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Mon, Sept. 23

Arizonans, Mongolians find common ground

By JOANNA DODDER

The Daily Courier

The more they talked, the more Arizonans and Mongolians found out the past few weeks that they have quite a bit in common.

Like Arizona, Mongolia's grasslands are struggling with drought and climate change. The indicators include massive insect outbreaks in trees and large wildfires.

Like Arizonans, the Mongolians are trying to develop more and more partnerships to find common solutions to their issues.

Dan Campbell of The Nature Conservancy talked Thursday during a tour of the Big Chino grasslands about local efforts to establish the Verde River Basin Partnership. Its seed came from a new congressional bill that completed the Yavapai Ranch land exchange centered on the western edge of the Big Chino Valley, about 30 miles north of Prescott.

About 50 stakeholders will sit down at a huge round table in Camp Verde Feb. 11 to figure out how to create the partnership, Campbell said. He hopes the end result will be a comprehensive water-use plan for the Verde Basin.

Two multi-year scientific studies scheduled for release this winter will help such water-use plans stand on firmer ground.

Mongolian scientists Narantuya "Nara" Davaa and Jargal Jamsranjav are leaders in efforts to save their special places. Nara especially is interested in saving the rare Gobi bear, too.

They are working to collect much-needed scientific baseline data that will help manage natural resources, plus provide an early warning system for government officials as well as herders who depend on the land.

Nara said her trip to Arizona has taught her more about "adaptive management," which implements conservation methods in concert with on-the-ground monitoring.

The Mongolian visitors also have taught so much to Arizona conservationists, said Pat Graham, The Nature Conservancy's Arizona director, during a reception for Nara and Jargal at the Hassayampa Inn in Prescott Thursday evening.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has been working with Mongolian conservationists for four years now, after the Mongolian prime minister invited TNC to help the country reach its goal of placing 30 percent of its territory into protected status, TNC officials said.

Through programs that Nara and Jargal have helped initiate, Mongolian nomads are monitoring grasslands and the Gobi desert, while people in the United States sometimes believe only scientists can do such work, Graham observed.

While the relationships between the economy and the environment in the United States have become disconnected, nomadic herders of Mongolia have largely sustained their unfenced grasslands for 2,000 years, Graham noted.

Mongolia now is struggling to successfully move from a communist to a democratic society.

People who lost jobs have turned to raising goats for their valuable cashmere, which has led to overgrazing, Jargal said. Others have turned to wildlife poaching and collecting plants for their market value. They are burning up trees and bushes to keep warm.

The Steppe Forward program, where Jargal is biology director, is training herders to find their own best ways to sustainable economies while monitoring their success. She noted that because semi-nomadic people send their children to boarding schools, the population is 95 percent literate.

Jargal and Nara hope that their conservation efforts also will help locals find ways to make a living off community-based tourism.

Contact the reporter at jdodder@prescottaz.com

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