From Buryatia to Oregon:
Protecting the Environment Through Law Across Borders
By Maggie Keenan
In January, Oksana Imetkenova traveled to Eugene, Oregon from Ulan-Ude in Russia’s Buryatia Republic. This remote area of East Siberia is home to the Buryat people, whose traditional yak husbandry, native species, and watersheds are threatened by gold mining waste and changing land use.
Oksana came to Eugene to collaborate on her work with colleagues from around the world at the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide, and to study English at the University of Oregon’s American English Institute. “It was helpful to learn about laws protecting endangered species in the United States and China,” she said. “I also learned about pastoral rights and the management of protected areas.”
Oksana is a teacher at the Department of Ecology, Health and Safety at the East Siberia State University of Technology and Management, where she also studies law. She volunteers at the Buryat Regional Organization for Lake Baikal (BROB) to help protect the world’s oldest and largest lake and the surrounding Altai-Sayan Ecoregion.
The Altai-Sayan covers parts of China, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Russia. Its terrain includes glaciers, mountain tundra, alpine grassland, forest, wetland, steppe, and desert. The Okinski District in Russia’s Altai-Sayan is the legendary land of Genghis Khan, with volcanoes, lava fields, hot mineral springs, waterfalls, and rafting on the Irkut River. BROB’s conservation plans include creating a trans-boundary protected area in the Okinski District, on the border with Mongolia.
“The highlight of my Oregon visit was the 2015 ELAW Annual Meeting and field trip,” says Oksana. “It was a first for me, to meet lawyers from around the world working on similar problems. We worked together then explored land-sea connections at the Oregon Coast. We visited Ten-Mile Creek Sanctuary and saw marbled murrelets nesting in old-growth forest and seals and whales in the marine reserve. I saw how protected areas benefit the forest, biodiversity, and endangered species. I returned to Ulan-Ude inspired to share what I learned with my students and advance our work at BROB to protect the Altai-Sayan.”
Okasana’s ELAW Fellowship was made possible by support from the Trust for Mutual Understanding and a Director’s Distinction Scholarship from the American English Institute.
Maggie Keenan is the Communications Director and Fellows Program Coordinator at the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide.