News and Stories

Designating land is the highest form of nature conservation

Our country is planning to increase the 21 percent of its total area under special protection to 30 percent in the future.

Lake and mountains covered with snow.
Mongolia Beautiful mountains and lake © Ankhbayar Enkhbold/TNC

In an exclusive interview with Peak News, Dr. Oyungerel.B, a seasoned consultant renowned for her expertise in protected areas, shared insights gained from over three decades of dedicated research. Delving into the significance of protected lands, Dr. Oyungerel.B emphasized the critical role sustainable funding plays in their preservation. Notably, she highlighted that currently, 21 percent of the nation’s landmass benefits from special protection measures, with ambitious plans underway to expand this coverage to 30 percent in the near future.

Oyungerel.B PhD, Expert in land designation © Bayanjargal Batbayar/TNC

Embarking on a 45-day journey by horseback to establish protection for Khan Khentey

In 1985, I completed my studies specializing in protected areas at Irkutsk, Russia. Following graduation that summer, I embarked on my professional journey at the Institute of Geography within the Academy of Sciences. Throughout my tenure, I cherished the opportunity to venture into the breathtaking landscapes of Mongolia during the summer months.

Collaborating with my colleagues, we undertook various endeavors, including aligning practices with international standards and developing a new classification system, endorsing laws and regulations for specially protected areas, implementing national programs, establishing a network, and devising strategies for managing these preserved regions.

Acquiring land under special protection is no small feat.

It would entail a considerable amount of effort to visit each location, take measurements, and prepare the grounds for special protection. During that era, the programs available were not as precise as they are today, so I had to calculate the area by measuring on the map and counting the squares of almost 100,000 pictures.

Among them, there is one particular story I want to share.

On one of our field works, the five of us traveled through the taiga on horseback for 45 days to establish a special protection zone of Khan Khent around Burhan Khaldun, a site deeply rooted in Mongolian devotion. It is a vast area that safeguards the taiga ecosystem of our country. In this manner, they toiled in the countryside for months on end.

Mongolian snow leopard
Mongolian snow leopard TNC Mongolia is protecting the wild animals and its habitat. © Tseveenravdan.D
Land of Mongolia
In summer Mongolian endless open spaces © Tseveenravdan.D

Protecting land is the highest form of nature conservation

If you were to ask me what the best solution for nature conservation is, I would say that the lands should be brought under protection.

There is a significant difference between protected areas and lands that are left without it. It will be felt and observed with the passing years.

The local people are aware of how the nature within protected areas remains in its original form and witnesses the growth and proliferation of flora and fauna. This is because management diligently operates behind the scenes, ensuring the land under special protection is not neglected.

To be honest, reflecting on the past, only the protected areas endure in good condition. Without our efforts, we would have forfeited these lands to mining licenses and gold extraction programs.

It is sad to see that many mineral licenses have been granted in areas that have not been specially protected, leading to desolate and dry grasslands.

Buun Tsagaan Lake serves as a prime example of this phenomenon. When I visited in 1985, it was a beautiful place teeming with reeds and lush vegetation. For years, we have been endeavoring to secure state protection for this lake, but Bayankhongor province has yet to make a decision.

The area of this lake, which once played an important role in the ecosystem of Central Asia, has shrunk, become heavily polluted, and some parts have dried up, experiencing ecological degradation. If it had been protected and managed properly at that time, it would have remained as beautiful as it once was.

Protection and fair use are two sides of the same coin.

Our people understand that only by placing the land under special protection can it be fenced off, preventing both people and livestock from entering. In general, protection involves only the sustainable use of a certain amount of land.

In the most strictly protected areas, it is forbidden to harvest and cut wood for industrial purposes, gather plants, hunt animals, or engage in mining activities.

In fact, herders continue their traditional animal husbandry practices within specially protected areas. Eighty percent of this land serves as cattle pasture, with the remaining 20 percent comprising freshwater sources, river headwaters, and habitats for rare wildlife.

Also, the tourism sector operates within the framework of natural parks, protected areas, and all other specially designated areas, ensuring continued benefits for communities.

However, all sources of drinking water are safeguarded in specially protected areas, with only mining and agricultural activities prohibited.

TNC Mongolia protects lands and waters.
Dorgono lake TNC Mongolia protects lands and waters. © Ankhbayar Enkhbold/TNC

The Role of The Nature Conservancy, Mongolia

Our country is planning to increase its total area from 21 percent to 30 percent.

A protected area is not something you simply announce and then abandon. Research, analysis, nature conservation, restoration, and biotechnical protection should be carried out continuously. However, such efforts are often abandoned due to insufficient funding.

The state allocates funds to the best of its ability, but these funds often fall short of covering research, conservationists’ salaries, and necessary expenses.

During a time when the understanding of protected areas was not very robust, WWF Mongolia provided financial support for the initial areas to be protected.

However, I would like to express my deep gratitude to The Nature Conservancy (TNC) for their tremendous support in establishing permanent funding for nature conservation efforts.

The most critical element lacking in nature conservation is funding, essential for the sustainable protection of land, flora, and fauna. This marks the outset of an invaluable endeavor for which all Mongolians should express gratitude.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is a non-profit organization engaged in nature conservation across more than 70 countries.

It operates effectively in various domains, notably excelling in the acquisition of special protected areas and the expansion of the network of designated lands.

One of the key tasks of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) was the ecological regional assessment of Mongolia. Through this assessment, a national-level unified database was created, essential for identifying ecologically significant locations across Mongolia’s entire territory and for planning mining and related infrastructure development in proper coordination with nature conservation efforts.

Also, in recent years, there has been a precedent for local special protected areas to be rewarded for their protection by their own citizens. For example, this approach has been implemented very successfully in Uvs and Khuvsgul.

If we take proper care of this beautiful land, only our descendants will inherit it in the end. That is why it is important for every citizen to show kindness to nature and protect their land.

To inform you, the reader, let me explain the following concepts.

State-protected areas are classified into sanctuaries, natural complexes, nature reserves, and natural monuments.