This dissertation examines the relationship between colonization and environmental change in the Russian province of Primor'e between roughly 1860 and 1940. In doing so, it explores the ecological dimensions of Russia's expansion across Asia and contributes a new perspective to the environmental history of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. It contends that imperial competition over space and resources was the driving factor behind the environmental changes that occurred in Primor'e after 1860, yet also underlay the emergence of nature protection in the territory. From the outset of Russian colonization, Primor'e's nature, both as an idea and a material reality, was contested, highly politicized, and intertwined with ethnic and social divisions. This contestation over space, resources, and nature had far-reaching consequences for the territory and its nonhuman environment.
Beginning in the late 1850s, the tsarist state sought to acquire Primor'e and colonize it with Russian and European settlers (including Ukrainians, Balts, Finns, and others) in order to take advantage of temporary Chinese weakness and to defend its eastern territories against other imperial powers. A territory that the Qing Empire had long preserved as a lightly-populated borderland, Russian authorities attempted to seize, demarcate, populate, and cultivate. Moreover, tsarist and (after 1922) Soviet authorities encouraged migrants to utilize Primor'e's natural resources in order to lay claim to the territory (along with its flora and fauna), and to provide a supply source for the Russian Far East.
However, Primor'e's unique environment complicated Russian settlement efforts, particularly the transplanting of Russian-style agriculture and stock-breeding. Rather than producing a bounteous agricultural colony, settlers came to rely on hunting, fishing, wage-labor, and close economic relationships with migrants from China and Korea. Together, these groups precipitated significant environmental changes in Primor'e, including deforestation, a decline in many animal populations, erosion, and more frequent and violent flooding.
The ecological effects of settlement in Primor'e almost immediately prompted widespread concern among officials, scholars, and other educated elites. These figures interpreted ecological change as symptoms of broader threats to Russian colonization, including the supposedly "barbaric" and "backward" character of East Asian migrants and Russian and Ukrainian colonists. Environmental questions played a key role in defining and deepening ethnic and social distinctions in the territory, and resource policies emerged as attempts to exclude or control the use of nature by the "uncivilized."
Elites responded to ecological changes with a kind of "green" civilizing mission: the belief that managing and protecting nature in a "rational" way was in the interests of Russian colonization. Tsarist and later Soviet leaders sought to make forestry, agriculture, fisheries, and the management of land mammals more "rational" through the application of planning, European science, modern technologies, and state oversight. In doing so, they laid the groundwork for several very successful conservation initiatives in the twentieth century. "Rational" use, however, was oriented toward asserting Russian/Soviet power in the Far East and bore the legacies of Primor'e's ethnic and social divisions. The result, beginning in the tsarist period and continuing into the Soviet era, was an unprecedented degree of nature protection alongside environmental exploitation, a combination rooted primarily in local conditions and historical experience.
Keywords: Russia, Russian Empire, Soviet Union, Russian Far East, Manchuria, environmental history, environmental issues, imperialism, colonization, forest history, animal history, fisheries, peasants, agriculture