In recent weeks, we have lost two shining stars of Russia’s conservation movement. On Thursday, Robert Savelievich Moiseev passed away, one day after his 70th birthday. Robert Savelievich was the director of the Kamchatka Branch of the Pacific Institute of Geography, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Robert Savelievich’s vision of sustainable development for Kamchatka and the North Pacific was truly extraordinary. Meeting with Robert Savelievich was always a pleasure that would result in expanding my worldview. He had a deep and complex understanding of sustainable development, based on his background as an economist and a patriot of Kamchatka and the North Pacific. He immediately understood the value of international connections; his vision was truly North-Pacific wide, as he understood the ties between Kamchatka and Alaska. He was one of the primary drivers behind the ideas for the International Bering Sea Forum, which brought together community members from both sides of the Bering Sea.
Robert Savelievich believed that Kamchatka could prosper only if it could sustainably manage its renewable resources, particularly its fisheries. He worked with us to demonstrate the value of Kamchatka’s salmon economy. He thought that Kamchatka’s economic priorities – which now appear to favor oil over fisheries – were terribly misplaced. His vision, though, was always frustrated by government officials who failed to have the long-term vision that Robert Savelievich championed. It’s particularly tragic that proposals to drill for oil off of western Kamchatka are moving forward at the same time that Robert Savelievich has passed away.
Most of all, though, I will remember Robert Savelievich as a mentor with an incredibly keen wit, golden tongue, and sharp mind. I remember once attending a public hearing on mining issues in Kamchatka, at which Robert Savelievich spoke. He spoke directly after a representative from the mining company. Robert Savelievich had the amazing ability – well-developed through the Russian scientific dialectic – to “dress down” whoever had spoken immediately prior to him. With an amazing economy of words, he showed the gaping flaws in the arguments of the mining company and went on to offer a vision for Kamchatka far beyond what anyone could imagine. I remember thinking to myself that I never wanted to speak directly after Robert Savelievich!
Robert Savelievich’s vision and leadership will be sorely missed, but I am hopeful that his vision for Kamchatka and the North Pacific will live on through his writings, his colleagues, and his family – and through those of us who will continue to promote a vision of sustainable development for the North Pacific.
Another shining star of the Russian conservation movement who passed away in late November is Boris Konstantinovich Shibnev, at the amazing age of 89. Boris Konstantinovich led an incredible life, having been born just a year after the Russian Revolution. He had read the works of Arseniev (the Russian analogue of John Muir) who wrote about his travels through the amazing nature of the Russian Far East (for those interested in his work, I recommend the Akira Kurosawa film “Dersu Uzala”). After being demobilized from the Russian Navy in 1939, Boris Konstantinovich moved to the Bikin River watershed in northern Primorsky Region.
Boris Konstantinovich was a fierce defender of the Bikin, a roadless area of 3 million acres with an amazing collection of subtropical biodiversity that is rare to find in such a northern area. He led scientific expeditions, was a teacher who gained great respect among the indigenous Udege people, and led early non-governmental efforts. I met Boris Konstantinovich in 1992 during my first visit to the Russian Far East. He had created a natural history museum in his home in the village of Verkhny Pereval. His passion and commitment to the Bikin watershed was contagious. At the time, the Bikin was under threat from Hyundai Corporation, which wanted to log the upper headwaters. We helped launch an international campaign that helped protect these forests from loggers.
These two stars of the Russian conservation movement will be warmly remembered – and our partners will be working to continue their traditions by protecting Russia’s most important wilderness areas and by promoting a sustainable vision for the region.