U.S. State Dept. Program Sends Researchers to Russia For Wetlands Study

Posted: March 9, 2015 in Society and Culture, Technology and Energy

SOURCE: http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/news/wetlands-institute-partnering-with-russia-scientists/article_e2ad2586-c603-11e4-913c-43a6128c1f4d.html

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Wetlands Institute partnering with Russia scientists

Sunday, March 8, 2015

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — The Wetlands Institute is partnering with scientists in Russia to learn more about conservation in Eastern Europe — and maybe achieve world peace.

Staff members from the nonprofit conservation group will travel to Russia as part of a U.S. State Department program designed to foster better working relationships between the two countries.

Staff from the Wetlands Institute and similar centers in Texas and Iowa will go to Russia next month to learn about its conservation efforts in three regions of Russia.

In the fall, Russian scientists from those regions will visit South Jersey, Iowa and Texas to see how America protects its marshes and wildlife and promotes ecotourism.

With the two countries seeing increasing political tension, this peer-to-peer science program is timely, said Lenore Tedesco, director of the Wetlands Institute.

“You could ask, ‘Is that really what we want to do now?’ But I think it’s exactly what we need to do,” she said.

She and Director of Research Brooke Knapick will visit the lake region of Smolensk outside Moscow, where they will tour the national park and learn about ecotourism. Established in 1992, it’s one of the newer parks in Russia and is home to brown bears, moose, lynx and wolves.

Russia has identified more than 25 million acres of valuable wetlands across 35 regions. That covers an area five times the size of New Jersey.

Tedesco said she does not speak Russian. But her Russian counterparts speak English.

“We’re getting organized now,” she said. “Getting into their national parks will be cool. I’m pretty excited.”

The Russian scientists from Smolensk will visit the Wetlands Institute in October, which coincides with the annual fall hawk migration, she said.

“Most of the wetlands centers have important migratory bird areas,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to showcase Cape May County’s environmental education and ecotourism.”

Russia and the United States have seen increasing political anxiety since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in Ukraine, said David L. Carr, professor of political science at Stockton University.

“Relations with Russia are at their lowest point since the Cold War,” Carr said. “Vladimir Putin has gradually reasserted the authority of the Russian state. He sees the breakup of the Soviet Union as the biggest tragedy of the 20th century. He’s trying to reassert Russia’s authority in a region on its borders.”

Carr said programs between professionals in polarized countries can have a profound effect on improving perceptions and breaking down stereotypes, especially during periods of political crisis.

“In times of tension, it’s easy to resort to stereotypes in thinking about the motives of other countries. Stereotypes are easier to hold if you have no contact with other people,” he said.

Russia is a top-30 trade partner. It hosted a successful Winter Olympics last year in Sochi.

And perhaps the most visible collaboration is aboard the International Space Station, home to three American and three Russian astronauts. Half of them will be returning this month, to be replaced by three others, also a mix of Russians and Americans.

“I know this is part of a larger picture with President Obama and President Putin. But it’s important to keep that in the back of our minds. I don’t think about the political aspects of this,” said John DeFillipo, director of the John Bunker Sands Wetland Center outside Dallas, Texas.

He will visit wetlands in St. Petersburg this summer and will host his Russian counterparts at his 2,000-acre manmade wetland in the fall. The freshwater wetland helps filter drinking water for the growing suburbs and attracts migrating birds and nesting bald eagles.

Like the Wetlands Institute, it provides education and ecotourism to visitors who come to see the wildlife and talk to staff.

DeFillipo said he expects to learn a lot from his Russian counterparts. His center is only 5 years old, so they are just starting to launch their first research projects.

And he said he is keen to introduce his Russian colleagues to Texas, including its diverse culture, ranging from art museums to rodeos.

“If they come here in October, they have to go to the Texas State Fair. You can get anything fried. If you can fry it, you can eat it,” he said.

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