Mongolians, Sand Dunes officials compare notes

MOSCA - A group of Mongolian park and natural-resource officials came halfway around the world this week and found a land similar to their own.

And, in a way, that was the point.

Saturday the group of nine officials stopped at the Great Sand Dunes National Park to hear from park managers. The Mongolians have spent the week touring the state's national parks and wildlife refuges to compare notes on how resource managers here care for grasslands, mountain parks and, at Saturday's stop, sand.

"There are so many similarities," Sh. Ganbat said through an interpreter.

He is the director of nature, environment and tourism in Mongolia's Dornod Province, which is dominated by rolling grasslands in the eastern end of the country. Mongolia, which is roughly six times the size of Colorado with half the population, has embarked on an ambitious conservation program that would bring up to one-third of the arid country into a system of preserves and parks.

Art Hutchinson, superintendent at the sand dunes, reviewed his park's wildlife and how resource managers balance protection versus accommodation of the nearly 300,000 visitors who pass through the gate every year.

Unlike Mesa Verde National Park, which the delegation visited earlier in the week, the shifting and easily healed dunes allowed both park rangers and visitors more freedom than they would have at ancient ruins.

"We have latitude to allow the public to do different things," he said.

Hutchinson also discussed the 42,000-acre preserve in the northeastern corner of the park where hunting is allowed.

While hunting and grazing is allowed in some preserves in Mongolia, Luvsansharav Davaabayar, director of the Khuvsgul Special Protected Area in the country's north end, said poaching of deer, moose and fish is a problem at his 2.5 million-acre park.

Moreover, he has only 21 rangers to patrol the mountainous terrain.

Davaabayar listened in as Hutchinson detailed a monitoring station in the mountains above the sand dunes, where researchers are studying whether global warming has impacted high alpine species like the pika and ptarmigan.

"In Mongolia, we're primarily focused on the law enforcement, but here in addition to the law enforcement, the park gets engaged in research activities and educational and outreach activities. Those are impressive," said Davaabayar.

The tour of the state was hosted by The Nature Conservancy, which has focused on Mongolia's sprawling grasslands as a target for management and preservation after conducting a survey of the world's habitat types.

"Grasslands of the world, especially the temperate grasslands, came out as the most altered and the least protected of all habitat types," said Chris Pague, a senior scientist with the group.

Pague said that in addition to figuring out the right formula to manage grazing in the preserves, coming up with the infrastructure to accommodate tourists is still an issue for Mongolia's preserves, although future mineral exploration in the country may help with that.

Visitor centers, one of the common accommodations most tourists find at U.S. Parks, caught Ganbat's eye.

"Visitor centers are very well equipped to educate the public about those reserves, and maybe that would be a good experience to apply to Mongolia," he said.

Source:Pueblo Chieftain newspaper of Colorado


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