provide the necessary equipment, administrative base and training to maintain effective management and protection.

Management Constraints

Logging is a major threat to the Uniya basin in the southern part of the territory, as a number of local logging enterprises have been bought. Consequently, it is likely that about two million hectares of the virgin forest will be logged. Furthermore, the Ministry of Nature Resources and Environment of the Komi Republic had drafted a decree amending the Yugyd Va National Park's boundaries. If approved, this would have resulted in the loss of the Kozhim basin which comprises about one third of the park area. This proposal has recently been dropped.

Populations of large mammals, in particular bear, elk and deer have declined as a result of poaching. Residents violate park rules due to the lack of adequate protection enforcement and little local ecological awareness. Local authorities threatened to open the southern buffer zone of Pechoro Ilychsky Reserve to logging by a French company. This has now been suspended. Only the polar region of the Urals has escaped extensive habitat loss and degradation from centuries of resource exploitation and heavy industries. Radioactive contamination is also suspected in some Ural localities.


In 1995, the Pechoro-Ilychsky Reserve had 60 staff, including 10 researchers and 30 workers. The Yugyd Va National Park employs 100 staff, most of whom are for fire control.


The Pechoro-Ilychsky Reserve 1983 budget was 334,700 roubles and the 1994 three year assistance project will cost $223,475.

IUCN Management Category

  • Pechoro-Ilychsky Reserve Ia (Strict Nature Reserve); Biosphere Reserve
  • Yugyd Va National Park II (National Park)
  • Buffer zones and Forestry Farms Unassigned
  • World Heritage Site - Natural Criteria (ii) and (iii)

Further Reading

  • Anon. (1994). The Virgin Komi Forests World Heritage Nomination. Prepared by Greenpeace Russia. 17 pp + Annexes I-IV.
  • Bannikov, A.G. (1969). Reserves of the USSR. Publishing House Kolos, Moscow. 552pp.
  • Bannikov, A.G. (1974). Around the Reserves of the USSR. 2nd Ed. Publishing House Kolos, Mysyl, Moscow.
  • Borodin, A.M. and Syroechkovski, E.E. (1983). Zapovedniki SSSR. Moskva `Lesnaya Promyshlennost'.
  • Krever, V., Dinerstein, E., Olson, D., and Williams, L. (Eds) (1994). Conserving Russia's Biological Diversity: An Analytical Framework and Initial Investment Portfolio. World Wildlife Fund, Corporate Press, Landover, U.S.A. Pp 65-71.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



M, U. (2008). Virgin Komi Forests, Russian Federation. Retrieved from


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