Environmental perceptions and traditional environmental knowledge among ethnic groups of Altai Mountains of Russia and Mongolia

EPA Grant Number: F5C20420
Title: Environmental perceptions and traditional environmental knowledge among ethnic groups of Altai Mountains of Russia and Mongolia
Investigators: Medovaya, Mariyam
Institution: University of Colorado at Boulder
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: August 1, 2005 through August 1, 2008
Project Amount: $99,936
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2005) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships


The purpose of this research project is to examine:

  1. factors that determine environmental perceptions among three closely related ethnic groups in a border region between two countries – Russia (Southern Siberia) and Mongolia;
  2. the role that belief systems and folklore have as repositories of environmental knowledge in this region;
  3. and how this role and environmental perceptions are affected by global environmental change in this region.


The data for the proposed project will be collected via interviews with rural people in spatially proximate zones: Altai ( Russia), Buryatia ( Russia) and Northern Mongolia. Several villages/communities will be selected from each zone. Group and individual interviews will be undertaken in each village/community. The interviews will collect a range of data. In order to identify the relationship between demographics and nature perceptions, as well as to stratify the population in later analyses, basic data on location; ethnicity; demographic characteristics; socio-economic status; education will be collected. In-depth narratives, semistructured interviews, and participant observation will document belief systems and the practice of ethnic traditions, traditional knowledge about the environment, observed environmental/climatic changes, impacts of these changes on the local population, and responses to them. Finally, to examine the role of local beliefs (shamanism) and folklore as repositories of environmental knowledge, interviews will focus on accumulating information on the importance of the local beliefs in the culture and on documenting the folklore pertaining to nature.

Expected Results:

The intellectual merit of the proposed research lies in:

  1. an enhanced understanding of people-environment relations in cultures with strong folklore and shamanic traditions;
  2. identifying environmental/climatic change in the region from local observations and oral histories;
  3. the fact that it is one of few studies that focus on the proposed region’s traditional environmental knowledge;
  4. assessment of differences in environmental perceptions and the determinants of these differences among three culturally, linguistically, historically, and spiritually related ethnic groups of Southern Siberia and Inner Asia.

Also, the broader impacts of this research will be seen in fostering a dialog between mainstream sciences (such as environmental sciences, climatology, meteorology, and anthropology) and communities in the study regions, the practitioners of traditional knowledge. This study will fill the gap in research on environmental traditional knowledge in Inner Asia and provide a possibility for comparison to similar studies among indigenous people in North America. It will also be a contribution to the understanding of how groups tied closely to the environment are affected and respond to environmental change. Controlled comparison between two countries and three ethnic groups will provide information on how environmental perceptions are affected by differences in national policy, economy, cultural setting, and other social, cultural, political and economic parameters. Moreover, this research will contribute to ongoing work on preservation of ethnic heritage, community health and environmental conservation in the regions. It will provide material for public education and outreach through development of digital media presenting collected information, as well as through other forms of public education. The collaborative ties will enhance the capacity of local institutions to study and address environmental and societal issues.

Supplemental Keywords:

traditional environmental knowledge, environmental change, geography, Mongolia, Buryatia, Altai,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Air, Geographic Area, climate change, Air Pollution Effects, Environmental Monitoring, International, Atmosphere, Social Science, Mongolia, socioeconomics, environmental beliefs, human dimension, demographics, societal changes, culture, Russia, climate variability, community structure, Global Climate Change

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2006
  • 2007
  • Final