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Montana and Mongolia each boast a tremendous variety of wildlife and a commitment to nature written into their laws.

But, despite those similiarities, the differences are striking.

Mongolia has few improved roads, compared with Montana, which has a vast array of highways and county roads.

Mongolia has few fences, allowing domestic livestock to roam free. In Montana, barbed-wire fences have helped keep the peace for generations.

These similarities and differences were outlined for the 35 people attending a conference at Montana State University Friday sponsored by the BioRegions program. The program seeks to find commonalities in the rural cultures that remain in Montana, Mongolia and Japan.

"Who wouldn't admire people who had a 2000-year-old culture?" Gordon Wiltsie of Bozeman, a National Geographic photographer who did an assignment in Mongolia this past year, an experience he said rated "among the best of my life."

"I learned more from herders than I could possibly teach them," Wiltsie said.

The all-day conference was attended by Mongolian students, as well as American wildlife officials, tourists and academics who have traveled to the country north of China.

"Mongolia is more diverse than people realize," said Richard Reading, conservation biology director of the Denver Zoological Foundation in Denver, Colo., which is funding research in Mongolia.

It has the biggest salmon in the world. It has swan geese, black vultures with a 9-foot wing span, nine kinds of falcons and seven kinds of eagles, Reading said.

But Mongolian conservationists have trouble protecting wildlife from poachers. Elk antlers and horns of the saiga, a small antelope, are particularly valuable.

Another problem for Mongolian conservationists is preserving wildlife habitat. In an effort to determine how various animals in an ecosystem are doing, conservationists in Mongolia sometimes focus on a single species.

For example, they believe if they protect habitat for wild Bactrian camels, a critically endangered species, the habitat for a variety of smaller animals will be protected.

"It's every Mongolian's duty to love and conserve nature, Mongolians say," Reading said.

Conservation is written into the Mongolian constitution, which says everyone has the right to a healthy environment, similar to Montana's constitution.

To that end, one Mongolian on the panel, Ganaa Wingard, is researching wild and domestic sheep. The hypothesis for her research is that the wild sheep population is limited by a lack of forage and competition from domestic sheep and goats.

Reindeer pasture conditions have been the focus of work done by Teki Tsagaan, a Mongolian student at MSU working toward a doctorate in land resources and environmental science.

Wiltsie said his experience in Mongolia reminded him that it's the "interaction between individuals in small groups that may be our key to survival.

"(Americans) are materially driven, never happy," Wiltsie said. "I wish our gas-guzzling culture would learn from them. They have a sustainable culture."

SIDEBAR: Student researches Mongolian home remedies

From MSU News Service

The wilds of outer Mongolia are well known to Courtney Paterson.

Paterson spent a month in Mongolia during the summer of 2001 researching home remedies "like our chicken soup for a cold," she said.

But she also learned something bigger - how to work and enjoy being in a foreign culture.

"I'm the first to admit that this was my first big adventure," Paterson said. "It was an awesome learning experience, seeing what working in another culture would be like. … The culture is very warm and open, so it wasn't exactly your sterile research environment."

Paterson, a Montana State University graduate, Bozeman native and first-year medical student, was participating in workshops on Mongolia Friday at MSU.

For her research, Paterson developed a questionnaire that asked about home remedies, and MSU graduate student Teki Tsagaan, who is from Mongolia, translated the questionnaire.

Because Mongolia is a land-locked desert, home remedies tend to be based on milk and meat, Paterson said. A common thread among the cures mentioned was "white soup," a milk and meat combination for which the exact ingredients are still somewhat of a mystery.

"It seems that the healthful aspect of the food may be that it is cooked at such a high temperature that it is very sterile," Paterson said.

Another remedy is one Americans may be unwilling to learn from: rest.

"Mongolians are very hearty, but they kinda know when to sit back and rest, just wait it out," she said. "That was a fun comparison to the American culture, where it's work, work, work, to get antibiotics and go back to work."

Paterson also collected information about the needs of the only hospital in the Darhat Valley.

Housed in a building about the size of a doublewide trailer, the hospital is basically a birthing center. It needs X-ray and more surgery equipment. And doctors would like to be able to use an anesthetic more modern than ether.

Paterson's experience confirmed her intention to enter the Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho medical school program last fall, because of its international programs for medical students.

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