Vepsky National Park, located some 300 km (190 miles) east of St. Petersburg, Russia, is a 9,645 sq. km stretch of diverse ecosystems dotted with over 450 lakes and home to more than 300 species of wildlife. The area is named after the Veps, the indigenous people living in the area. The Veps are consummate hunter-gatherers whose presence in the area may date back as far as the fourth century and is documented in Russian literature from the ninth century.

    The park is situated on the watershed divide of the Caspian and Baltic Seas in an area known as the Valday Hills. Physiographic features found here are predominantly glacial moraines and outwash channels ranging in elevation from 80 to 280 meters above mean sea level. Many small elongated lakes occupy the channels and still more are found in small kettles created after the last deglaciation thousands of years ago. The lakes dotting the landscape are replete in perch, pike, bream and lake trout. Inventories by Russian scientists over the past decade have listed over 380 species of plants with resident populations of European hare, wild boar, beaver, lynx, marten, mink, wolf, moose and brown bear. My involvement with Vepsky began in the summer of 1997 when I served as an intern at the Russian National Institute of Remote Sensing Methods for Geology (VNIIKAM) in St. Petersburg. It was there, during an assigned literature review, that I discovered the investigation conducted by VNIIKAM in 1990 in an area then known as Vepsky Forest. The primary investigator for this study was also my internship supervisor, Dr. Tatiana Alexandrovna Popova, a scientist at VNIIKAM and the author of numerous publications on environmental questions utilizing remote sensing techniques. The park's formal establishment last year is a good example of the effectiveness of collaborative efforts in resource ecology management and area studies.

    Through Dr. Popova, I was able to join a scientific expedition of five Russian researchers and assistants in the spring of 1998. The project involved establishing plots to create baseline data for monitoring and preserving the various terrestrial ecosystems in Vepsky Forest. Through it I was able to collect data for my master's thesis, an evaluation of the utility of Russian aerial photographs in assessing and monitoring micro-site conditions within Vepsky Forest.

    The small Veps village of Korbeneechy, population 50, located on the shore of Kopshozero Lake, served as a base for our field sampling. Our accommodations were simple: a log home complete with a circular wood-fired radiant furnace that provided welcome warmth on frosty nights and an attached small barn with a rooster for morning wake-up calls. In the absence of plumbing, we retrieved water for cooking and dishwashing from a nearby well with a bucket and hooked pole several times a day. It was not uncommon to see a village resident returning from the well with two buckets of water slung from a wooden yoke. Bathing was accomplished in a traditional log sauna located behind a small barn just a few steps from our door.

    Our hostess, Zolya Yevgorovna, provided us with fresh dairy products and occasional culinary surprises fresh from her traditional wood-fired oven. Her husband, Nickolai Nickolayevich, tilled the field adjacent to their house with a single-bladed horse-drawn plow in preparation for communal potato planting.

    The traditional agricultural practice of the Veps in this region begins with the annual burning of pasture fields in the spring and culminates in the creation of tall dried grass spires in the fall to sustain livestock throughout the winter. Like many other Russians, Veps also rely on fishing and ethnobotanical pursuits such as mushroom and berry collecting in the nearby forest. The laws governing Russian national parks will allow the Veps to continue their prudent use of the park in peripheral buffer zones established for this purpose.

    After completing our sampling in Vepsky Forest, we returned to St. Petersburg to report to the State Research Institute for City and Regional Planning, which is responsible for the planning and construction of park infrastructure. I was able to discuss planned construction with the project engineer and view the documents awaiting implementation. These plans include the construction of campgrounds, an administrative center and an access control building at each park entrance. Earlier this year, a consortium of environmental organizations affiliated with the European Union awarded a grant to VNIIKAM and an associated Russian zoological institute to map the wildlife habitat in Vepsky and the surrounding area for use in reestablishing faunal species extirpated from Europe.

    In the summer of 1999, I returned to Vepsky Forest to review the seasonal variation of ground cover leaf area for my remote sensing thesis. My doctoral work is taking me to Siberia to conduct an investigation on the Siberian pine moth (a conifer defoliator) and its effects on forest dynamics in the world's largest boreal forest.

    James H. Buck is a doctoral student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE). His research work on the Vepsky National Park was funded in part by SNRE and the Center for Russian and East European Studies.