The Crucial Importance of Protected Areas to Conserving Mongolia’s Natural Heritage
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VAST (1.57 MILLION SQUARE KILOMETERS), sparsely populated (approximately 2.7 million people), and relatively poor (mean income per capita in 2013 = $3,770), Mongolia faces the daunting task of protecting its natural heritage in the face of rapid natural resource extraction efforts by multinational corporations that are promising quick prosperity. Further complicating the rising extractive bonanza, Mongolia continues its struggles to transition from a communist nation with a centrally controlled economy to a democracy with a free market. Expanding and improving its system of protected areas arguably represents the most important component of Mongolia’s conservation efforts since political and economic transformation began in 1991. Mongolia has strongly embraced the importance of protected areas to help counter its accelerating rate of development, although as demands for the country’s vast mineral and fossil fuel resources grow, and as the increasingly urban population of the country becomes impatient for the promised rise in “standard of living,” the challenges to protected areas expansion, management, and even retention (in certain cases) increases. In this essay, we briefly describe the historical and continuing cultural importance of conservation in Mongolia, the threats to the country’s protected areas system, and the vital need to maintain, expand, and better manage the nation’s system of nature protection.