Science-Based Decision Making: An Example from the Russian Far East

An infrared, motion-triggered camera catches poachers spotlighting along an old logging road in Primorye, Russia. Photograph © WCS Russia

This article, written for Earth Day 2017 and in support of the March for Science, first appeared on the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Medium page.

I’m a wildlife conservationist and I work in Russia. Here is a tiny example, from that corner of the world that shows how maintaining a grounding in scientific principles benefits both humans and wildlife.

Ternei County (in the Russian province of Primorye) is remote, forested, and sparsely populated. There are few opportunities for steady employment here, with the logging industry being one of the few exceptions. In fact, a single logging company acts as the primary employer in at least four of the ten villages scattered across this 11,000 square mile area.

Over the past thirty years, more and more of Ternei County have been opened up for timber harvest, driven by global demand, with logging roads reaching further and further into these forests of pine, oak, and birch.

As a wildlife conservationist I was concerned that poachers were using old logging roads to shoot deer, wild boar, and even tigers, but intuition was not enough to guide change in logging management practice. The forests appear vast and limitless to anyone passing through them, so how can I measure the impact of logging roads?

My team designed a study.

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Ten Years In

Jonathan Slaght (L) and Sergei Avdeyuk (R) band a Blakiston’s fish owl. Photograph © Andrei Katkov

I’ve been working with Blakiston’s fish owls in Russia for ten years.

A decade of blizzards, floods, cramped quarters, and discovery; all to better understand this charismatic endangered species. The unwavering passion shown by my Russian colleagues Sergei Surmach and Sergei Avdeyuk has been nothing short of inspirational. These men have thrown everything at the owl–a true labor of love–working when there was time but not necessarily when there was money.

Together, the past decade that yielded a vast expansion of our scientific understanding of this salmon-eater and what we need to do to protect it.

Earlier this week, a peer-reviewed paper written by me and Sergei Surmach was released in Bird Conservation International, which is BirdLife International’s scientific journal. In many ways this paper is a culmination of our decade of work: a roadmap for Blakiston’s fish owl conservation in Russia.

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