Managing our ResourcesWritten by Rachel Mealor
By Rachel Mealor, UW Extension Range Specialist
I recently traveled to Mongolia, and during my stay there I learned a lot about different cultures, natural resources, and life in general.
Thinking back on the trip, I came away with interesting stories, tremendous experiences and a much greater appreciation for Wyoming than when I left. I wanted to take this opportunity to compare and contrast Wyoming and Mongolia through my opinions and perspectives, specifically regarding natural resource management.
Mongolia is one of the world’s youngest democracies, with 1992 marking the official birth of Mongolia as a democratic nation. Since that time, Mongolia has experienced many changes that can be seen both in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city, and out in the countryside. The Mongolian people are known for their nomadic culture, and it is common to see mixed herds comprised of many different animals, such as yaks, camel, goats, sheep, horses and cattle. There is not private land like we are familiar with here in Wyoming, but instead herders graze in common. Unfortunately, this can lead to an undesirable situation for ecological sustainability.
Mongolian rangelands are generally not well managed, as it is estimated that approximately 70 to 80 percent are considered to be in poor condition, according to the Mongolian Society for Range Management in 2010. In the countryside we frequently witnessed evidence of overgrazing as we bumped along the two-tracks through the grasslands. The overall scenery reminded me of driving up Interstate 25 from Kaycee through Buffalo. However, the prevalence of overgrazing varied from our vast landscapes.
Natural resource extraction has also impacted Mongolia’s rangelands. Much like Wyoming, Mongolia’s landscapes are rich in natural resources such as coal, copper and gold, and mining is a large part of their economy. However, reclamation practices are very different.
Wyoming’s coal mining industry has worked to achieve successful reclamation and devoted much time and energy into figuring out how to restore rangelands. We visited numerous mines during our stay in Mongolia, and it became obvious that reclamation is a fairly new practice. Environmental laws and regulations are not yet in place, either, so a reclamation plan for a Mongolian-owned mining company may consist of planting some trees and assuming the grass will grow back on its own.
One environmental specialist explained how he built all of his own water catchment devices because there is nowhere to purchase any erosion control equipment (i.e. waddles). As Wyoming’s land managers are well aware, successful reclamation impacts everyone. Both livestock and wildlife depend on our rangelands, and lack of vegetation establishment can quickly lead to soil and wind erosion problems. We hope to collaborate with Mongolia in the future, potentially providing their reclamation specialists with experiences and knowledge our reclamation experts have gained here in Wyoming.
With this newfound perspective, I would like to thank many of our landowners and managers who maintain our state’s beautiful vistas and provide for Wyoming’s inhabitants. It is not just livestock that are being provided for, but many wildlife species also benefit from the decisions that Wyoming’s landowners make each day. Wyoming’s managers should be credited with much of our water quality and quantity, amount of useable forage and vegetation diversity. Sound land management decisions and continued monitoring programs have allowed us to maintain our ecosystem’s health and vigor. They have adapted to a changing environment, altering circumstances, and ever-changing scientific findings. Grazing strategies, fencing alterations, water developments, monitoring programs and various other strategies have been adopted and utilized to ensure our rangelands are sustainable for future generations.
Mongolia was a wonderful country, and I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to experience its uniqueness and beauty. However, this trip has also caused me to gain a deeper appreciation for the landowners and managers that continue to care for and improve Wyoming’s rangelands.