Reading #11

Theme 3: Conservation

Period: Russian (1741-1867)

In addition to the summary provided below, refer to the Correspondence of the Russian-American Company (Student Reading #10) for specific information about conservation measures taken during the Russian period.

Kyril T. Khlebnikov was manager of the Russian-American Company office in Novo-Arkhangelsk (today called Sitka) from 1818 to 1832. The following information is taken from several sources: Khlebnikovís reports, collected in Notes on Russian America (Parts II - V 1994, pp. 290-1), Veniaminovís Notes on the Islands of the Unalashka District (1984 (originally 1840), p. 147), Tikhmenevís A History of the Russian-American Company, 1978, p. 152, P.N. Golovinís report on Russian America (The End of Russian America, 1979 (originally 1862)), and the National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for St. George Island, 1986.

Russian-American Company Chief Manager Alexander Baranov ordered the hunt stopped [in 1803] due to an oversupply of furs. That year, 280,000 fur seal pelts were taken, while 500,000 were still in warehouses, unsold. In fact, many of the skins spoiled, and more than 700,000 had to be burned or thrown into the sea. Baranov ordered the hunt to resume in 1808 because the company needed money the pelts would bring to supply settlements throughout Russian America. At the same time, company officials had little control over how many fur seals were killed, for the pelts were often transported not on company ships, but on the ships of the foreign countries which were buying the furs. Under the circumstances, the hunters were more interested into seeing immediate profits than in long-term conservation. The numbers of fur seals decreased as a result. In 1822, Chief Manager Matvei Ivanovich Muravíev, having visited these islands, ordered that one breeding ground on each island should be left untouched. However, the harvest declined to 28,000 fur seals (from both islands) by 1828, of which only 5,000 to 8,000 came from St. George. This caused the company to adopt new conservation measures, the first of which was that no females, bachelors or full-grown males were to be killed. In the 1840s and 1850s the numbers were still declining, so fur seal harvesting was prohibited during certain periods. The Russian-American Company reported a gradual increase in the numbers of fur seals as a result.

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