April 30-May 11, 2012: The study tour for was the third in a series of exchange visits on protected areas undertaken as part of the Environmental Working Group of the Bilateral Presidential Commission. The visit of 19 Russian Protected Area managers to DC and Florida in February 2011 and the return visit of 8 US Protected Area managers to South Russian protected areas in October 2011 laid the groundwork for this tour. While the earlier exchanges provided a broad overview of the protected area systems in the respective countries visited, the current tour focused on in-depth study the management of recreation, interpretation, and environmental education on public lands, as requested by MNRE. All three exchanges were multi-agency efforts on the U.S. side.
The current exchange was organized by the US Forest Service International Programs, with financial support from USAID. Some of the places visited included Spring Mountain National Recreation Area (USFS), Red Rock Canyon NCA (BLM), Zion National Park (NPS), Death Valley National Park (NPS), Dixie National Forest (USFS), Sequoia National Forest/National Monument/National Park (USFS, NPS). Topics discussed included: balancing resource protection and recreation needs, interpretive programs, conservation education, visitation management, working with communities surrounding protected areas, entrance fees and permits, and design of recreation infrastructure. The success of this exchange can be measured in the frank working level conversations that took place between the Russian protected area managers and their American counterparts. Information was exchanged in both directions: it was clear the Russian visitors gathered new ideas that could be applied in their own protected areas, and they also shared suggestions and asked questions about what they were seeing that gave their American colleagues a wider perspective on protected area management. The topic of the study tour was requested by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment’s (MNRE) Protected Area Department. Development of sustainable tourism and education is currently among the highest priorities for the Russian protected area system. The study tour also substantially covered the topic of partnerships with NGOs, schools, volunteer groups, businesses, and communities, since these partnerships are an integral part of how all four U.S. land-managing agencies manage recreation, interpretation, and education on their protected areas.