Lessons of The Land

Lessons of the Land

By Jennifer Dimas

“We are starting to see positive results with the change to community-based natural resource management in Mongolia.”

A herder in Mongolia’s Gobi desert-steppe milks her goats. In addition to milk for household consumption, goats provide herders with their primary “cash crop” – cashmere.
A herder in Mongolia’s Gobi desert-steppe milks her goats. In addition to milk for household consumption, goats provide herders with their primary “cash crop” – cashmere.

From the high plains of Mongolia to the purple mountain majesties of Colorado, Maria Fernandez-Gimenez is working to help ensure the land is kept sustainable – safeguarding food security – for generations to come.

Fernandez-Gimenez, professor of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship in CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources, leads a $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant to study the impact of climate change on rangeland-based ecosystems and livelihoods of pastoralists in Mongolia. At the same time, she and a team of CSU professors have developed a new tool for land management for ranchers in the Rocky Mountains. The two projects – on opposite ends of the earth – are very different but intersect in interesting ways.

Although the nomadic herders of Mongolia and the ranchers of Colorado live in very different cultural and socio-economic environments, they do face some similar challenges.

“The increasing cost of production is definitely something they have in common,” says Fernandez-Gimenez. “Along with increasing production costs, prices for the product sometimes stagnate or go down. Prices do fluctuate, and this is a common issue that they face.”

The most important key to success that they share is conservation and land management, which is critical to their survival as agriculture producers.

Retta Bruegger is Research and Outreach Coordinator for CSU’s Learning from the Land Project, which develops decision-making tools for land managers and helps them learn about rangeland monitoring and adaptive management.
Retta Bruegger is Research and Outreach Coordinator for CSU’s Learning from the Land Project, which develops decision-making tools for land managers and helps them learn about rangeland monitoring and adaptive management.

Grasslands cover 75 percent of Mongolia and support not only the herds of a vibrant nomadic population, but also globally important wildlife populations. Both depend upon the health of the land.

Fernandez-Gimenez leads the Mongolian Rangelands and Resilience project, where her team studies nomadic pastoralists and rangeland ecology. The goal of the project is to understand whether community-based natural resource management organizations will benefit the rangelands and the rural people of Mongolia, which have been threatened by recent political and economic transformations as well as climate and land-use changes.

In community-based natural resource management, people cooperate and work together to find solutions to natural resources problems. Fernandez-Gimenez’s research compares ecological and social conditions in communities that have used this collective approach to those that have not.

“We are starting to see positive results with the change to community-based natural resource management in Mongolia,” says Fernandez-Gimenez. “The preliminary results of our study show that areas managed by community-based organizations have more vegetation cover and these communities are more innovative, proactive, and better prepared for harsh weather disasters, compared to communities without formal community organizations for resource management.”

With the project in Colorado, Fernandez-Gimenez has helped to develop a new teaching and learning tool – the State and Transition (S & T) Ranch Simulation game. The game helps ranchers and researchers better understand the connection between the ecological condition of the land and the economic state of the ranch. The simple-to-use format shows participants the benefits of using a state-and-transition model to analyze different scenarios that could impact their land. Fernandez-Gimenez and a team of researchers are introducing the game to land managers at workshops across Colorado.

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