June 4,  2015- If you happen to be at one of several popular national parks in the next ten days, you may see a small delegation of Mongolian officials taking in the grandeur alongside you. As part of a trans-national sharing of expertise on park management issues, (WCS) Wildlife Conservation Society is hosting six key members of the Mongolian government for a protected area study tour.

 Development, led by an exploding extractive industry, is on the rise and bringing big changes to the landscape in Mongolia. Because of these changes, protected areas have grown in importance for ensuring the protection of biodiversity and of threatened and endangered species. However, capacity and resources for protected area management have fallen behind the pace of expansion of Mongolia’s protected area network.

 In response, WCS is conducting a management capacity building tour for six members of the Mongolian government— three from the Ministry of Environment, Green Development and Tourism, and three from the Eastern Steppe Strictly Protected Area. Additionally, a Mongolian Montana State University Master's program student will attend.

Accompanied by WCS Mongolia staff, the team will visit Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Badlands, and Theodore Roosevelt national parks. On the tour, they will learn how U.S. parks are managed, and how the threats the parks in both countries face (i.e., wildlife disease, poaching, fire, habitat encroachment) are mitigated.

 The group will also visit the Buffalo Gap and Grand River National Grasslands, both located in South Dakota and managed by the US Forest Service (within the Department of Agriculture). These grasslands are managed for a variety of purposes including forage for wildlife and domestic livestock, fish and wildlife habitat, timber, water, and recreation resources.  The ecosystems in South Dakota are very similar to those in the Eastern Steppe region of Mongolia, and the local resource managers are eager to share their experiences with these international counterparts.

 “The challenges faced by our tour participants from Mongolia in protected area management are often the same ones that we face or have faced in the past in the U.S.,” said Kina Murphy, WCS Extractive Industry Project Manager and study tour participant. “The tour provides an opportunity for us to compare strategies and take the best innovations and implement them for the benefit of wildlife.”

Mr. Batkhuu, a ranger from Mongol Daguur Strictly Protected Area of Dornod Province of Mongolia said, “I am travelling abroad for the first time in my life over the Pacific Ocean to learn from one of the greatest national park systems in the world and am very happy for this great learning adventure of my lifetime.

 The project participants will meet with park staff, local agencies and non-governmental organizations to learn about best-practices with regard to protected area management, tourism development, environmental interpretation, community outreach and co-management opportunities, extractive industry relations, conservation finance strategies, and more.

 U.S. National Park Service personnel will share experiences through meetings, lectures, on-site evaluations, and discussions with the team. Conversely, Mongolian participants will present on the Mongolian protected area system and plans to U.S. National Park Service participants.

 “Whether it’s grizzly bears, bison or pronghorn in the U.S. or khulan, saiga or Mongolian gazelles in Mongolia, the management concepts we are sharing with our colleagues from Mongolia are critical to the successful conservation of iconic wildlife in protected areas and finding harmony between development and biodiversity conservation,” said WCS Mongolia Program Director Enkhtuvshin Shiilegdamba.

 This collaborative capacity building tour was supported by the Trust for Mutual Understanding and the U.S. Forest Service International Programs.