Mongolian Grasslands

In the summer of 2016 Willy Sutton and I traveled to the other side of the planet to photograph in Mongolia. We were encouraged and supported to take a look at the Tosonkhulstai Nature Reserve by Frank Goodyear and the folks who had supported our Wyoming Grasslands Project. This ongoing project is now in its second year.

Nothing speaks more to the future and past of Mongolia than Ulaanbaatar. A hundred years ago a seasonal ger camp surrounded trade compounds, Buddhist Monasteries, and the Zuun Khuree temple-palace complex. Today it is great city closing in on a million and and half people in which almost half the population of Mongolia lives.

Above the city rises the Bogd Kahn Mountain. These mountains were declared a protected site in 1783, and it is oldest protected natural area on this planet. The long tradition Mongolia has of caring for the land is rooted in the “Ikh Zasag” laws of Chinggis Khaan. It has continued to this day with the designation of four types of Special Protected Areas by the Mongolian Parliament in the 1990’s: Strictly Protected Areas, National Conservation Parks, Nature Reserves, and Monuments.

These Protected Areas cover the complex and diverse ecosystems of Mongolia. A landscape that descends from 14,000 feet at Tavan Bogd mountain in the west across immense grassland steppes, mountains and rivers to 1,800 feet at Hoh Nur a small lake on the East border, and North to South from Taiga Forest to the Gobi Desert.

I am fascinated by the idea of a “Strictly Protected Area” for it is a rare thing for humanity to set aside a place for a wild ecosystems to thrive, but I also see the importance of the “Natural Reserves” as we strive to find a place for wildlife in an ever expanding human community.

I photograph the landscapes that are under appreciated because they lack the splendor of a vernacular travel photograph. People often too often describe these places as barren. Instead they beckon us to look closer and see what is there. It is not a big planet anymore. With our machines, just about anyone can get close to just about anywhere in a day. Deserts and grasslands have silence, space and the wind in abundance, and a scale where the distance to water discourages visitors who do not know the terrain from walking too far out into a landscape where the edge is not the horizon, a canyon or a mountain, but an unmarked expanse beyond our limits.

Michael P Berman 2017

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