Russian Language Village in Bemidji, Minn.
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Russian Language Village in Bemidji, Minn.

Radio Tracking Black Bears in Northern Minnesota

Nika Tracking Bears

Author: Kapitan Nika

Villager: Yes, for 3 years

What you do/did at Camp: Waterfront Manager, Mentor Counselor, and Two-week Language Teacher

What you do now: Ph.D. student in Conservation Biology at the University of Minnesota

Favorite Russian Related Movie: Ordinary Miracle

Favorite Russian Song: Smuglyanka Moldovanka

Favorite Russian Food: Salat Oliv’ye

Favorite Thing about LO: The villagers

Situated in the Northern Woods of Minnesota, Lesnoe ozero is surrounded by nature that is largely untouched by man.  For many of our villagers the setting is as unique and beautiful as the Russian language.  Chipmunks, rabbits, loons, and turtles are a common sight when walking about the village.  On occasion, villagers even spot fresh deer tracks or an eagle soaring overhead.

Lesnoe Ozero's dock

For me, finding those tracks in the early morning is a reminder of the world I go back to after the summer is over.  This year, I took up a position teaching a field course for the University of Minnesota’s Fisheries and Wildlife Department. I helped college students apply what they learned in class to a real-life situation: determining the home range of a female black bear. The bear’s radio collar served as a transmitter, sending out a signal that we could pick up with a standard receiver and antennae. Students need to learn how to use a receiver, compass, map, and GPS unit to determine the position of the bear every 4 hours.

Driving out to remote dirt roads and barely navigable forest paths, students would take out the receiver and do a wide circular sweep with the antennae from a high vantage point. When it reached its loudest point, that meant it was directed toward the bear. From that point, students had to use a GPS to find their location on a map and draw a line in the direction of the bear. The line was not too informative, though. Since the bear could be anywhere along that line, students had to drive out to another location to perform the same process again, and then to a third location for their last line.  Students draw a total of 3 lines on the map, the resulting triangle revealing the current position of the bear.

Triangulating Positions

Performing this every 4 hours for a two-week period, the student were able to create a map of where the bear had been during those two weeks and begin estimating the total size of its home range, its daily movement patterns, and its selection of various habitat types.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is the long and tedious process of charting the bear’s position which requires readings to be taken in the early morning, late evening, and even in the middle of the night each day for two weeks. But, let’s face it, it’s not every day you get to go out into the forest to track bears.  I took to motivating my students with a wise Russian proverb “Tishe edish – dal’she budesh” – “The slower you go, the further you’ll get” – to remind them to take their time, go through each step carefully, and not to rush things. Because as fun as it is to track bears, none of the students wanted to have to go back and redo lines and locations.

We might not track bears at Lesnoe ozero, but my time at the Russian village has influenced my career choice – and vice versa – in many ways. The appreciation of nature is such a central part of Russian culture and environmental stewardship is fundamental to Global citizenship.  I was born in St. Petersburg and continued my Russian studies as a student in the heritage class at Lesnoe ozero, before becoming a staff member.  It is my greatest pleasure each summer to share my passion for nature and Russian language with our villagers.

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