Have you ever caught someone quietly doing something good?
Our quiet neighbor, Bill Morgan, is a board member of the Tahoe-Baikal Institute, an international environmental program. This year he is devoting countless hours as chairman of the annual fund-raising campaign.
Tahoe-Baikal Institute is celebrating its 22nd year as a nonprofit organization. It began with a group of Soviet and American students attending a conference in Helsinki.
The students undertook complex political networks to gain approval for an organization that promoted environmental education and cultural exchange. Eventually, endorsements from U.S. President Reagan, Soviet President Gorbachev, and Perez de Cuellar, the then-Secretary General of the United Nations, led to the first exchange of delegations in 1990 at two great freshwater lakes, Lake Baikal in Siberia and Lake Tahoe in the U.S. Governor Deukmejian of California supported TBI at the outset by enlisting the aid of the California Resources Agency and the California Conservation Corp to establish the institute and help design its programs.
Today the Summer Environmental Exchange offers two months of directed studies under the auspices of prestigious scientific and environmental groups. The way the exchange works is: a group of international students and young professionals, the majority usually from Russia, come to the United States to work with a like group from North America.
For the first month, the combined groups stay in the Tahoe area. They might research the effects of exotic species on the watershed area around Lake Tahoe, take water quality samples, or study the erosion-control techniques. They also donate hours doing watershed restoration work or trail-building with the Tahoe Rim Trail people.
The next month, both groups fly to Russia for similar research projects near Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world. Irkutsk State University and the Russian Academy of Science sponsor the Baikal projects. Recently, the Mongolian watershed area has been added to the curriculum because much of the water in Lake Baikal comes from Mongolia. Mining, desertification, industry, and grazing practices offer interesting contrasts as students compare Lake Tahoe and Lake Baikal.
Students are also introduced to local governmental agencies in both regions for first-hand experiences blending science and government.
The impact on students is phenomenal. One previous participant has become a professor at University of Nevada, Reno. Others have returned to work for TBI: the current board chairperson , Darcie Collins, was a participant in 2001. Some participants from Russia have reached out to the Washoe tribe, seeking genealogical links with native Russian people. TBI has facilitated some exchanges between the Washoes and the Buryats, the indigenous people of the Baikal region. Elizabeth Lana Hicks of the Washoe Tribe of California and Nevada, is currently a board member.
TBI has grown into a major educational foundation while keeping administration overhead to a bare minimum. Morgan added, "There have never been more than three year-round paid staff. We have to hire interpreters, drivers, and cooks for the summer internships, but most of the board members and advisors are volunteers."
Morgan became involved with TBI after a career in the Forest Service and a number of years with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA). He noted, "The Forest Service has been sending people to other countries to study and to advise on management techniques for many years. Recently several of those trips have been in conjunction with the TBI."
Morgan continued, "After I retired from the TRPA, I was asked by the State Department to help government agencies in the Lake Baikal region implement regional management plans to protect the lake and its environment."As a result, in 1993, Morgan spent a month in the Baikal region, which was then part of the Soviet Union. He shared his experiences working at Lake Tahoe and learned much about the Lake Baikal environment.
During that assignment, he experienced quite a different culture and has since written a novel, "Six Days in Siberia," that reflects the culture of a country emerging from communism as the Soviet Union was in 1993.
Morgan has been an outdoor enthusiast his whole life: he was born into a family of Boy Scouts, then continued camping, hiking, canoeing, cross-country skiing, and fishing with his wife and three children. He now enjoys an active retirement, enjoying many outdoor sports and traveling the globe with his wife, Carole. Carole has also traveled to Lake Baikal and supports TBI whole-heartedly.
From a professional point of view and from his personal experience, Morgan understands the need for protecting our watershed environments and the necessary expense to educate people and implement programs.