Mongolian forests are on the periphery of public interest. MENDELU researchers are trying to change this

24. 9. 2019 -

Brazil is not the only country where forests are rapidly disappearing due to logging and raging fires. In Mongolia, researchers from Mendel University are trying the change the local attitude towards forests and teach people of their importance. Since 2000, the country has lost around 35,000 km2 of forests to intensive pasture and fires, which is about half the area of the Czech Republic. Forestry is neglected in Mongolia and the public is either unaware of the importance of forests or considers them to be a burden. According to Jan Šebesta, one of the experts from Mendel University in Brno who is currently active in Mongolia, there is a lack of local experts who can manage the forests responsibly.

The main threats to Mongolian forests are intensive pasture, illegal logging and fires. While local forests only cover 7% of the total area of the country, they have a direct impact on the availability and quality of water, prevent erosion and the degradation of permafrost, or perpetually frozen ground, and provide a number of other irreplaceable and vital ecosystem services in the unique conditions of the local climate. Moreover, 7% of the area of Mongolia actually equals the area covered by forests in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary put together. "All the forests are owned by the government and are managed by tenants, who are either herdsmen or farmers who view forests as something that gets in the way of their living. All this means that Mongolian forests are under extreme pressure and there is virtually no one to take care of them," explains Šebesta.

With the support of the Czech Development Agency, the researchers have already completed a project that included demonstrations of sustainable forest management and options on how the system could work in the local climate and conditions and they have also established a forest tree nursery and a seed orchard. Their base is Domogt, an agricultural cooperative where the Czech experts help train local students and share examples of best practice.

"Forest fires are currently a very topical issue in Siberia, Mongolia and the Amazon rainforest. In Mongolia, the fires are caused by the mismanagement of the local forests and their overexploitation, which degrades the permafrost and diminishes the availability and quality of water. The overwhelming majority of forest fires are caused by human activity, whether it's smoking, picnics, shooting or operating machinery. Only about 10% of fires start naturally," says Šebesta, adding that the number of forestry students in Mongolia does not even reach double figures.

MENDELU experts are currently running a forestry and landscaping course for students at the Mongolian University of Life Sciences (MULS) and the German-Mongolian Institute of Resources and Technology (GMIT). In the first block of lectures, students learn about the principles of sustainable forest management and the importance of forests in sustaining permafrost and water retention and are given an overview of other environment-related disciplines. The other two blocks are more hands-on: the MENDELU researchers and the local academics and students have established research areas to study the impact of pasture on the natural regeneration and vitality of forests and the vegetation dynamics with regard to changes in soil temperature and moisture.

In addition, the Mongolian students were introduced to modern technologies and techniques used for forest inventories. Next year, they will use the research areas as a base for their final theses. At the same time, the researchers created an online education platform to facilitate ongoing cooperation and information exchange after completion of the project. The course, which follows up on a previous forestry project in Mongolia, is supported by the Czech Development Agency. Seven Mongolian students will also spend this winter semester in Brno through the ERASMUS+ programme.