Mongolia Takes Notes From Montana In Developing Wildlife-Friendly Infrastructure

Apr 11, 2013 10:45 AM EDT

When researchers first discovered the massive deposit of ore beneath the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, the place was an open steppe - much as it had been for thousands of years. Sixteen years later, it is home to a massive open-cast pit where trucks and heavy machinery are constantly at work in an effort to create a fully operational mine by 2020.

Once in place, those overseeing the project estimate it will produce 450,000 tons of copper and 330,000 ounces of gold a year and could ultimately amount to $1.3 trillion in mineral reserves, 34 percent of which would go straight into the pockets of the country's government (the remaining 66 percent is claimed by the mining company Rio Tinto).

However, with such massive development comes the environmental costs of transforming the rural in the industrial, which is why Mongolian officials have traveled half-way around the world to study how others are dealing with the problem.

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Western Montana researchers have devised a tour of the area's local projects designed to preserve the nation's wildlife amidst human development. Much of the focus, according to The Montana Standard, is on the over and underpasses that enable safe travel for animals across major interstates and other forms of environment-cutting installations.

"We're trying to minimize the impact of mining and other development," Buya Tulga of Mongolia's Ministry of Environment and Green Development told the newspaper. "It's why we're studying here. We chose Montana because these are good examples of how to [enhance] the wildlife movement alongside the road."

In particular, Tulga said he is concerned about further threatening the already endangered species in the region with the new Ulaanbaatar-Beijing highway. 

Leading scientist at Mongolia's Institute of Biology, Lkhagvasuren Badamjav, is also among those touring the state. 

"Mongolia is facing a very big economic boom, which is mostly associated with mining," he said. "The development of this mining needs infrastructure development. But we need to build environmentally-friendly, wildlife-friendly roads."

Among those that call the Gobi Desert home is the rare Bactrian camel, the Gobi bear, the Goitered gazelle, the Saiga antelope and Asiatic ass.

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