Monday, July 8, 2013

NEWS: From Mojave to Gobi: Sharing What Works in California to Help Guide Mongolia's Future

Originally posted at Huffington Post on April 23, 2013
By Sophie Parker, Ecoregional Ecologist, The Nature Conservancy

Mongolian government officials travel with staff from The Nature Conservancy to meet with the National Park Service during a four-day tour of the Mojave Desert to learn about Development by Design. (Photo credit: Erica Brand/TNC)

"This landscape looks very much like our Gobi Desert. I feel like I could be at home." These words were repeated numerous times by a group of visitors from Mongolia during a recent four-day field trip to the Mojave Desert in California, which was followed by a one-day trip to meet with federal and state decision makers in Sacramento.

The Nature Conservancy's goal: to share with Mongolia's senior government officials the conservation methods that we're using to protect the biodiversity of the Mojave Desert while helping to inform the siting of renewable energy development, with the hope that our strategies will be of use in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia.

At 500,000 square miles, the Gobi is the fifth largest desert in the world, and nearly all of it is undeveloped. From a conservation perspective, the Gobi is not unlike the Mojave, as it is a vast, fragile and wild landscape that provides the only habitat for a few extremely rare and endangered species. In the Gobi, these include the Gobi bear and wild Bactrian camel. One can find a variety of more common and wide-ranging animals there as well, such as the gray wolf, argali wild sheep, ibex and golden eagle. The Gobi has been the home of nomadic herding people for many millennia and is the site of the discovery of the first-known fossil dinosaur eggs. So there are many good reasons to protect it for future generations.

The government of Mongolia currently faces some tough decisions, as there is unprecedented interest in developing the Gobi Desert to harvest the renewable resources of both sun and wind and to mine recently discovered copper deposits, which are some of the richest in the world. These projects will not only fragment habitat and produce pollutants, but they will also use water, which is a scarce resource in any desert.

Because the majority of the Gobi is in public ownership, the Mongolian government will decide its fate. The income to be reaped from development and mining is not trivial, but there is a strong desire on the part of the government (including the aptly named Ministry of Environment and Green Development) to plan for future development projects in ways that will not harm the ecological value of the wild landscape. They want a win-win. That's where The Nature Conservancy comes in.

Renewable Energy Done Right

California has an energy mandate to have 33 percent of the state's electrical power come from renewable sources by 2020. For the past five years, The Nature Conservancy has spearheaded a unique approach to conservation of the Mojave Desert in the face of unparalleled pressure from all sectors to develop renewable energy facilities as quickly as possible.

Through systematic, science-based, landscape-scale assessments in concert with thoughtful collaboration with decision makers, the Conservancy is providing an alternative to unplanned renewable energy development in the Mojave Desert and is helping pioneer these innovative approaches in the U.S. and beyond. Specifically, the Conservancy is tackling siting issues to guide future development of already degraded lands, working to reduce the impacts of solar panels, wind turbines and their associated infrastructure, and addressing groundwater depletion from solar facilities. With smart planning, California can develop the renewable energy it needs while simultaneously protecting iconic desert landscapes and ecology.

The Nature Conservancy spent five days sharing this smart planning approach with Mongolia's government officials in hopes that they will adopt similar strategies to guide future decisions about the Gobi Desert, so that it can continue to provide the intact landscapes and water resources upon which plants, animals and people rely.

Word List:
  • numerous: in large numbers, many
  • biodiversity: existence of a large number of different kinds of animals and plants which make a balanced environment
  • vast: extremely large in area, size, amount, etc.
  • millennia: a period of 1000 years
  • unprecedented: that has never happened, been done or been known before
  • reaped: to obtain something, especially something good, as a direct result of something that you have done
  • trivial: not important or serious; not worth considering
  • spearheaded: a leading element, force, or influence in an undertaking or development
  • in concert: together, each doing their own part
  • collaboration: the act of working with another person or group of people to create or produce something
  • pioneer: a person who is the first to study and develop a particular area of knowledge, culture, etc. that other people then continue to develop
  • degraded: to make something become worse, especially in quality
  • iconic: acting as a sign or symbol of something
Pronunciation MP3:
= numerous
= biodiversity
= vast
= millennia
= unprecedented
= reap
= trivial
= spearhead
= collaboration
= pioneer
= degrade
= iconic