NCTWS Annual Meeting to be held February 25-26, 2014.

Planing has begun for the 2014 NCTWS annual meeting. The meeting will be held at Haw River State Park located in Browns Summit, NC on February 25-26, 2014.

Chapter Projects

Russian Exchange Program
written by Carl Betsill for May 2007 newsletter

As they say, "all good things must come to an end," but it was with some regret that I had to inform our President John Ann, shortly before this past annual meeting, that it was time to end our official involvement in the Russian Exchange program. Our plans were to have one last group travel to Smolensk Lakelands National Park to help celebrate the park's 15th anniversary this spring. Several chapter members had expressed interest. The factor that led us to conclude that it was time to bring the program to an end was the difficulty in obtaining a translator for our trip. That special synergy that kept the program going since 1996 had simply lost its momentum. Leaders at the park have changed and our translators at Moscow Pedagogical University had simply grown tired of spending their summer vacations away from their families.

When I broke the news to John Ann, she asked that I write an article for the newsletter outlining the accomplishments and history of the program. Our chapter has really expanded in the last few years and many of you may not be aware of what the program has been all about. When I look back over the program's history, I am truly amazed. Here are just a few bullets showing some of the highlights:

• Ten different chapter members traveled to Russia one or more times, as program participants.
• Over $12,000 in funding was raised to support the program from seven different sources.
• Twelve U.S. companies or organizations and at least six Russian organizations were involved. This includes two secondary schools and two Universities in Russia.
• In 1999, four Russian foresters along with an interpreter were brought to the U.S. for a tour of wildlife and park management facilities and law enforcement training.
• In 2000, two outdoor education specialist were brought from the park to attend a two week long training session for environmental educators at the Great Smokey Mountains Institute in Tremont, TN.
• In March 2001, the NCTWS teamed with the North Carolina Chapter of the American Fisheries Society and Duke Power Company to host the park's fisheries biologist, Vlad Khokhriakov, and his interpreter for a two week tour of fisheries management in North Carolina.
• In summer of 2000, the Chapter embarked on a program to introduce GLOBE, an outdoor education and awareness program, to the public schools around and in the park.
• Trips almost every year since by Hice and other outdoor educators have provided training for local teachers.
• Funds and seeds were provided through a small donation to establish an arboretum on the park.
• Funds were provided for an education center at Baklanovo Lodge.
• $6,125 were donated in 2003 to financially support an outdoor education and interpretive center in the town of Przhevalskoe.

The really interesting part of the program however is the story of how our Chapter became involved and how world events took such a strange turn and made a unique one time opportunity for a cultural exchange that will probably never happen again. Our Chapter is truly blessed to have been a part of it.

Those of you not growing up during the heights of the cold war can probably not begin to imagine what Russia was to those of us who were growing up in the decades of the 50's, 60's, and 70's. None of us from that era can forget the image of Nikita Khrushchev in the fall of 1960 pounding on the table at the UN with his shoe and declaring to the west that "we will bury you." I never dreamed, at that time, that within 35 years I would be in Russia sitting in the living room of an ex-Communist Party member discussing that very incident. Even five years before my first trip to Russia in 1994, such a discussion would have been unimaginable. Yet those of us fortunate enough to participate in the Russia Exchange program were part of those kinds of exchanges. We were the first Americans most of the Russians we worked with had ever seen. Westerners are now common on the streets of Moscow, but that was not true just a decade ago.

By the way, that discussion about Khrushchev ended in a rather interesting manner. Our Russian host thought the story about the shoe at the UN 4 was rather humorous and stated that they never really thought of Americans as their enemy in the same way we thought of Russians as our enemy. They went on to state that "the problem was rather obvious." When pressed as to what they meant. Our host stated that "it is obvious that your "propaganda machine" was better than ours." The Americans looked at each other in puzzlement not sure what our host was getting at. Finally he explained that Russians never believe anything their government tells them and Americans believe everything their government says. We then proceeded with another round of vodka to toast our "propaganda machines."

At any rate, the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and a trip with the Great Smoky Mountain Park Foundation by Anne Hice in 1992, led to a "very fortunate series of events." Anne, at the time was an outdoor educator with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC). To say the least, Anne has an adventuresome spirit. Anne met three other people on her trip and that foursome would eventually lead a very unique partnership between The Wildlife Society (TWS), Smolensk Lakelands National Park and the NCTWS.

The first person she met was Sergey Volkov, director of a brand new National Park in western Russia near the Belarus border. Volkov was looking for some fresh ideas from the west to make his park a leader in the Russian park system.

The second person Anne met was a fiery redheaded English instructor by the name of Svetlana Myorshina from the leading teaching University in Moscow. Svetlana was looking for a way to get her students some practical experience in speaking English to westerners.

Finally, Anne became acquainted with Jim Walker, an American freelance interpreter from north Georgia that specialized in translating Russian forestry journals into English.

Some may call finding such a unique group of individuals with all the necessary skills to put an exchange program together as luck, but they probably don't know Anne Hice very well. She is one that looks for opportunities and then works to make them happen. Those of us who traveled with her soon learned to quit worrying about the trip details and let Anne handle everything. She had a plan. She never let Russians or Americans forget why we were there and what we needed to get accomplished.

A typical three-week trip to Russia consisted of one week in Moscow doing the tourist thing. Svetlana would arrange for one of her students to host an American for the week in their homes. During this time the group would be split up in the evenings but get together during the day for tours of Red Square, the Kremlin, etc. This gave the students a real opportunity to practice their English and us the opportunity to see how Muscovites really live and work. The real business end of the trip, however, would start on the second week when the park would send a van or bus to pick up the group and our interpreters. It was a grueling 12 to 15 hour ride over roads not exactly up to western standards. Rest stops consisted of men headed to the bushes on the right of the bus, and women on the left.

The park is located in western Russia near the Belarus border. It is a 146,000 hectare area administered by the Smolensk Forest Service. It employs in excess of 200 people. Most of the early trips involved providing training for foresters and park rangers on how wildlands are managed in the U.S. We were able to provide some new concepts on public involvement in park planning and the importance of the public having a stake in the health of wildlife populations.

Some of the most rewarding experiences were being able to provide some basic equipment like increment borers, clinometers, compasses, and computers. Just watching a forester that had been practicing forestry all his life without an increment borer to age stands was like watching a child on Christmas morning.

During the classroom training and our trips to the field is where Jim Walker really showed his worth. While our Russian interpreters were excellent in general conversation, Jim knew the technical terms for forestry and ecology. Between Jim's technical skills and our fundamental knowledge of Latin names for plants and animals, we were able to carry on some pretty in-depth professional discussions.

Although a pretty fair ecologist herself, Svetlana was at her best in social situations. To this day I don't understand how she could keep three or four Americans and just as many Russians talking to each other over dinner or rounds of vodka. After a few toasts, poor Jim would be speaking Russian to me and English to Sergey, but Svet would never let the conservation slow.

Sergey Volkov, the park director, was a man of vision. He visited us here in North Carolina before the Exchange Program began. He spent a lot of time with biologists with the NCWRC and saw how they were managing public lands on the Sandhills and other areas. It was his idea to invite a group of biologists over to work with his rangers. As a host, he was superb. We always had comfortable accommodations at the park and some kind of social most every night. One of the most memorable evenings was spent at his home with a real Russia banya, a swim in the Dnieper River, dinner with he and his wife and vodka toasts until we had settled the cold war.

In latter years of the program, Svet turned over her duties to a former student and new instructor with the University, Julia Galkina. Julie accompanied both the foresters and the fish biologist on their trips to the U.S. and was an invaluable member of the team. She was also very helpful to Anne as the program moved to working with the local teachers in and around the park and training them in Outdoor Education programs like Project Wild and GLOBE.

Sergey too, moved on and became involved in Oblast politics. President Vladimir Putin put an end to election of local governors about the time of Sergey's support of a local candidate for that office. While we still had support for a number of years after Sergey's replacement, the real passion for the program in the park was lost.

So our Russian Exchange Program comes to an end. Anne is still talking about one last trip to the park to check on our $6,000+ investment in the Outdoor Education Center. We hear it is opening this spring.

The following is a list of financial supporters of this program. I would be remiss if I did not particularly mention the special, behind the scenes support, of Hal Atkinson. Hal served on the board of the Camp-Younts foundations and was a strong early supporter of the idea of an Exchange Program.

• Major Funding has come through grants from the Camp-Younts Foundation

Other contributors included:
o Carolina Biological Supply
o Duke Power Company
o Forestry Suppliers, Inc.
o the late Don Hayne, professor emeritus NCSU
o Trimble Navigation, Ltd (US & Moscow)
o Bass Pro Shops
Our US partners included:
o Center for Mathematics and Science Education - UNC Chapel Hill
o Greensboro Parks and Recreation
o Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont
o Jim Walker, freelance Russian/English interpreter
o N. C. Chapter of the American Fisheries Society
o N. C. Division of Forest Resources
o N. C. Division of Parks & Recreation
o N. C. Museum of Natural Sciences
o N. C. State University
o N. C. Wildlife Resources Commission
o U. S. Army Corp of Engineers
o U. S. Forest Service
o Wake County Wildlife Club
Our Russian partners:
o Moscow Pedagogical State University
o Numerous students and families in Moscow.
o Przhevalskoye Secondary School, Demidovshy region, Smolensk Obalast
o Smolensk Secondary Comprehensive School # 33 Smolensk, RU
o Smolensk Humanitarian University
o U. S. Peace Corp (Moscow Office)

Finally I would like to thank those members that traveled to Russia or hosted our Russian guests in their home. Our financial support did not cover airline tickets or other travel costs for the Americans. These costs were borne by the participants. Hopefully Anne, if she does continue her trips to Russia, will remember to bring back that ever popular Russian Vodka for our Annual meeting auctions. I would also ask that Anne extend our warmest congratulations to the Staff of Smolensk Lakelands National Park on their fifteenth anniversary. I hope we contributed in some small part to their success.

NCTWS Support

Land for Tomorrow : Land for Tomorrow is a statewide partnership of conservationists, farmers, business leaders, local governments, health professionals, and community groups urging the General Assembly to provide $1 billion over five years to protect the state's land, water, and special places before they are irreversibly lost. NCTWS is a supporting partner.

Teaming with Wildlife: Teaming with Wildlife is a coalition of more than 4,500 organizations working to prevent wildlife from becoming endangered by supporting increased state and federal funding for wildlife conservation. This coalition includes wildlife managers, conservationists, hunters and anglers, businesses, and many others who support the goal of restoring and conserving our nation's wildlife. NCTWS is a coalition member.

North Carolina Prescribed Fire Council: The mission of the North Carolina Prescribed Fire Council is to foster cooperation among all parties in North Carolina with an interest or stake in prescribed fire. Our goal is to optimize burning opportunities for the benefit of natural ecosystems and wildlife and to reduce the risk of damage from wildfires. This will be accomplished by encouraging the exchange of information, techniques and experiences among practitioners of prescribed fire in North Carolina. We also need to promote public understanding of the regional importance and benefits of prescribed fire. NCTWS is a formal member of the NC Prescribed Fire Council.