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ALASKA MARITIME- Russian, American Refuge Managers Shake Hands Across International Boundary
10 Region, April 11, 2005
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Straddling the International Date Line, the Aleutian Islands and Russia's Commander Islands are united in environment, history and culture. The managers of these Russian and American wildlife refuges met at the Alaska Maritime Refuge in mid-March to establish better working relationships. Nicola Pavlov, director of the Nature Biosphere Komandorskiy, and Natalia Fomina, an educator on the Commander Islands, met their counterparts at Alaska Maritime's new ?Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center? in Homer, Alaska. While Pavlov met with Refuge Manager Greg Siekaniec and staff, Fomina visited Homer schools. "We've always looked at the Commander Islands as an extension of the Refuge," said Anne Morkill, deputy manager for the Refuge, which includes the 1,200 mile long Aleutian Islands chain. "We see this as an incredible opportunity to get together with our Russian colleagues ? to link across the chain."

About 120 miles from Kamchatka on the Russian mainland, the Commander Islands ? (?Komandorskiy? in Russian) are at the eastern tip of the Commander-Aleutian chain, a series of volcanic islands geologically related and provide a similar environment. Species common to both include Emperor geese, Steller's eider and red-legged kittiwakes.The islands also face common problems, such as invasive species like rats, declining fur seal, overfishing and poaching, and the threat of oil spills from passing ships.

The Commander Islands have been a protected biosphere nature reserve since 1958 and are an Important Bird Area receiving support from the World Wildlife Fund, which has identified 10 such areas in the Commander Islands and 135 Important Bird Areas in the Aleutians. WWF is establishing youth clubs in the Commander Islands to motivate teenagers to do scientific research, such as mapping and collecting marine debris ? another problem common to the Aleutians and Alaska.

"We cannot talk only of bird cooperation," Pavlov said. "We have to think of so many other species." Archaeological sites 1,000 years old have been found on the Commander Islands, where human occupation dates back to when Aleuts and Russians settled the islands for seal and sea otter hunting. About 750 people ? including 300 Aleuts ? live on the Commander Islands.

Other collaborative programs include setting up common protocols for scientific investigation so biologists working on both sides of the chain collect the same quality of information. There are also plans to translate English scientific reports into Russian and attempt bilingual Web pages. Alaska Maritime staff have also discussed training Commander Island rangers in such things as basic bird identification. The United Nations is establishing aid and development programs in the Commanders as well.

Contact Info: Kevin Painter, , kevin_painter@fws.gov



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