With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, 30% of Mongolia’s GDP vanished overnight. Economically devastated, Mongolia opened over half of its pristine landscape to foreign businesses to develop through the extraction of the huge deposits of valuable mineral resources and to the ever-increasing demand for animal products.
Due to these unprecedented changes, unsustainable development and irresponsible decision-making, Mongolia is now facing environmental challenges that threaten its natural resources and millennia old nomadic lifestyle. These changes are all the more distressing to many Mongolians because respect for the environment is an important cultural part of Mongolian history dating back to Chinggis Khaan (Genghis Khaan). But how can economic growth be balanced with the preservation of Mongolia’s most valued natural and cultural heritage that ensures a sustainable future?
MONGOL ECOLOGY CENTER
Mongol Ecology Center (MEC), a 501(c)3 non-governmental organization based in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and Tucson, Arizona, was established to ensure a thriving future for Mongolia by transferring best practices to preserve the environment, natural resources and cultural heritage of Mongolia.
MEC recognizes the international “best practice” to preserve a country’s natural and cultural heritage is through a national system of parks and protected areas. These places when properly managed often serve the dual purpose of supporting sustainable economic development and the perpetual preservation of nationally important resources.
When the Mongol Ecology Center staff visited Lake Hovsgol National Park in 2011 with a volunteer team from US-based, Global Parks, the team quickly recognized the need for fast action. The international team observed unlawful commercial fishing and logging, overgrazing, unsustainable tourism developments along the shorelines that did not meet standards, and planned improvements on the major highway leading to the park. The adjacent gateway communities of Hatgal and Hankh were not prepared for the increased volume of tourists. Already the number of park visitors was doubling each year from 25,000 in 2011 to over 60,000 in 2015.
LAKE HOVSGOL CONSERVANCY
MEC established the Lake Hovsgol Conservancy (LHC) in 2012 to support the protection and management of Lake Hovsgol National Park and to help the park sustain its wilderness resources, protect indigenous nomadic culture and ensure sustainable recreation and locally provided tourism activities. The LHC focuses on Park Planning and Management, Science and Education, and Sustainable Tourism. The Conservancy works to establish science as the basis of park management decisions, correct past mistakes, and ensure planned and lawful sustainable tourist development.
Over the next five years, the Conservancy is working to improve park ranger management, conservation and education skills, rehabilitate and expand park facilities, establish interdisciplinary and place-based education programs, and initiate tourism-related workforce development for local residents. The Conservancy continues to reach out to community, government, and business leaders to gain support and collaboration to protect Lake Hovsgol.