While I was standing recently in the redwood forests of northern California, I was reminded of the biodiverse Korean Pine forests of Russia’s Primorye Territory. In a similar way, watching salmon fight upstream in the Pacific Northwest recalls the abundant salmon in Sakhalin and Kamchatka. These are just two examples of the ways that the western United States and the Russian Far East are closely connected by environment and culture.
The people of the Russian Far East and of the western United States share similar ecosystems, ranging from boreal and temperate forests to tundra, and salmon habitat stretches across the North Pacific from northern California through Alaska to the southern reaches of the Russian Far East and northern Japan.
We also share environmental challenges, ranging from monitoring the impacts of industrial development such as mining and oil drilling, to addressing the global challenge of climate change. Most importantly, people in the western United States and the Russian Far East share a deeply rooted commitment to the land and conservation to preserve natural resources.
Over the last three decades, deep relationships have emerged between Russian and American environmentalists to move forward meaningful conservation initiatives. At the governmental level, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continue to cooperate with their counterparts at the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources, regardless of the ebb and flow of political tensions. Scientists from both countries have collaborated on a range of longterm ecological monitoring and research programs. Wildlife conservation programs to study the Amur Tiger, Western Pacific Gray Whale and Pacific Walrus are among the best-known of these initiatives.
This collaboration has led to deep friendships and measurable conservation impact. U.S.- Russian partnerships catalyzed the creation of new protected areas, better practices by companies and new scientific data about endangered species.
Unfortunately, cooperation between the western United States and the Russian Far East has become more difficult in recent years. Despite the fact that Russia’s NGO Law — the so-called “Foreign Agent” Law — does not apply to organizations involved in the protection of flora and fauna, numerous conservation organizations in Russia have been punished under the new law despite their non-political activities. American organizations, in turn, do not want to create risk for their Russian friends and partners. As a result, environmental cooperation between the U.S. and Russia has waned, to the detriment of our shared common interests.This is an unfortunate trend, given the interdependent nature of the ecology and culture between the western United States and the Russian Far East. Nonetheless, Russian-U.S. collaboration continues to make progress on such issues as wildlife and fisheries conservation. For example, cooperation between multiple Russian and U.S. organizations was a critical element of a remarkably successful story of the rescue, rehabilitation, release and monitoring of an Amur tiger named Zolushka (Cinderella), who had been found as a starving cub and is now a mother in the wild. The cooperation to help Zolushka sets an example that we can emulate.
Initiatives like the Fort Ross Dialogue show the importance of mutual understanding between our countries. It is important to reinvigorate the successful and impressive collaborations between American and Russian environmentalists.