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  1. Siberian taiga is subject to intensive logging and natural resource exploitation, which promote the proliferation of informal roads: trails and unsurfaced service roads neither recognized nor maintained by the government. While transportation development can improve connectivity between communities and urban centers, new roads also interfere with Indigenous subsistence activities. This study quantifies Land-Cover and Land-Use Change (LCLUC) in Irkutsk Oblast, northwest of Lake Baikal. Observations from LCLUC are used in spatial autocorrelation analysis with roads to identify and examine major drivers of transformations of social–ecological–technological systems. Spatial analysis results are informed by interviews with local residents and Indigenous Evenki, local development history, and modern industrial and political actors. A comparison of relative changes observed within and outside Evenki-administered lands (obshchina) was also conducted. The results illustrate: (1) the most persistent LCLUC is related to change from coniferous to peatland (over 4% of decadal change); however, during the last decade, extractive and infrastructure development have become the major driver of change leading to conversion of 10% of coniferous forest into barren land; (2) anthropogenic-driven LCLUC in the area outside obshchina lands was three times higher than within during the980s and 1990s and more than 1.5 times higher during the following decades. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 1, 2024
  2. Wildfires in permafrost areas, including smoldering fires (e.g., “zombie fires”), have increasingly become a concern in the Arctic and subarctic. Their detection is difficult and requires ground truthing. Local and Indigenous knowledge are becoming useful sources of information that could guide future research and wildfire management. This paper focuses on permafrost peatland fires in the Siberian subarctic taiga linked to local communities and their infrastructure. It presents the results of field studies in Evenki and old-settler communities of Tokma and Khanda in the Irkutsk region of Russia in conjunction with concurrent remote sensing data analysis. The study areas located in the discontinuous permafrost zone allow examination of the dynamics of wildfires in permafrost peatlands and adjacent forested areas. Interviews revealed an unusual prevalence and witness-observed characteristics of smoldering peatland fires over permafrost, such as longer than expected fire risk periods, impacts on community infrastructure, changes in migration of wild animals, and an increasing number of smoldering wildfires including overwintering “zombie fires” in the last five years. The analysis of concurrent satellite remote sensing data confirmed observations from communities, but demonstrated a limited capacity of satellite imagery to accurately capture changing wildfire activity in permafrost peatlands, which may have significant implications for global climate. 
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  3. The paper is aimed at assessing the associations between the road networks geography and dynamics of wildfire events in the East Siberian boreal forest. We examined the relationship between the function of roads, their use, and management and the wildfire ignition, propagation, and termination during the catastrophic fire season of 2016 in the Irkutsk Region of Russia. Document analysis and interviews were utilized to identify main forest users and road infrastructure functional types and examine wildfire management practices. We combined community observations and satellite remotely sensed data to assess relationships between the location, extent, and timing of wildfires and different types of roads as fire sources, barriers, and suppression access points. Our study confirms a strong spatial relationship between the wildfire ignition points and roads differentiated by their types with the highest probability of fire ignition near forestry roads and the lowest near subsistence roads. Roads also play an important role in wildfire suppression, working as both physical barriers and access points for firefighters. Our research illustrates the importance of local and Indigenous observations along the roads for monitoring and understanding wildfires, including “zombie fires”. It also has practical implications for fire management collectively developed by authorities and local communities. 
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  4. Following the call to mobilize studies of social-ecological systems and sociotechnical systems, the paper presents the case for studying integrated social-ecological-technological systems (SETS), and dynamic systems that include social, natural and technological (engineering) elements. Using the case study of informal roads in the Baikal region, authors of the article argue that re-focusing on SETS creates additional synergies and convergence options to improve the understanding of coupled systems and infrastructure in particular. Historically, transportation infrastructure has contributed to changes in natural and social systems of Northern Eurasia: Transsiberian and Baikal-Amur railroads and East Siberia – Pacific Ocean and Power of Siberia pipelines have been the main drivers of social-ecological transitions. At the local scale, informal roads serve as one of the most illustrative and characteristic examples of SETS. The examination of development and transformation of the informal roads allows exploring the interactions between socioeconomic processes, ecological dynamics and technological advances. The variety of informal roads reflects the importance of specific social, natural or technological factors in the SETS transformation largely unconditioned by policy and regulations thus providing a unique opportunity to better understand sustainability challenges facing infrastructure-based SETS. Relying on interviews and in-situ observations conducted in 2019 in the Baikal region, the following factors affecting sustainability of informal road SETS were identified: social (identification of actors involved in location, construction, maintenance, use and abandonment of informal roads), technological (road cover, width, frequency and nature of use by different kinds of vehicles), environmental (geomorphology and landscape sensitivity and vulnerability). The sustainability challenges of SETS development and transformations are found in changing mobility practices, social structure and economies of local communities, increased occurrences of forest fires and development of erosion and permafrost degradation in local environment and push for development of new technologies of transportation and communication. 
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  5. null (Ed.)
    This paper explores the transformations of informal transportation practices in Siberia as an example of the process of social embedding of infrastructure in remote regions. Research about informal transportation is predominantly based on studies of minibuses, motorcycles, rikshaws and other small, low-performance vehicles. Meanwhile, the railroad often best exemplifies formalization, control, and surveillance, the characteristics opposite to informal practices. On the basis of information gathered from local and regional archives and semi-formal interviews with railroad workers, their families, and BAM builders (2016–2020), this paper traces the roots of embeddedness in specific norms and expectations that formed during construction of the railroad and persisted during its operation. Informal transportation became the norm and a resource for coping with a lack of infrastructure. Recent reforms have changed the railroad from a public system to a private, profit-seeking, dis-embedded enterprise. This process affects local communities’ access to the railroad. Workers’ trains, or okurki, are a last refuge for the retention of local mobility mostly in an informal way. 
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  6. null (Ed.)
    Addressing the need for convergence of different sources of knowledge to deal with complex issues such as global change, this paper presents the results of collaboration between artists and scientists to study social-ecological-technological systems (SETS). We focus on informal roads as an example of SETS. In the absence of public roads local, mostly indigenous communities and others use these forestry roads, seismic line clearings and oil and gas service roads for mobility in Siberian taiga affected by extractive industry. In 2020, with COVID-19, we had to increase our emphasis on virtual forms of data gathering, interpretation, and representations of the results. Presented in this paper forms of transmedia storytelling are designed to allow audience and users as well as the local and indigenous communities to get familiar with the research results, give feedback, and provide their own perspectives, interrelations and interdependencies between different SETS components. 
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