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The different categories of protected areas in Mongolia

Mongolia was one of the first countries in the world to adopt the idea of protecting areas for the sake of the environment. In 1778, the Bogdkhan mountains to the south of Ulaanbaatar were designated as a protected area. Even before that, Chinggis Khaan made special note of the environment and created rules relating to the use of certain areas during his reign. Currently, the protected areas are categorized in four major areas, each with subsections: Strictly Protected Areas, National Parks, Natural Reserves and Natural and Historical Monuments.

However, current protected areas are threatened by policy violations that remain largely unchecked by area officials. Overall, the national and local governments have relatively little effect in implementing policy regulations. The first types of protected area are called Strictly Protected Areas. This is the highest category of protection an area can afford. These areas are defined as ecologically important, pristine wilderness areas with particular importance for science and human civilization. ]

Strictly Protected Areas can be divided into three subsections: Pristine Zones, in which only research is permitted; Protected Zones, in which both research and conservation measures are allowed; and Limited Use Zones, where in addition to research and conservation measures, certain activities such as tourism, some plant gathering and traditional religious activities are allowed. Hunting, logging and construction are prohibited in all three zones. The second level of protected areas is called National Parks. These are wilderness areas with historical, cultural or environmental education value. ] National Parks are also divided into three subsections: Core Areas, in which research and conservation activities are legal; Ecotourism Zones, in which tourism, fishing, and all of the activities permissible in Strictly Prohibited Areas are allowed; and Limited Use Zones, in which all of the above activities are allowed in addition to grazing and construction (with the parks permission). Natural Reserves comprise the third level of protected area in Mongolia. Unlike Strictly Protected Areas and National Parks, these can be divided into four subsections. Ecosystems protect natural areas.

Biological areas conserve rare species. Paleontological spaces preserve areas with fossils, and Geological places preserve areas of geological importance. Some economic activities are allowed within Natural Reserves, but only if they do not harm the values for which the parks were established. The fourth and last type of protected area in Mongolia is the group of parks deemed the National and Historical Monuments. These are areas which attempt to protect unique landscapes, historical and cultural sites for research, sight-seeing, [and] historical and cultural purposes. ]

This is the most lenient type of protected area, with many uses and activities allowed, providing they do not adversely affect the monument. These national parks were designed to protect different aspects of the six major types of vegetation zones within Mongolia: desert, desert-steppe, steppe, forest-steppe, taiga and alpine regions. The protected areas comprise different percentages of the total land masses of each of these vegetation zones. 31. 11% of all desert land in Mongolia is protected within these areas, for example, while only 1. 97 per cent of the vast steppe land exists within the confines of these parks.

In addition to the space allotted for the parks, a small buffer zone also extends around many of the parks. However, these buffer zones are currently somewhat arbitrary. The areas of the buffer zones themselves are clearly defined in terms of land amount, but the actual purpose of the zones remains somewhat ambiguous. The intent of the buffer zones is to further protect the special areas and to encourage local participation in the conservation process, but there are no guidelines to the activities permissible within the zones (1996). [4] The government of Mongolia plays a role in these parks on both a local and national level.

Nationally, the Mongolian parliament, or Ikh Khural, approves protected area sites and determines policy role within the parks. The national government of Mongolia itself oversees and implements the policies approved by parliament, and the Ministry of Nature and Environment (MNE) prepares both regulations and guidelines to control resource use within the parks. The MNE also deals with tourism activities. The MNE is the part of the national government that interacts with local governments, being responsible for the administration of protected areas on a local level. ] While intentions to protect these areas are good, in reality much of the protection and implementation of environmental laws is fairly ineffective.

The Mongolian Law on Special Protected Areas was adopted in 1994 with the purpose to regulate use and procurement of land for state protection, to conserve its original condition, to protect specific traits of the natural zones unique formations, rare and endangered plants and animals, historic and cultural monuments, and natural beauty, as well as to research and investigate evolution. ] But there are many problems which filter through the beautiful language of the law. The local governments often have only a minor advisory capacity[7] in the management of these parks. There is often no effective communication between protected area administration offices and the headquarters in Ulaanbaatar. There is an extreme shortage of staffing and funds to run the parks. The level of ranger and specialist training is often inadequate, and patrolling regimes remain ineffective.

The list of problems with the protected areas includes: Poaching, illegal wood-cutting, water pollution, grazing and cultivation in zones where such activities are prohibited, breaking of tourism regulations and those regulations governing use of minor natural resources, and incursions across national borders. [8] These infractions are all taking place with relatively few cases of arrest and conviction by law enforcement authorities. [9] There are several reasons why regulation within the parks remains relatively ineffective.

Both the authorities and the general public hold a relatively poor knowledge of the laws and limitations of activities within the parks. Insufficient personnel, equipment and transportation for law enforcement officials limit the ability of the park rangers to do their job. Occasionally arrests do take place, but then prosecuters face a lack of clear guidelines in passing sentences and multiple loopholes in environmental laws. Incorrect law enforcement by some officials results in the occasional harassment of locals, who then further act out against the parks.

But perhaps the greatest reason for the breaking of park regulations is because of the widespread local poverty and the resulting need for immediate resource consumption as opposed to a long-term, sustainably-minded outlook. All in all, the protected areas of Mongolia represent a positive trend of trying to preserve nature and research environmental impact in a rapidly growing country. The four types of protected areas all do different things to aid in this conservation effort.

However, the lack of enforcement of environmental laws and regulations within the parks limits the parks ability to maintain a pristine natural environment. Both the local and national government are relatively ineffective when it comes to regulating the parks, in large part due to the surrounding poverty, lack of communication, and internal insufficient resources. Mongolia is a beautiful and relatively untouched country, and we should do everything within our power to ensure that it remains that way for a long, long time to come.

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