Moyna, Boylen share Russian adventure

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Wetlands Centre Director Katrina Moyna (left) and Wetlands Centre board member and MFL MarMac teacher Scott Boylen (second from right), pose with Russian hosts Elena and Igor by Lake Itkul, in Khakassky State Nature Reserve. The two visited Russia June 12-20 through the Russia-USA Wetland Center Exchange Program. (Submitted photo)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

On July 1, Driftless Area Wetlands Centre Director Katrina Moyna and Wetlands Centre board member and MFL MarMac teacher Scott Boylen spoke about their recent visit to Russia, from June 12-20, through the Russia-USA Wetland Center Exchange Program: Linking People and Wetlands project.

The Wetlands Centre in Marquette was one of three wetlands centers in the United States chosen to participate in the project, which seeks to identify shared challenges organizations in the U.S. and Russia face in regard to wetlands education and outreach.

For the exchange program, the Wetlands Centre and the two other participating centers, The Wetlands Institute from Stone Harbor, N.J., and John Bunker Sands Wetland Center from Seagoville, Texas, are each paired with a Russian wetlands center. Representatives from each U.S. wetlands center will visit a partner wetlands center in Russia. Later this year, Russian representatives will, in turn, travel to their partner wetlands centers in the U.S.

Funding for the project is provided by a grant to The Wetlands Institute by the U.S. Embassy, Moscow, Public Affairs Section as part of the U.S.-Russia Peer-to-Peer Dialogue Program. The Wetlands Institute is teaming with Wetland Link International (based in the United Kingdom) and Wetlands International Russia (a program of World Wildlife Fund Russia) to generate a beneficial international dialogue between wetlands centers in the U.S. and Russia to share best practices in environmental education.

The Wetlands Centre was paired with Khakassky State Nature Reserve, located in Abakan, Republic of Khakasia, Russia. The reserve, which Moyna and Boylen described as a vast place, is situated in south-central Russia, and is home to several plant and animal species in Russia’s red book, or endangered species list.

“There’s high biodiversity,” explained Moyna of Khakassky, which she said has nine visitor centers. The reserve focuses on research (inventorying and monitoring species) and education. “Ecotourism is a big thing, but some parts are not open to the public.”

Moyna noted that tours such as she and Boylen received, which took them driving and hiking across the reserve’s vast reaches, are rare, reserved for officials or famous ballerinas. Several guides and translators helped them communicate and learn throughout the trip.

“You can’t have too many people visiting or the waterfowl move out,” she said.

“It’s a major flyway, kind of like the Mississippi. There are very unique, little micro-biomes,” added Boylen, mentioning that two major rivers, as well as the reserve’s many lakes, draw birds from Africa, India and Australia making their way to Siberia. “One day, there were 20,000 cranes at one time in a lake the size of Horseshoe Lake (located in the Mississippi between Mar-Mac and Prairie du Chien). They come over the Himalayas and that’s the first major water source before they continue north for the summer.”

During the trip, Moyna and Boylen toured the area, learning about Khakassky’s rich biodiversity and geographical features. They also got to help with a research project, which involved collecting photos from game cameras throughout the reserve. The reserve uses the photos to keep track of species—especially those that are endangered, like the snow leopard—that call the area home.

In addition, the two learned about the history of local people, sampled a large variety of Russian cuisine and tried a traditional Russian bana, or sauna.

One interesting aspect from the trip was that the reserve is not fenced in, noted Boylen.

“The only fences are around people’s own properties,” he explained. “They fence animals out rather than in. Cows just walk across the highway. It was very different there.”

As Moyna and Boylen toured the different visitor centers, Moyna said she enjoyed witnessing children’s educational programming.

“It was fun to watch the themes they touched on,” she said. 

One group of kids asked a lot of questions, curious if the two had met any American pop stars. They also asked Moyna and Boylen about their favorite animals, what kids in the U.S. do for fun and whether crocodiles live in the Mississippi.

“I’d love to do an exchange of youth groups one day,” Moyna said.

One trail in Khakassky was developed by youth, Moyna added, noting that that is something she’d also like to incorporate at the Wetlands Centre. 

While in Moscow, before traveling to Khakassky, Boylen had a unique exchange with Russian students as well. With an eight-hour layover, he and Moyna had the opportunity to meet up with a teacher and some of her class, who Boylen and his classes at MFL MarMac Skype with throughout the year. She showed them around Red Square and other spots in the city.

Moyna said the exchange is a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience, as the two groups shared challenges and ideas.

“Their main challenges are poaching, littering and fires,” Moyna said. “We’re used to having prairies that need to be burned, but, out there, it’s such a vast place, it takes out everything and the animals have no place to go. There’s no fire department.”

“They were asking us how to sell to the public more and get the public involved,” Boylen added.

Two Russian representatives will visit the Wetlands Centre and tour the surrounding area in October, Moyna said.

“We really want to keep things going,” she said. “This [experience] was totally needed to gain a better understanding and connect with people on the other side of the globe.”

To view more photos from the trip, visit the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre Facebook page.

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