UR aids conservation effort
Students are helping Afghans develop protected-species list
At 5 a.m. one day last month, a class of University of Richmond students convened to hear a committee in Afghanistan assess their work.
It wasn’t their grades that were at stake, but whether 20 endangered plants and animals would move closer to protection as the Afghan government takes fledgling steps to conserve a war-scarred environment.
This was the second semester that UR students have helped the Wildlife Conservation Society research and recommend trees, birds and mammals for inclusion on a protected-species list.
The students in geography professor David Salisbury’s course on sustainable development have collaborated with McKenzie Johnson, who works for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Kabul.
The UR students who have known Johnson only through e-mail and video conferences will get a chance to meet her Jan. 19 when she speaks at UR’s third annual Global Environment Speaker Series.
The students’ work has laid a foundation for Afghanistan to better manage its natural resources, said UR biology professor Peter Smallwood, who last summer concluded an 18-month leave working as the Afghanistan country director for the conservation society.
“They filled a very keen need,” he said of the students, who freed Johnson to teach Afghan students to do the type of research UR provided over the past two semesters.
But this was the last semester the UR students will work on the project because the species remaining to be studied are more obscure, Salisbury said.
“It was a bit more of a challenge this semester,” he said, for students to find published research on studies conducted before war pushed scientists out of the country.
Through an Internet video conference, Salisbury’s students discussed their findings with members of the Afghanistan Wildlife Executive Committee.
Six species— including two species of bat, an eagle and a ferret — were approved by the committee. But the committee’s work is ongoing.
“We really stress to students that this is very different from any other assignment they’ll do at the university,” Salisbury said of the follow-up required to see their species through the process. “It doesn’t fit in a semester.”
McKenzie Johnson, Wildlife Conservation Society third annual Global Environment Speaker Series 5:30 p.m. Jan. 19, Gottwald Science Center at the University of Richmond free