The streets of New York City are eerily quiet at 6:30 a.m., especially for a city that’s known for its hustle and bustle. Quiet, that is, until you round the corner of 44th Street and 1st Avenue in front of the Millennium UN Hotel.
There the sidewalks pulse with crowds no matter the hour: security officers, UN officials, and, on the morning of September 22, 2009, the President of Mongolia and a hearty group of dedicated Nature Conservancy leaders, staff and supporters.
President Elbegdorj Tsakhiagiin and his delegation arrived in New York this week to attend UN Climate Negotiations and the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting. But first he and his team stopped for breakfast and conversation with Conservancy donors, trustees and staff.
More than 30 people filled the room as Conservancy Trustee and Mongolia supporter, Zach Taylor, welcomed the delegation to the United States. Taylor, who has been at the forefront of the Conservancy’s efforts to expand into Mongolia both in planning and funding, has also been to Mongolia many times and will return this summer.
Next, Conservancy CEO Mark Tercek, who traveled from Arlington, Virginia to attend the meeting, greeted the audience, praising Taylor’s tremendous dedication. He introduced the Conservancy’s Mongolia program staff and welcomed the President, thanking him for his strong conservation leadership. He noted that Elbegdorj’s two priorities, people and nature, are also shared by the Conservancy, making the two natural partners in conservation.
Then, the president of Mongolia took the podium. Just six months into his term, Elbegdorj has already been engaged in climate negotiations at a global level and has made conservation an essential part of his government’s agenda. With the Empire State Building framed by the window behind him, Elbegdorj noted his commitment to democracy and the people of Mongolia, who have made it clear that while development is important, changes should not come at the cost of Mongolia’s environment and natural resources.
More than 40% of Mongolia’s population is still nomadic, and many prefer that lifestyle, yet 80% of the population owns a mobile phone and the country boasts a 98% literacy rate—proving that economic development does not have to come at the cost of the environment.
President Elbegdorj voiced his support for the Conservancy’s programs in Mongolia and thanked the many donors in the room, noting that “by supporting the Conservancy, you are also supporting Mongolia.”
Bill Ulfelder, state director for the Conservancy in New York, closed the breakfast, recounting his own personal experiences in Mongolia just last year. Ulfelder, a Conservancy veteran and early supporter of the Mongolia program, carries a special connection to the grassland habitat, his last post being the Conservancy’s Eastern Colorado director. There he oversaw grasslands conservation of the Western High Plains and led numerous partnership efforts within both the private and public sectors. Ulfelder noted that despite years in Colorado, he never saw a single wolf—it took a 20-day trip to Mongolia for him to see his first pack.
While the Conservancy’s Mongolia office has been officially open for only a year, the program has already made great strides in conservation, especially in the country’s Eastern Steppe. This landscape presents one of the last and best opportunities on Earth to protect grasslands and savanna at a scale big enough to support the wildlife and nomadic people who have relied on these lands for millennia, and who will continue to depend on them in the future.
“The Mongolia program’s pragmatic approach to conservation will directly benefit the people of Mongolia,” says Ulfelder. “By integrating herder traditions and livelihoods with water conservation, sustainable economic and infrastructure development, and biodiversity conservation, this program can play an active role in the long-term health of the people and species that live within the Eastern Steppe.”
The program will also help local communities to establish and manage conservation areas, develop a model of coordinated grassland, wildlife and wetland management with neighboring provinces, and facilitate a national environmental forum to unite business, religious, governmental and conservation leaders around in a common environmental agenda.
Working with the government of Mongolia and many diverse partners, the Conservancy’s new conservation initiative will work to address these issues by incorporating conservation of vast areas of grasslands with sustainable development and policy initiatives.October 31, 2012