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Center for Native Peoples and the Environment
Engaging Climber-Scientists and Indigenous Herders

Engaging Climber-Scientists and Indigenous Herders on Grazing and Climate Change Issues in the Altai Mountain Region of Mongolia

A project funded by the USAID Climate Change Resilient Development (CCRD) Project, with James P. Gibbs, Giorgos Mountrakis, Mikhail Paltsyn, and Jennifer Castner. Our focus is on:

  1. assessing the impacts of grazing on biodiversity to develop a policy for the sustainable use of pasturelands in the context of climate change,

  2. strengthening cooperation with civil society and in particular indigenous communities by leveraging their knowledge relevant to management, and

  3. strengthening management capacity within nature parks.

This intensive, one-year project focuses on the upper elevation, grassland-dominated areas along an axis between Sylkhemyn Nuruu National Park and Altai Tavan Bogd National Park in the Altai mountain region of western Mongolia. We are using satellite data to develop a region-wide assessment of climatic and rangeland conditions and combining it with measurement of on-the-ground rangeland conditions by local herders. During July and August 2013 we collaborated with 7 local herders as well as a biologist from WWF-Mongolia to collect grassland condition data on 99, 1x1 km sampling blocks. At each site we surveyed grassland conditions by walking a set of transects, stopping every 25 m along them to estimate % bare soil, % plant cover by plant type, plant height and a herder-generated estimate of forage quality for wildlife and livestock.

We found very strong relationships between the satellite-derived Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI) and on-the-ground parameters (% bare ground, average height, % grasses) of great concern to herders and significant to both wildlife and livestock. Most significantly, we found a strong relationship between EVI and qualitative estimates by herders of pasture quality, suggesting that local knowledge and satellite-derived estimates are highly concordant.

Interviews with 25 different herders from across the study area showed remarkable consistency in personal assessments by herders of recent pastureland trend, on which there was clear consensus that conditions had improved over the last decade. This integration of evidence and knowledge systems (local people’s observations and remote sensed and field validated analysis) is providing more reliable and relevant investigations of climate change and enabling better planned adaptations. We are in the process of projecting likely future rangeland conditions under climate change scenarios and will depict predicted outcomes in terms herders can relate to (their own metrics of rangeland quality and suitability for various types of livestock). The approach represents a new strategy for integrating climate change research amongst outside experts and satellite data, traditional ecological knowledge and indigenous para-scientists, all while exploring and ultimately outlining strategies and guidelines to help local people and regional Protected Areas staff adapt to a changing climate.