Khogno Khan Nature Reserve during our Modern Nomads Mongolia winter tour
Mongolia Winter Trip – Modern Nomads
December 30, 2019
A series of books about Mongolia
Books About Mongolia
February 11, 2020

Tree Planting Project In Mongolia

Here’s a little background into this post about a tree planting project in Mongolia. The country spans the major transition zone between the deserts of Central Asia and the boreal taiga of Siberia and has six bio-geoclimatic zones – desert, desert steppe, steppe, forest steppe, boreal forest and mountain (www.fao.org). Approximately  10.8 million hectares have forest cover and these forested areas can be divided into two broad types – the northern coniferous forests of the forest steppe, boreal forest and mountain zones, and saxaul forests of the southern desert and desert steppe.

Mongolia’s forests are important for sequestering carbon, maintaining soil stability, and providing habitats for Mongolia’s endemic flora and fauna species that are not only of global conservation importance, but also underpin the livelihoods and cultural identities of Mongolia’s herding communities. However, they are being impacted by illegal or uncontrolled logging, forest fires and the absence of restoration management and of long-term management planning. This is what led us to work with a number of projects helping to create a climate-resilient Mongolia where wildlife and people can thrive. Although trees in Mongolia have a long growing period (Mongolia, on average, experiences only 90-120 frost-free days a year) trees help to bind the loose soil and thus are effective against erosion, help reduce wind, dust and desertification, attract rainfall and help build suitable conditions for biodiversity.

When we set up Eternal Landscapes, we wanted to have responsible tourism goals that were realistic and attainable – ones that we could actually achieve. We also wanted to be able to show real evidence of our practice and have a level of involvement that could make a meaningful difference. The local projects that we actively support may come across as a way of trying to up our responsible travel credentials but, between them, these often grassroots level projects, provide greater opportunities and benefits for local communities within Mongolia and that’s worth supporting.

 

Gobi Oasis

Gobi Oasis  is based in Dundgobi Aimag’s provincial town – Mandalgobi. Located in the middle Gobi in an area of the desert steppe, Gobi Oasis was formed by Byamba Tseyen in 1975 after graduating from the University of Agriculture in Ulaanbaatar as a Forest Engineer. During her many years of hard work, she has been honoured with national awards including ‘The State Honoured Worker of Environment’, ‘The National Ranger of Mongolia’, and ‘The Golden Star’. Byamba has been on several trips to China, Russia and England to visit other tree planting projects. She also does classroom training for students & experts, and hosts local & foreign volunteers at the nursery from April through to autumn.

Currently, each visiting EL group typically plants a tree at the nursery – EL and our guests have now planted over 120 of our own trees – species which are native to the desert – which represents around 3% of the total number of trees planted at Gobi Oasis. As well as planting your own tree, we make a substantial donation per person for their visit and this payment will go towards the work of Gobi Oasis.

Byamba of the Gobi Oasis Tree Planting Project in Mongolia - located in Mongolia's Middle Gobi.

I love this photo of Byamba. Every person that visits and plants a tree is listed in ‘the book’. She can remember their names, the organisation they travelled with and just the best, she remembers where they planted their tree. Image: EL guest Sue Fox

At the tree planting project in Mongolia

These were the saplings that Turuu and I planted in 2011 when we first started working with Gobi Oasis. The top image is the saplings newly planted in 2011. The second image are the saplings again in 2016.

Elm is the species that a majority of our EL guests plant at Gobi Oasis. Elm trees are scientifically known as Ulmus Pumila. Ulmus is the ancient Latin name for elm and Pumila is Latin for dwarf in reference to the small leaves.  The type of elm trees that are found in Mongolia are Siberian elms in shrub sizes and actually originate from Mongolia, Turkestan, Eastern Siberia and Korea.  They usually grow between 10 and 20 metres high with a trunk of about 80 centimetres in diameter. In colder areas like Mongolia, the Siberian elm features deciduous leaves.

 

Elm trees growing at the tree planting project in Mongolia

The Siberian Elm are resistant to drought, severe cold, and disease such as Dutch Elm Disease which affects many of its counterparts. They form a great habitat for bio-diversity and are used as windbreakers in the dusty windy steppe terrain.  There are about 1500 elm trees growing at  Gobi Oasis and they sell young branches for re-plantation.
There are also a small number of aspen and almond trees. Each EL group that visits Gobi Oasis plants their own seeds or saplings, therefore, helping to consolidate the desert soil on the lee side of Mandalgobi. Some saplings are planted in memory. Some of them have been planted by our own team members who are from the Gobi themselves so plant with the focus to help their home environment. And just like a proud mother would say, ‘all are doing fine.’
'From small acorns.' Seedlings ready to be planted at the Gobi Oasis Tree Planting Project in Mongolia, in Mongolia's middle Gobi

‘From small acorns.’ Seedlings ready to be planted

World Garden Mongolia

World Garden Mongolia is a non-profit organisation established in 2011 and committed to the preservation and increase of Mongolia’s forests for the benefits they bring to Mongolia’s nature, environment and protection. The organisation was initiated by Dulamjav Erdenexhuluun who wants to point out the environmental problems in Mongolia and counteract them. In this way, he wants to motivate his fellow Mongolians to take action for the environment of their country.

Their current main project is reforestation on the Bayanzurkh Mountain on the eastern edge of Ulaanbaatar. The holy mountain of Bayanzurkh was almost completely forested with the naturally occurring tree species (larch) until 1989. In the course of the growth of the city of Ulaanbaatar and the increased use of resources it has been cleared. Heavy cattle drives and forest fires prevented natural reforestation. The boreal coniferous forests of Siberia extend over the northern parts of the country. The larch is the tree species that characterizes the landscape along with the pine, birch and poplar.

Saxaul

Saxaul growing at the tree planting project in Mongolia
Saxaul trees (Haloxylon ammodendron and also saksaul) only exist in Central Asia. Known as ‘Zag’ in Mongolian, this one of the most important vegetation features of Mongolia’s Gobi  Desert – with 39 districts in 7 provinces being covered by this woody shrub.  Especially in areas of desert and semi-desert, saxaul forests protect the soil from erosion, provide diverse habitats for animals, fodder for wildlife and livestock, and firewood for people.
The saxaul ranges in size from a large shrub to a small tree. The wood is heavy and coarse and the bark is spongy and water-soaked. The leaves of the tree are so small that it appears to be without leaves, giving it a dull grey appearance. However, the branches of young trees are green and pendulous and it has small yellow flowers.
It is effective against erosion because it sends out horizontal roots in addition to very deep roots to reach the underground water. Those plants that have reached an age of 25 years are the most effective for erosion control.  (There are about 6200 different sizes of saxaul trees growing at Gobi Oasis today. They are grown from little seeds and some are then transplanted to other desert areas nearby.)

 

Pastures, Conservation and Climate Action Project

The Pastures, Conservation and Climate Action Project is managed by the Mongolian Society for Rangeland Management. It covers 70,000 hectares and operates in three locations in Mongolia – two central heartland provinces (Tuv & Arkangai) as well as a Gobi province (Bayankhongor) – and focuses on the restoreration of the grassland ecosystems with a direct benefit to 4 key grassland habitats: riparian meadow, mountain meadow, mountain steppe and steppe within the three regions.

Mongolian Nomad Project - Managing Our Carbon Footprint

As part of our Climate Action Plan, we are working towards the goal of measuring the carbon footprints of both our tours and office. Whilst we are working on this we will make a donation per guest to the  Pastures, Conservation, and Climate Action Project (known also as the Mongolian Nomad Project). We understand that these carbon offsetting schemes are not the full answer but they are one way that we can limit our environmental impact. We will not formally carbon offset in order to claim carbon neutrality or carbon positivity.

We wanted a high standard offsetting project local to Mongolia where the local community had a positive say in the scheme and its impact. It’s the first project of its kind in Mongolia – restoring traditional nomadic practices to enable ecosystem recovery and carbon uptake. We will also be offsetting into the same project – balancing our CO2 emissions by investing in Plan Vivo Certificates– environmental service certificates, each representing the reduction or avoidance of one metric tonne of carbon dioxide.

The Mongolian Nomad Project is an independently verified project of Plan Vivo Standard – based on ethical principles intended to deliver long-term climate, livelihoods and biodiversity benefits. The project takes carbon out of the earth’s atmosphere using the natural powers of local communities and focuses on creating performance-based payments to herder families based on changes they are able to make which impact positively on carbon levels. Much of this is about restoring the traditional nomadic way of life to reduce overgrazing pressure and degradation on fragile ecosystems.

174 herding families are involved and benefit. The herding families are being financially compensated for protecting their local environment simply by adhering to traditional nomadic principles. One example is that by pooling resources and skills, and with access to micro-loans the herders are able to sell finished products rather than raw materials, and fetch higher prices. This is working well for processing and creating from animal skins. The herders also undertake biodiversity surveys across their pasturelands. They are also patrolling forested areas to prevent the cutting of trees and working together to stop illegal hunting as well as planting indigenous trees to reduce demands on existing woodland.

Efforts to curb desertification have been ongoing in Mongolia for around 30 years. In 1996, the country’s environment ministry issued a national plan to combat desertification promising the promotion of a sustainable pastoral land-use system and sustainable management of forests. They also formulated conservation laws and set up weather monitoring systems. In addition, the (then) President’s 63rd decree to celebrate the National Tree Planting Day was passed in 2010 (with about 16 million trees and shrubs planted. However, their growth percentages have not been measured). But more sweeping efforts to control desertification eventually clashed with the need to raise incomes (approximately 28.5% of Mongolia’s 3.2 million population are living below the poverty line, according to Mongolia’s National Statistical Office) and existing support measures are unlikely to make them put the environment above their quality of life.

However, one of the most important methods to reduce desertification is planting trees as trees help to sequester carbon, maintain soil stability (helping to reduce wind, dust, and desertification), attract rainfall, and help to build suitable conditions for biodiversity. Planting trees has been picked up by Mongolia’s new president and Mongolia’s ‘Billion Trees’ campaign was officially launched on Oct. 4 by President Khurelsukh who earlier told United Nations General Assembly that Mongolia aims to combat climate change and desertification through the campaign by planting a billion trees by 2030.

‘Planting trees is not something to be politicized. It is now time to end any acts of politicization and enhance national unity in order to combat desertification and reduce land degradation.’ President Khurelsukh

However, planting trees is not only about planting seedlings as the most important thing is to care for the planted trees and this is where Mongolia has failed previously. Also, Mongolia’s current 7.9% of forest cover is being impacted by illegal or uncontrolled logging, forest fires, and the absence of restoration management and of long-term management planning. In addition, trees in Mongolia have a long growing period as Mongolia, on average, experiences only 90-120 frost-free days a year.

But, major companies in Mongolia have committed to joining the national campaign to fulfill their social responsibilities including Mongolian state-owned mining enterprises Erdenet and Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi who are expected to plant 100 million trees and 180 million trees respectively. Mongolia is expected to spend at least 1 percent of its GDP (gross domestic product) annually to reach the target in time.

There is some concern within Mongolia itself that the corruption levels will mean that ‘the cousin’s wife’s brother is probably securing the tender to supply the government with the seeds. ‘ As one recent social media comment highlighted:

‘… yeah, planting trees is definitely a priority when half our population is below the poverty line, there’s smog in every building, there’s non-stop traffic jams (in Ulaanbaatar) and endless other priorities that need to be addressed. Planting trees is probably the least important thing you can do in Mongolia. If you’re argument is about saving the planet, go tell that to Russia and China first.’

 

If you interested in joining us in Mongolia, have a look at the range of Mongolia experiences that we offer. Although not all include visits to the Mongolia tree planting project, we can arrange this separately. Just get in touch!

Jess @ Eternal Landscapes

Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I’m Jess Brooks. I am the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia - a registered Mongolian business and social travel enterprise that focuses on providing travellers with a real 21st Century insight into Mongolia. I have been based in Mongolia since 2006 and together with my beloved Mongolian team, we focus on tourism that makes a positive difference. I'm also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society - awarded for my work in Mongolia and a published guidebook author - having worked together with World Adventure Guides to produce a digital interactive guide to Mongolia. http://www.jessbrooks.co.uk/
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