Jan 312011
Authors: Vashti Batjargal

The United States makes up 5 percent of the world population yet is responsible for more than 25 percent of the climate change impacts felt worldwide.

One place experiencing a dramatic effect in climate change is Mongolia. Located just south of Russia, the country has seen a 36 percent decrease in naturally occurring surface water.

A team of CSU researchers is studying the effects that climate change has on the Mongolian people’s livelihood and how they manage their natural resources.
“Climate change isn’t being caused, in any great measure, by what people are doing in Mongolia,” said Maria E. Fernandez-Gimenez, the project’s lead researcher and associate professor in the Department of Forest, Rangeland and Watershed Stewardship. “It’s being caused by what we’re doing here.”

The country transferred powers from a communist regime to a democratic society in the early 1990s. With that transition, many of the resources the largely semi-nomadic people came to rely on –– such as high access to education, medical care and supplies given to herders –– came to a halt.

A rangeland system that was formerly highly restricted by the collectives, and largely owned by the government now has almost no formal control.

Mongolia has one of the largest intact grassland systems in the world with one of the largest pastoral populations, according to Fernandez-Gimenez.

That’s the part that intrigues CSU researchers: how the ecosystem interacts with the social system through management practices and livestock choices.

“We’re trying to understand how changing climate is affecting the ecosystem and through those changes affecting the human system,” Fernandez-Gimenez said.
With more than one-third of the population directly dependent of livestock for their livelihood, the state of the rangeland and the preservation of their herds are a concern in Mongolia.

It was for this reason that in 2008 a collaboration was organized by CSU researchers in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, joining together more than 100 scientists, policy makers, donor organizations and herders to address the issues facing the pastoralist.

A $1.5 million grant received from the National Science Foundation stipulates that the researchers also conduct educational outreaches in their home communities and in the community where they are conducting the research.

Staff writer Vashti Batjargal can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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