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  Main arrow Baikal Discovery Digest arrow Lake Baikal Ecology arrow Russian, American Environmentalists work to Save Deepest Lake  

Russian, American environmentalists work to save deepest lake


For starters, some Russians have asked that Americans heading to Siberia take their own work clothes, heavy-duty work gloves and ax-hoes called Pulaskis.
Seattleites are complying -- in the name of eco-tourism. Headed for Lake Baikal, they insist there's more to Siberia than gulags and icicle-lipped Dr. Zhivago.



Joshua Trujillo / P-I
  Anya Skitnevskaya, right, of Russia and EarthCorps volunteer Kohei Kifuji use a hand winch to hoist a log across Fauntleroy Creek in West Seattle as part of a stream-restoration project. Skitnevskaya and American volunteers will head to Siberia next to build a trail for Lake Baikal.
In what may be the most ambitious global application of the "build it and they will come" philosophy, EarthCorps workers from King County are teaming up with Russian environmentalists to help build a recreational trail around the world's oldest, deepest lake.
The international effort, which drew volunteers for the first time this summer, aims to save the environmentally sensitive lake from industrial pollution, proposed oil pipelines and other threats by creating greater awareness and eco-tourism as an alternative for the local economy.
A pristine place with ice age conifer forests, as well as plants and animals that exist nowhere else in the world, Lake Baikal is considered "the Galapagos of Russia," said Russians who yesterday trained with EarthCorps members on stream restoration for salmon on Fauntleroy Creek in West Seattle. The training was part of an international exchange between EarthCorps and members of a Lake Baikal trail-building group called Raoris Baikal.
"It's pretty amazing -- a very ambitious project -- and gratifying that the Russians sought out our expertise," said Bob Keller, 30, of Seattle, a project manager for EarthCorps who hopes to head to Russia next month.
Steve Dubiel, executive director of EarthCorps, a non-profit environmental group, said the Baikal project reflects international concern.
"The lake has parks and preserves, but it's not necessarily being preserved," Dubiel said. "The Russians are facing something on a mind-boggling scale: A treasure that could be lost in a couple generations unless efforts are made to protect it."
Russian volunteers, who spent the summer in Seattle learning trail building, erosion controls, habitat restoration and volunteer management, return to Irkutsk next month with members of EarthCorps to continue Lake Baikal trail efforts. 

Robin Clark, EarthCorps program coordinator and Russia partnership manager, will head to Russia next month and return to the lake next summer with Seattle-area volunteers. She said she and others have gained a better understanding of "one of the world's largest lakes -- that isn't being regulated."
"The idea of volunteering -- doing something for free -- is a new concept for Russians, so they don't understand why Americans would spend their vacations and their own money helping to build a trail," said Ariadna Riadna, Raoris Baikal director, yesterday over the din of a chain saw, cutting fallen logs for the creek project.
"But they are very grateful."
Riadna, who last year received a master's degree in environmental studies from The Evergreen State College, discussed with passion the mammoth Lake Baikal trail project.
"It's one of the most unique places in the world," said Riadna, noting that the Baikal seal is the only freshwater seal in existence and that 1,500 other species, including golomyanka and other fish, exist only in Lake Baikal.
"It has all the climactic zones -- high precipitation like the tropics, high grasses, huge old trees that are relics of the ice age, beautiful sandy beaches, and taiga (conifer) forests of pine and spruce, and Mongolian steppes," Riadna said
Riadna said the trail project is not a foreign idea being imposed on Russians; the locals value it -- and the idea of expanding eco-tourism for economic development. Inns, restaurants, services could help residents and still balance environmental concerns, she said.
Russians value the 25 million-year-old lake as both a natural and recreational resource and want to protect it -- and the 336 rivers that flow into it. A large pulp and paper mill at the south end of the lake is already contaminating it, and logging is a huge concern, she said. Also looming as threats are oil and gas pipelines to China and Japan, proposed by the Russian government. Riadna said many locals are opposed to the projects.
"It is mostly federal government, not local, pushing for big industry," she said. "Local people feel strongly that instead of industry here, they want eco-tourism and to keep the resources. They want to be able to pick wild berries, fish for omul and hunt for mushrooms."
P-I reporter Debera Carlton Harrell can be reached at 206-448-8326 or

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