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Siberia isn’t so far from Tahoe after all

Cory Fisher

Americans love order – that was the first thing that struck Sergei Gordejev when he arrived here several weeks ago from Russia.

“It’s very interesting to see how Americans live,” said Gordejev, through a translator. “They are meticulous – their streets are very clean, and they seem more optimistic than Russians.”

But as fascinating as they are, humans are not what Gordejev came here to study. In fact, one is more likely to find him examining the ground – magnifying glass in hand.

With a special interest in the insects of Lake Tahoe, Gordejev is one of 10 university students visiting from the Lake Baikal area in Siberia, along with one from Lithuania.

Working with eight American students, the group makes up the Tahoe-Baikal Institute, an environmental/cultural exchange program.

Established in 1991 to help preserve two of the largest freshwater lakes in the world – Lake Baikal and Lake Tahoe – the focus of the institute is to give students an international, interdisciplinary look at environmental challenges, policies and restoration efforts.

In addition, Institute program coordinators say they hope the program will encourage students to pursue related careers, thereby influencing future environmental policy on an international scale.

“I’ve found the people here in my scientific field to be very kind when it comes to sharing information and ideas,” said Elena Maisyuk of the Siberian Energy Institute. “It makes me happy to see that Americans are working hard for a green environment.”

Based at Fallen Leaf Lake, the group is spending five weeks in the Tahoe Basin, exploring topics ranging from ecology and fish life to environmental restoration and planning, cultural preservation, public policy and resource economics.

“What is most amazing to me is how much wilderness there is here,” said Henrika Marcinkenaite of Lithuania, who is concerned with protecting the Baltic Sea. “Europe is densely populated – there isn’t as much open, undisturbed land.”

On July 27, the students will depart for Lake Baikal, where they will spend another five weeks of comparable study. Like Tahoe, Baikal is known for its clarity, and faces similar threats due to human activity.

While Tahoe is threatened by the effects of urban development and heavy recreational use, Baikal suffers from long-term industrial pollution and massive dumping into its largest tributary.

A recent mass death of endemic species – like freshwater seals near an antiquated pulp mill – has been called “the worst ecological catastrophe at Lake Baikal for decades.”

The world’s oldest and largest freshwater lake, Baikal is 400 miles long, 50 miles wide and more than a mile deep – and it freezes over in winter.

“Many of the problems at Baikal are problems that were here 30 years ago,” said Eial Dujovny, who is studying international environmental policy in Monterey, Calif. “This gives me hope for our generation – everywhere in the world people are waking up to the fact that the Earth needs to be preserved.”


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