McKinney Courier-Gazette (McKinney, TX)
Posted on September 9, 2005
By Krystal de Los Santos
A group of Russian environmentalists toured the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary Wednesday in an effort to learn about environmental protection programs in Texas and eastern Oklahoma.
Their visit was sponsored by the Open World Program and hosted by the National Peace Foundation, a Washington and managed by the independent Open World Leadership Center at the Library of Congress. Open World enables emerging political and civic leaders from participating countries to experience U.S. democracy and civil society while building professional ties with their American counterparts.
"It's exciting. These are our first group of international visitors," said Marissa Atemas, customer experience director at the Heard. "What they will see is a unique blend of preservation and education to bring awareness to people other than through a traditional university setting."
Atemas is fluent in Russian and four other languages and is hosting the group at her home. She said she hopes that the program's success attracts more foreign visitors to the Heard.
John Ernst, the Heard's executive director, welcomed the four women, a facilitator and an interpreter to the Heard.
"What you will see is probably what will be the last open space in McKinney," he said. "Our population is growing rapidly and everybody wants a home near the Heard."
Ernst also told the women about the Heard's ongoing attempt to buy adjacent land to increase the sanctuary's size from 289 acres to 349, and about the threat of development encroaching upon the Heard.
The Russians' visit began Sept. 3 in Tulsa, where they attended a Cherokee powwow and viewed examples of Native American tribal efforts secure the ecology of their land.
They then examined the federal and municipal role in environmental protection with regional Environmental Protection Agency and environmental quality officials in Dallas.
At the Heard, the women toured the native plant gardens, comparing Texas plants to those in Russia, toured the sanctuary, caught a glimpse of the Heard's boardwalk project, funded by a grant through the EPA and learned about the museum's educational programs.
"I'm a biologist by profession and I'm very much interested in exploring Texas' ecology," said Olga Nikolayevna Chernyshova, an associate professor at Novosibirsk State Pedagogical University in Russia. "I'm from Novosibirsk, which has a forest steppe zone similar to the zone here. You have open spaces here as we do there, so the climates of Texas and Novosibirsk can be compared, but the species of the plants are very different."
Olga Nikolayevna Panfilova, the trip's facilitator, is a linguistic advisor at Saratov State University's English department.
"I had a notion that everything was O.K. in America as far as the environment was concerned," she said. "We came here to get ideas of how to straighten things in my country, but as it turns out, you have a lot of problems yourselves. So I think joint programs need to be established so the entire world will have a clean environment."
Nadezhda Yuryevna Kiseleva, an associate professor at Nizhniy State Pedagogical University, said she was "impressed by Texas' natural beauty and the professionalism of its people."
Svetlana Nikolayevna Kuznetsova, a geography teacher at Krasnoschyokovskaya Secondary School, said that sanctuaries in Russia are much larger.
Natalya Innokentyevna Kosmodemyanskaya, chairwoman of "Wind Rose," a non-governmental environmental organization, added that "despite the fact that Russian Sanctuaries are larger, in the sphere of educational work, they are far behind."
All the women agreed, however, that Texas was very different from what they expected. People were welcoming and there were few cowboys.
Jonathan Hook, who coordinates the program, said the Open World programs was "one of congress' best investments."
"We need to think globally, more holistically in preserving the environment," he said. "Cross-cultural multi-national environmental efforts will in the long-run prove much more effective than incremental commercial and government activities."
The environmentalists next visited the University of North Texas planetarium. Today, there are in Plano discussing the work of U.S. environmental non-governmental organizations at Blue Skies Alliance.
Contact Krystal De Los Santos athttp://Krystal.Delossantos@scntx.com
[Reprinted with Permission]