Vignette 5.1 Saving Nature … by Teaching Kids

My trip to Siberia in the summer of 2006 started with a long bus ride from the international Tolmachevo Airport in Novosibirsk. After about 2 hours of bumpy road on the national Trans-Siberian Highway (which in places resembles a local access road somewhere in Montana), I was relieved to get off on a curve somewhere in Bolotniki district and to see a four-wheel drive UAZ waiting for me. A friend picked me up to get through 15 km of barely passable jeep trails to a forestry camp on the banks of the Ob River, near the village of Novobibeevo. This innovative summer project, sponsored by the SibEcocenter of Novosibirsk, attracted students and teachers from seven villages in the vast Novosibirsk Oblast. The region around is heavily forested, mostly Scotch pine and birch planted after World War II. Much of the original forest was cut down during the war, but today the 60-year-old timber stands are impressive in their unbroken natural beauty. However, logging has increased recently because of growing timber demands in China.

The camp we were heading to was held in the forest on a scenic tributary of the Ob River. Supported by the World Resources Institute forestry initiative and some local funding, the students, their schoolteachers, and college-age instructors from SibEcocenter spent 7 days living together in tents and sharing meals, sports, swimming, music, and dancing, in addition to being exposed to a vast array of forestry-related disciplines (Figure 1). These disciplines included plant ecology, geography, geographic information systems (GIS), field orientation with the global positioning system (GPS), cardiopulmonary resuscitation, wilderness survival, local customs and folklore, timber cruising and management, and even (with my humble input) U.S. conservation policies. Participants were schoolchildren from 8th to 10th grade. Some students came from the local village, while others came from 100–200 km away. During the school year, the students would keep in touch with each other by mail and phone (and, on two occasions, personal meetings at the follow-up winter camps in Novosibirsk). The project attracted regional TV attention and a visit from the head of the local government, who pledged support for organizing removal of the litter collected by students during the program. Most of this litter had been left by careless hunters and tourists, and now these schoolchildren had shown the adults what it means to take care of the forest.