Today, conservation efforts of Arctic states reflect a state-based approach. This contrasts with international conservation efforts in the post-Cold War period, which were grounded in perceiving the region as a global commons. In this article, I examine the ways in which Canada and Russia use natural conservation areas as instruments to express sovereign rights. I compare Canada's proposed Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area at the eastern mouth of the Northwest Passage and Russia's recently expanded Natural System (zapovednik) of Wrangel Island Reserve at the eastern entrance to the Northern Sea Route. These two case studies allow for an examination of the domestic politics of zoning, exclusion, and access alongside Arctic geopolitics and foreign policy discourse. Both parks are complex products of domestic and foreign policy, making them densely layered spaces of contested and contingent sovereignty. Moreover, Canada and Russia draw on regimes such as UNCLOS and UNESCO's World Heritage Committee to defend their sovereignty in contested waterways. Whereas around the world, states have historically created national parks in areas without significant economic value, the conservation areas in and around Lancaster Sound and Wrangel Island lie in waters valuable for their geostrategic position and shipping potential. Yet importantly, the conservation areas are situated so as not to coincide with hydrocarbon interests. Ultimately, Russia and Canada's establishment of these two conservation areas suggests ulterior motives of sovereignty and economic interests at work, suggesting that we should be carefully attuned to scrutinizing the intentions behind environmental measures taken in the Arctic.
Mia Bennett is the Arctic Blogger for the Foreign Policy Association and a PhD student in the Geography Department at the University of California, Los Angeles.