More Ust-Koksa

During an overly technical set of presentations yesterday afternoon, I took the opportunity to slip out for a walk and talk with a colleague. We set out on the rickety wire suspension footbridge across the Koksa River adjacent to our hotel. I’ve never been fond of these sorts of bridges, the way they bounce and sway with every step, waves reverberating chaotically under one’s feet. For added excitement, the middle section of the bridge could definitely use some repair.

The bridge links the valley to a peninsula of land that ends at the point where the Koksa flows into the Katun Rivers. The peninsula is idyllically undeveloped and blanketed in birch first. There were small groups of people contemplating the rivers’ passages and evidence in the form of firepits and debris that revelers relax here well into the night. That, and a bunch of cows wandering about.

At dusk, I walked with another colleague down the residential road that stretches along the north bank of the Koksa. Dogs barked at us from behind many unpainted picket fences, and we passed a few folk strolling home as well. Watching one fellow cross the street from his house to pump well water, I was again reminded that there’s a lot of drudgery behind this pastoral lifestyle – many of these houses have no running water (and outhouses as a result) and are heated using a centralized wood stove. Laundry is often done by hand, although I’m sure some have small washers. Russian banyas (a sauna bath house) are for bathing and sometimes laundry as well. And then there’s all the gardening and putting up the harvest. And the cold winters, when all these tasks have to be done as well. I’m spoiled.

After I get back home, I’ll put together some of the more interesting tidbits relating to the conference itself. Yesterday’s presentations about large scale wildlife connectivity conservation, climate change adaptation strategies, and ecoregions-based conservation planning can be frustrating when viewed from the perspective of everyday life and grassroots initiatives to effect change on the ground, but they are useful and necessary in their own way. Some of the climate change data that was presented about Siberia and the Republic of Altai was compelling and rather horrifying, showing the likely elimination of species in a given habitat at just one or two or three degrees of temperature increase.

Today, I hope that we move away from the presentation format into lively discussions of how to adapt this science and theory to local needs. Although the Chinese have once again failed to send their delegation, there are influential scientists in attendance from Kazakhstan and Mongolia, as well as from Russia, of course. There is a smattering of Americans and Europeans, mostly from WWF, World Conservation Union, and a very few gov’t representatives from all over.