Exchanges Unites Land Managers in BeringiaJanuary 24, 2012
This September, three groups of land managers and researchers working in protected areas across the Russian Federation visited Alaska parks, refuges, and the National Park Service (NPS) Regional Office to get a sense of how public land is administered and managed in the United States. The three groups were hosted by the Shared Beringian Heritage Program while at the regional office in Anchorage. The Beringia staff organized day-long programs for each group, consisting of NPS managers and team leads tailored to the overall goals and interests of each specific group. Participation from NPS staff at the regional office was very much appreciated by the Russian managers, and they were impressed by the knowledge, scope of work and capabilities of the Alaska managers and team leads. The Beringia Program is grateful to all who participated, and it was mentioned repeatedly how well the different departments worked together to make the program exciting and dynamic for the Russian guests. In addition to the staff at the regional office, many NPS employees assisted the Beringia Program in facilitating travel to some of the actual parks. In Denali, Kris Fister and Dr. Phillip Hooge met and travelled in to the park with all three of the visiting groups. Jeff Mow in Kenai Fjords also made sure that the groups had access to the facilities and guided two of the groups through the park. The Beringia Program is very thankful to all who assisted in making the visits of all three Russian groups successful and productive.
One of the groups, led by Vsevolod Stepanitskiy, the current Deputy Director of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation, was especially relevant to the work of the Beringia Program. Mr. Stepanitskiy's position in the Russian Ministry makes him an important contact and liaison for the work done by the Beringia Program with the Russian Federation. Stepanitskiy's group was a hand-picked mixture of younger managers eager to learn and understand, and those with more experience in Russian land management. This exchange was unique in that the participants were chosen for their leadership potential and abilities in their respective parks and protected areas. Stepanitskiy has been leading exchanges to the United States for decades, and this trip was his fourth time visiting Alaska. His goal during this trip was to unite Russian land managers with their counterparts in Alaska, recognizing the commonalities in climate, remoteness and landscape. Mr. Stepanitsky believes the learning experience offered by international cooperation is of the utmost importance for both the visitor and the host.
The exchange of knowledge is a useful way to compare strategies, learn from each other’s mistakes, and share what's working in terms of management plans and public response. As Mr. Stepanitsky predicted, the differences centered on obstacles to communication, restrictive and outdated regulations, and logistical difficulties common to remote parks. The Russian system of "zapovedniks" is a topic that Mr. Stepanitsky is very well acquainted with, as he has served in various roles related to the system inside and outside of the Russian government.
According to Fred Strebeigh, author of Defending Russian Wilderness, Stepanitskiy is recognized by his colleagues as a living symbol of Russian-American cooperation. While he currently serves in a high-level role in the Ministry of Natural Resources, his journey has been one filled with obstacles, impediments, and disappointments. Throughout, Mr. Stepanitskiy has maintained a strong moral conviction and a commitment to the conservation of protected lands. Stepanitskiy has quit his job under the Russian government three times in response to policies he felt were inadequate in protecting Russia's nature reserves. However, his vast amount of knowledge and his ability to see issues from all perspectives have made him indispensable to Russia's Ministry of Natural Resources. The Russian government rehired him even after his strong opposition to their policies and regulations in the past. During his tenure at the Ministry, he has never stopped trying to strengthen the system and increase support for natural resource conservation.
When Stepanitsky was asked to explain his choice to bring the group to Alaska, he said "Alaska is a very good example that shows us if you have support from the government you can get support for scientific research projects." During their tour of Alaska public lands, Stepanitskiy encouraged the group to ask questions. The group toured Denali National Park, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, Kenai Fjords National Park and they were honored guests at the Alaska Regional Office of the National Park Service. While at the Regional Office, they participated in an informational session that stretched four hours. Throughout their trip, they were given presentations on topics such as land and wildlife management, environmental education, concessions and contracts, and interpretation and public outreach. Like Stepanitskiy, the group was primarily interested in the U.S. model of managing protected areas and how our best practices could be applied to the system in Russia.
Agencies on the U.S. side like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service also benefited greatly from the visit and from continuing collaboration with their Russian counterparts. During this trip Mr. Stepanitskiy served as the coordinator that linked two groups of people with similar stories, professions, environments and responsibilities and brought them together to collaborate on working towards similar goals and carrying out similar projects. As he continues to serve as Russia's Deputy Director in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Stepanitskiy is hopeful that trips uniting groups with similar interests like public land management will continue to foster the collaboration that is necessary for international cooperation across the Bering Strait.
In addition to the group led by Stepanitskiy, the Beringia Program hosted managers from the Kamchatka region. The goals of this group centered on land management and habitat conservation, not unlike the first group. In fact, some of the Kamchatka group members worked for the same protected areas as the first group. This group and their travel was coordinated and sponsored by the Wild Salmon Center, a non-profit conservation organization. The specific interests of this group focused on interpretation/visitor centers: operation, outreach, conservation and educational programs; and some of the management policies to reduce impacts/consider carrying capacity of parks with tourists. This group travelled to Katmai, Kenai Fjords, and Denali parklands during their visit. As a special treat, the Kamchatka visitors held a session at the regional office that was open to all employees, and featured presentations on the parks and protected areas they represented. A question and answer session followed, and there were many inquiries from the Alaska employees.
The last group of visiting land managers was from the Komi Republic, and consisted of eleven scientists, managers, and environmental protection officials. They visited the regional office in late September and were very impressed by the program they were offered. The Komi visitors also learned firsthand about the multiple ways Alaska’s parklands are deriving revenue through tourism and other financial opportunities, despite remote locations and large distances. They chose to come here because the Komi Republic and Alaska are located across similar latitude ranges, and include alike ecosystems, such as taiga forest and tundra.
The Beringia Program enjoyed hosting these groups, and hope more will choose to come and participate in exchanges like these where both the visitors and hosts benefit from the experience.