Listening to the call of the wilderness

Updated: 2013-12-19 08:53

By Jiang Xueqing (China Daily)

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The clarification of management objectives and strategies would improve interdepartmental cooperation in government and avoid redundant protection efforts, he added.

Listening to the call of the wilderness
Residents of Liju increased their incomes from selling white kidney beans after The Nature Conservancy doubled the price it pays for the foodstuff. [Brice Mathey / for China Daily]

The IUCN, one of the world's largest environmental organizations, divides protected areas into six categories, according to their management objectives. "National Park", one of the categories, is defined thus: "large natural or near-natural areas set aside to protect large-scale ecological processes, along with the complement of species and ecosystems characteristic of the area, which also provide a foundation for environmentally and culturally compatible, spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational, and visitor opportunities".

The Ministry of Environmental Protection has conducted research into national parks for several years, including a pilot project in Tangwanghe National Park which opened in 2008 and is located in the dense forests of the northeastern province of Heilongjiang.

Before that, in 2007, the southwestern province of Yunnan, which boasts stunning scenery and rich biodiversity, established Potatso National Park in Shangri-La county.

In 2010, the Yunnan government outlined a plan to create 12 national parks across the province by 2020. The work was aided by guidance from The Nature Conservancy, a leading global organization, which played an important role throughout the process, from the introduction of the national park concept to technical support.

Lakes and wetland

A major feature of Potatso is Bitahai, an area of lakes and wetland that is an important stopover site for many migratory birds. In days gone by, villagers opened small businesses around the lake and provided horseback rides for tourists. All that came to an end when the local government established the park to prevent the wetland from damage from the horses' hooves and manure. The riding services and small businesses were all closed and now the villagers receive a proportion of the park's ticket revenue as compensation for their financial losses. Visitors can only enter the wetland on foot via plank roads, said Wang Yue, director of the Yunnan office of The Nature Conservancy.

China has just two regulations concerning protected areas - one for the management of nature reserves and one for scenic spots. The legal impact of a regulation is less than that of a law, so if the conservation of nature conflicts with development or infrastructure construction projects, some government departments prefer to cite the relevant laws and play down the importance of conservation.

According to Zhu, most of China's modern laws and regulations were drawn up in the 1980s and 1990s, when the country was still in the initial stages of reform and opening-up. Back then, different ministries led the legislative process, creating laws and regulations that in a large part reflected their own interests rather than those of the nation and the people.

"China is in need of a law on the management of protected areas. We hope its formulation will be an interdepartmental matter and that public participation will be encouraged. Government departments should consider which conservation services they can provide instead of fighting over who should manage the protected areas," said Zhu.

He suggested the government should allow social organizations and primary stakeholders to participate in the legislative process.

The US has set a good example for interdepartmental administration. Six government departments manage Yellowstone National Park jointly and their responsibilities are clearly defined; inside the park, the National Park Service of the US Department of the Interior is in control, but outside, the US Forest Service, an agency of the Department of Agriculture, is in charge of management. All six agencies concentrate their efforts on law enforcement, according to Zhu.

Currently, eight government departments jointly manage all of China's protected areas.

"Each of the ministries involved gives its own orders relating to protected areas, resulting in a huge waste of resources. Now, as the top leaders have decided to deepen reform, the government will have a chance to make a breakthrough," said Zhu.

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Wu Wencong and Zhao Xu contributed to this story.

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