Zha­long Pro­tec­tion Model

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Shen Hui

On Septem­ber 10, 2017, Zha­long In­ter­na­tional Half Marathon started off from Zha­long Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve. About 4,000 ath­letes par­tic­i­pated in the con­test to en­joy com­pet­i­tive long-dis­tance run­ning amidst beau­ti­ful scenery fea­tur­ing flour­ish­ing plants and danc­ing cranes.

Water, the Source of Life

Strad­dling Song­nen Plain in north­east­ern China’s Hei­longjiang Prov­ince, Zha­long Wet­land cov­ers 210,000 hectares. In the Mon­go­lian lan­guage, “Zha­long” lit­er­ally means an en­clo­sure for rais­ing sheep and cat­tle.

Zha­long Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve is China’s largest pro­tec­tion cen­ter for red­crowned crane and the world’s largest breed­ing cen­ter for the bird. “Water birds are the crit­i­cal in­di­ca­tor of a wet­land’s health,” ex­plains Wang Wen­feng, deputy di­rec­tor of the na­ture re­serve. Sta­tis­tics shows that the re­serve is home to 400 wild red­crowned cranes, a fifth of the world’s to­tal, as well as 296 species of other birds, 35 of which are un­der state-class pro­tec­tion.

In the past, Zha­long Wet­land was fed by the sea­sonal over­flow­ing of the Wuyu’er and Shuangyang rivers. But be­cause of hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties and nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­men­tal shifts, evap­o­ra­tion be­gan ex­ceed­ing pre­cip­i­ta­tion. In 2001, a fire fur­ther wors­ened the wet­land’s situation, threat­en­ing the lives of the birds.

How could a fire hap­pen to a wet­land? “A lack of water,” Wang sighs. “Back then, of 700 square kilo­me­ters of Zha­long’s core area, only 130 square kilo­me­ters had water. In some places cars even could pass with­out trou­ble.” Ac­cord­ing to a 2003 doc­u­ment, Zha­long Wet­land needed a bil­lion cu­bic

me­ters of water or it would have dis­ap­peared. So, dur­ing the springs and early sum­mers of 2002 and 2003, Zha­long re­ceived an in­jec­tion of 420 mil­lion cu­bic me­ters of water.

Water is the lifeblood of the wet­land. The trans­fu­sion clearly helped the re­cov­ery of the en­vi­ron­ment, as ev­i­denced by the dou­bled pop­u­la­tion of red-crowned cranes in 2003 com­pared with the fig­ure in 2001. Its suc­cess helped water in­jec­tions be­come a long-term mech­a­nism, and now 250 mil­lion cu­bic me­ters of water are sup­plied to Zha­long each year.

Since Zha­long Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve bid farewell to chronic water short­ages, more birds and other an­i­mals have re­turned. “When Zha­long has water, its aquatic en­vi­ron­ment im­proves dras­ti­cally,” says Gao Zhongyan, deputy di­rec­tor at the na­ture re­serve’s Crane Breed­ing Cen­ter. “The pop­u­la­tion of rare species like red­crowned cranes grows, in­di­vid­ual birds lay more eggs and the in­fant mor­tal­ity rate im­proves by leaps and bounds.”

Mean­while, the wet­land plays a big­ger role in reg­u­lat­ing cli­mate and coun­ter­act­ing pol­lu­tants. Sun Leshi, chief en­gi­neer of Qiqi­har Mu­nic­i­pal Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Bureau, noted that the re­cov­ery of Zha­long Wet­land gave neigh­bor­ing com­mu­ni­ties more rainy days and less ex­treme tem­per­a­tures, ev­i­denc­ing the pos­i­tive reg­u­lat­ing func­tion of the wet­land.

Eco­log­i­cal Mi­gra­tion

The con­flict be­tween birds and hu­mans has eter­nally per­sisted in Zha­long.

The vastest, most in­tact and prim­i­tive wet­land ecosys­tem in north­ern China, Zha­long is an im­por­tant pas­sage for var­i­ous birds’ mi­gra­tion. Also, about 5,000 vil­lagers lived in the core area of the wet­land, farm­ing, fish­ing and cut­ting reeds.

“The birds were afraid of peo­ple,” re­called Xu Minzhan, who moved out of the core area 15 years ago. “We used trac­tors in­stead of horses and cat­tle to plow. The en­gine sounds scared the birds away.”

In ad­di­tion to the noise, vil­lagers con­sumed land and re­sources. Ac­cord­ing to Wang Wen­feng, the grow­ing hu­man pop­u­la­tion asked for more from the en­vi­ron­ment, leav­ing fewer re­sources for their neigh­bors. “Some birds even aban­doned their nests be­cause of hu­man en­croach­ment.”

The situation presents a dilemma. Birds are se­verely im­pacted by hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties, but the lo­cal res­i­dents need to sur­vive. Ul­ti­mately, the govern­ment de­cided to re­lo­cate the peo­ple. The govern­ment es­ti­mates that the re­lo­ca­tion pro­gram will

in­volve 1,528 house­holds and be fi­nanced by in­vest­ments of more than 163 mil­lion yuan (US$24.6 mil­lion), in­clud­ing 98.18 mil­lion yuan (US$14.8 mil­lion) from the cen­tral govern­ment and 65.45 mil­lion yuan (US$9.8 mil­lion) from lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

For the pro­tec­tion of birds, peo­ple are re­lo­cat­ing. It seems a hefty price to pay, but the bold move may prove worth­while. “The wet­land is rich in water and plant re­sources,” says Xu Minzhan. “Pre­vi­ously, it sup­ported our lives eas­ily. But things be­came more dif­fi­cult with the in­crease of peo­ple.” So, Xu moved to a neigh­bor­ing com­mu­nity, where he found con­ve­nient trans­porta­tion, in­for­ma­tion flow and bet­ter in­come. “The govern­ment pro­vides jobs for re­lo­cated res­i­dents such as gar­den­ing and driv­ing. I can earn as much as 30,000 yuan a year plus my earn­ings from reed cut­ting. I am do­ing much bet­ter fi­nan­cially than be­fore.”

More and more peo­ple have al­ready moved out of the core area of the wet­land. “Vil­lagers used to hunt bird eggs to eat,” Xu ad­mits. “But now ev­ery­body knows that pro­tec­tion is very im­por­tant.”

In 2015, the first phase of the re­lo­ca­tion pro­gram started. Re­lo­cated res­i­dents are still al­lowed to cut reeds from the wet­land in win­ter. And lo­cals are de­vel­op­ing tourism fea­tur­ing crane-watch­ing in the snow and hot springs.

Green moun­tains and clear water are as valu­able as gold and sil­ver. Now, Zha­long Wet­land has be­come a flag­ship brand of Hei­longjiang Prov­ince, draw­ing more tourists to the area.

Zha­long has be­come a fa­mous travel des­ti­na­tion of Hei­longjiang Prov­ince, draw­ing count­less tourists to the area. IC Zha­long in March. VCG

Zha­long Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve flour­ishes most in sum­mer, dur­ing which time flocks of red­crowned cranes fly over danc­ing reeds. IC

Late au­tumn is the busiest sea­son in Zha­long, dur­ing which time many mi­gra­tory birds from Siberia gather there be­fore fly­ing south. VCG

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