Nav: Home

Mongolia bestows highest honor on CSU's Fernández-Giménez

June 13, 2016

CSU Professor Maria Fernández-Giménez has received the Order of the Polar Star from the government of Mongolia, the highest civilian honor the country presents to foreign nationals.

Fernández-Giménez was selected due to her long-standing commitment to researching Mongolia's extensive rangelands and how natural and human communities are adapting to ecological and economic change.

Fernández-Giménez has been researching rangeland systems and the pastoralists they support in Mongolia since the early 1990s, when she was among the first Western scientists to conduct research in Mongolia following the country's transition from communism to a market-based economy. She joins the rarified air of previous recipients including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Sen. John McCain.

According to a decree from President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, Fernández-Giménez received the honor due to her contributions to improving the knowledge of experts concerning animal husbandry in steppe regions, protection of natural resources and capacity-building.

"Receiving this award is a tremendous honor," said Fernández-Giménez. "It means that the research and education we have done since 1993 is recognized and appreciated by the Mongolian government and the people of Mongolia. It also demonstrates the continuing importance of rangelands and pastoral livelihoods to the nation."

"On a personal level, it is humbling and very meaningful to be nominated for this award by the people with whom I have worked so closely for so many years -- Mongolian researchers, students and herders," Fernández-Giménez added.

Rangelands support wildlife, people's livelihoods

Mongolian rangelands, which make up three-quarters of the country, are critically important not only to people's livelihoods, but also support globally important wildlife populations. The systems are sensitive to ecological change, including a rapidly warming climate, and those changes can have dramatic impacts throughout the country's herding families.

Throughout her time in Mongolia she has focused on understanding ecological changes driven by livestock grazing and climate change, as well as herder livelihoods, management practices and policies that influence behaviors over time.

Since 2008, Fernández-Giménez has led the landmark Mongolian Rangelands and Resilience Project, or MOR2. MOR2 compares management practices of traditional herders with those of community resource groups that developed in the mid-2000s.

The team assessed Mongolian systems' resilience to climate change, strengthened linkages between natural resource science and Mongolian policy makers, and built scientific capacity to analyze the dynamics of complex natural-human systems. Other CSU faculty involved in the effort include Professors Robin Reid, Steven Fassnacht and Melinda Laituri.

Better integration of social, ecological issues

Tungalag Ulambayar, a Mongolian national, earned her Ph.D. working on MOR2, and has seen firsthand the impacts the project has had on the nation. "We've learned the connections of social and ecological issues of rangeland systems," she said. "Previously we were thinking of separate fields, and there was not integration. The project also brought forward the theoretical back-up of community-based rangeland management, and helped build a lot of confidence at different levels of MOR2 team members and partners."

MOR2 involved dozens of Mongolian scientists, some of whom were fairly early in their careers. "We brought an interest in collaboration and science as a democratic process with us," said Fernández-Giménez. "These were new concepts to many of our Mongolian colleagues who came from a much more hierarchal scientific background."

Throughout MOR2 three Mongolian scientists, including Ulambayar, earned doctoral degrees at CSU, further increasing Mongolia's scientific capacity. Their time studying on the main campus in Fort Collins provided great opportunities for further cultural exchange that, while challenging at times, was valuable, according to Fernández-Giménez. "The deep relationships that emerged between our group and collaborators in Mongolia facilitated an appreciation of different ways of knowing," she said.

The project took place in communities throughout the country, creating unique logistical challenges. "We call it the Mongolian miracle," said Fernández-Giménez. "We collected data throughout a developing country without strong infrastructure, and so many things could go wrong. But Mongolians never give up and they never say no. They figure out a way to get the job done."

Outreach to impacted communities essential

Perhaps the strongest aspect of the project was the outreach back into communities where data collection took place. "We absolutely did not want to leave the communities we worked in out of the process after our field work was finished," she explained. "The outreach components to the project were vital."

Through regional workshops, the research team helped communities combine the scientific findings of MOR2 with their local knowledge, using scenarios to consider their futures and how to adapt to unpredictable environmental and economic changes.

Fernández-Giménez carried out high-level research meetings that included people from all aspects of the project, helping inform national policy direction and facilitate capacity-building. A radio call-in show hosted by Ulambayar sought to reach herders across the country.

"We've influenced the national dialog about policies related to rangelands and community-based management, in addition to the trajectory of how donors and non-governmental organizations are working and what they focus on," Fernández-Giménez explained. "We have raised a great deal of awareness about rangelands' importance, and what they mean to the country."

Together with Robin Reid, director of CSU's Center for Collaborative Conservation, and anthropology Professor Kathy Galvin, Fernández-Giménez is working to develop framework that calculates the conservation return on investment from community-based rangeland management, drawing on data from MOR2 and other datasets from Mongolia and the U.S.

Fernández-Giménez is a professor in the Department of Forest and Rangelands Stewardship in the Warner College of Natural Resources. The MOR2 project received funding from the National Science Foundation, the World Bank, USAID, the Ford Foundation, the Center for Collaborative Conservation and the American Center for Mongolian Studies.

Colorado State University

Related Climate Change Articles:

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
Historical climate important for soil responses to future climate change
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Amsterdam, examined how 18 years of drought affect the billions of vital bacteria that are hidden in the soil beneath our feet.
Can forests save us from climate change?
Additional climate benefits through sustainable forest management will be modest and local rather than global.
From crystals to climate: 'Gold standard' timeline links flood basalts to climate change
Princeton geologists used tiny zircon crystals found in volcanic ash to rewrite the timeline for the eruptions of the Columbia River flood basalts, a series of massive lava flows that coincided with an ancient global warming period 16 million years ago.
Think pink for a better view of climate change
A new study says pink noise may be the key to separating out natural climate variability from climate change that is influenced by human activity.
Climate taxes on agriculture could lead to more food insecurity than climate change itself
New IIASA-led research has found that a single climate mitigation scheme applied to all sectors, such as a global carbon tax, could have a serious impact on agriculture and result in far more widespread hunger and food insecurity than the direct impacts of climate change.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#540 Specialize? Or Generalize?
Ever been called a "jack of all trades, master of none"? The world loves to elevate specialists, people who drill deep into a single topic. Those people are great. But there's a place for generalists too, argues David Epstein. Jacks of all trades are often more successful than specialists. And he's got science to back it up. We talk with Epstein about his latest book, "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at