sussex county - As part of the program of U.S.-Russian wildlife conservation activities under the bilateral Environmental Agreement, 24 Russian scientists accompanied by two translators visited the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge on Route 565 in Vernon on Saturday as one of three field exercises in their 12-day visit from Russia. The workshop offered instruction in the use of GIS (Geographic Information System) in natural resource management. "Many of the Russian scientists work on very similar refuges back home but do not have the recourses we do, so we are able to demonstrate how we use GIS and GPS (Global Positioning System) here at this refuge," said Steven Kahl, Refuge Maager. GIS is a tool that has been available to natural resource managers since the mid 1980s. An integrated GIS includes hardware, software, data and well-trained technical specialists. It uses environmental features like forests, streams, wetlands and habitat, as well as infrastructure features such as roads, cities, utilities and building foundations. The features are represented by points, lines or polygons which are then plotted on maps, graphs and tables. Analysis of the spatial relationships among simultaneous data layers permits the best natural resource management decisions to be made. "We had a vigorous selection process to decide who would take part in this workshop," said Steven G. Kohl, chief, Russia-East-Asia Branch, U.S. Fish and wildlife Service division of International Conservation. "They are a smart bunch of people and are all working in Russia as refuge biologists. "Russia is by far the biggest country in the world, and it's in our best interest to see that they are using good land management," he continued. "These scientists know about GIS but lack the resources. By the time they go home, they will have put into practice what they have learned in the classroom and will have a software package in Russian that they can use at home," he added. The group arrived in the United States on Aug. 1 and was based at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania, where they received computer training. Among the topics covered were mapping of wetlands and forest vegetation, creation of GIS data for various types of habitat and mapping of physical ecology, terrain types, soils, acid rain and elevation changes. Aleksie Zhmailo, a biologist in a forest national park in Sochi on the Black Sea, was very impressed with the workshop. "It is more than I expected, as the teachers are very qualified," he said through an interpreter. "I will certainly try to put into practice what I have learned here. It will make my work a lot easier." Additional sponsors of the workshop were: Continuing Education Office, Wilkes University; GeoEnvironmental Sciences and American Heritage River Program.