Steppe under threat
Unique nature monuments or material for soda?
Vasily B. Martynenko (Institute of Biology, Ufa Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Bashkortostan)
In the vicinity of the town of Sterlitamak in Bashkortostan are found isolated limestone hills originating from coral reefs. These are locally called shikhan.
The vegetation on these hills consists mainly of endemic petrophite steppe communities that do not occur anywhere else in the Southern Ural and are very different from those in the surrounding southern forest steppe. A summary of the rich flora found on the shikhans along with the numerous rare plant species is given. Tra-Tau Hill possesses strata representing the geological period extending from the Upper Carboniferous to the Lower Permian. Similar reef constructions are found in other parts of the world, but nowhere are they so vividly portrayed and so easily accessed. In addition to their high conservation and scientific value, shikhans were sacred places for the ancestors of the local Bashkir people, while the adjacent hills and lakes have always been favoured for recreation by people living in nearby cities.
The largest shikhan, Shakh-Tau, has already been destroyed by limestone mining. Despite the availability of limestone deposits elsewhere, the Bashkirian Chemistry joint stock company continues to push of the removal of nature monument status from Tra-Tau and Yurak-Tau Hills. A decree lifting the protection status from these shikhans has already been prepared by the Bashkortostan Government. Only a public protest helped stall the government from making an official decision.
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