The Columbian (Vancouver, WA)
Posted on September 9, 2003
By Erik Robinson
Russian industry and environmental leaders strolled past the ponds, wetlands and forest surrounding the old Vancouver fish hatchery on Monday afternoon to learn about American-style conservation.
Cold War memories all but faded away during the visit to the Columbia Springs Environmental Education Center.
"You can call it ecological espionage," said Petr Chemogrivov, director of the Tomsk Region Nature Committee, through a translator.
In this case, the espionage cuts both ways. Local environmental activists, agencies and organizations show off their projects, while the Russians share their own struggle with pollution dating back to before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
"We have beautiful scenic places, too, but there are also lands that look like this," said Vasilily Ivanov, displaying a photograph of an old military base, stripped of trees and stained with oil. "This information is very useful to us."
Ivanov, who administers an International Green Cross chapter serving an industrial and agricultural area southwest of St. Petersburg, said he's trying to learn more about strategies for preventing and cleaning up industrial pollution.
"The goal of the Green Cross is constructive progress toward solutions of ecological problems," according to a pamphlet provided by Ivanov.
Forming constructive partnerships is the goal of the Columbia Springs Environmental Education Center.
Jane Van Dyke, center director, highlighted the partnership between the state, city of Vancouver, Clark Public Utilities and Evergreen School District in remaking a 60-year-old trout hatchery into a 100-acre urban green space near the Columbia River.
This week's visit marks the fourth year that Russian leaders have visited Southwest Washington through Rotary International's Open World Program, funded through the U.S. Library of Congress. The current five-member delegation is focused on environmental stewardship, and Monday's activities included visits to the old fish hatchery, habitat restoration projects along Salmon Creek and a look at a city of Vancouver wastewater treatment plant.
Previous visits, by other Russian delegates, focused on city government, women in leadership roles and education.
During the third day of a nine-day tour of Oregon and Southwest Washington, members of the Russian delegation had already discovered common ground with their American hosts.
"We both have a desire, a will, to solve the problems we are facing," said Igor Khabarov, who heads the environmental protection department for a Russian railroad company.
The evolving nature of the post-Soviet government coincides with the fledgling Russian environmental movement. Members of the Russian delegation are hoping their visit to the Pacific Northwest provides insights to protect their own country's natural assets.
"Russia is still in this turmoil of lots of changes," Chemogrivov said.
Lyubov Yakubovskaya, press secretary of the Wildlife Protection Center, noted that the environmental ethic has been slow to take hold across the country.
"The oil companies have a tremendous influence," she said. "Usually those oil wells are located in remote areas, and people there know less about environmental issues."
Buck Heidrick, a local Rotary sponsor of the tour, noted that the Russians had plenty of questions for their hosts particularly about American oil consumption.
"There was a lot of discussion about big gas-guzzling cars," he said.
[Reprinted with Permission]