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Green drive scales new peaks

Post Date: 2020/08/29 13:15
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Officials dismissed, probed over illegal mining in Qilian Mountains

While city folk flock to zoos or animal parks for a glimpse of wildlife, the threats posed by predators such as snow leopards, wolves and brown bears are a daily fact of life for 41-year-old forest ranger Zhao Hongshang in the Qilian Mountains in northwestern China's Qinghai province.

His base, Qiqing forest station, sits at an altitude of 2,900 meters and is the highest forest station in Qilian Mountain National Park-one of China's first 10 pilot national parks.

Work on the parks started in 2015, with the aim of further protecting local ecosystems and wildlife, and is scheduled to be completed this year.

In August 2018, a pack of wolves chased Zhao and his colleague Ma Xu for about 5 kilometers while they were patrolling the forest on a motorbike. The wolves sprang from a hill beside their route and followed the two rangers for more than 10 minutes, with the chase ending when a truck approached.

"We jumped off the motorbike and rushed into the truck," Zhao said. "We were surrounded by 11 wolves. That was very scary. The driver hit the horn for a long time. We kept yelling at the wolves and finally scared them away.

"The experience was life-threatening, but sweet to me. I've been working as a forest ranger for nearly two decades. For me, nothing could be better than seeing the land I've protected become greener and home to more wildlife."

The construction of the national park, part of China's comprehensive strategy of improving the environment and achieving the goal of ecological civilization, has boosted animal populations and biodiversity in the Qilian Mountains, which lie on the border of Qinghai and Gansu provinces.

Last August, President Xi Jinping, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, stressed the importance of the ecological protection of the Qilian Mountains.

"The Qilian Mountains are a vital shield for ecological security in the western part of China," he said. "This is a positioning in the national strategy."

Xi made the remarks at a horse ranch during an inspection tour of Gansu, when he also expressed satisfaction with the effectiveness of nature conservation work in the area.

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Severe threats

Qilian Mountain National Park covers 50,200 square kilometers-68 percent of which lie in Gansu-and features forest, grassland, desert and wetland landscapes.

Most of the 10 pilot parks have a core protected area and a general protected area. Regulation is stricter in the core protected areas, with commercial activities, such as tourism, banned and other forms of human activity kept to a minimum. That even applies to local residents, who are being relocated from the parks' core protected areas.

The core protected area of Qilian Mountain National Park-27,500 sq km-accounts for 55 percent of its total area.

The mountains' ecosystem faced severe threats from overgrazing, tourism, mining and commercial logging dating back to the 1980s. By the 1990s, their natural resources were overexploited by more than 500 mining enterprises and 150 hydropower stations, according to Gansu's provincial government.

Thanks to the launch of the pilot national parks, the ecosystem of the Qilian Mountains has been recovering steadily, although threats to the mountains' environment have not been completely eradicated.

Economic Information Daily, a newspaper affiliated with Xinhua News Agency, reported this month that large-scale illegal coal mining had continued to devastate the environment of the Qilian Mountains and reported that a company was suspected of making billions of yuan through illegal coal mining in the past 14 years.

The government of Haixi prefecture, where the mine is located, sent a special team to investigate the case and the Qinghai provincial government sent a special inspection team a day after it was reported.

Two senior officials in Haixi prefecture were removed from their posts for dereliction of supervision duty on illicit mining in Muli coal field in the Qilian Mountains, the provincial government announced at a news conference on Sunday.

Liang Yanguo, a member of the Party committee of the prefecture, and Li Yongping, head of the Muli coal field management bureau, were removed from their posts and are under further investigation, according to the provincial discipline inspection commission.

Another three officials from local supervision departments in Haixi were also removed from office and put under investigation.

Since 2017, the central government has conducted two rounds of environmental inspections, including one in the Qilian Mountains.

Illegal mining and commercial logging in the mountains have been banned, and tours that could damage the environment have been suspended. Herdsmen have also been relocated from the core protected area of Qilian Mountain National Park.

Wang Hongbo, director of the park's management office, said 114 mines were closed in 2018, with all facilities and buildings dismantled or removed, and 25 tours that posed threats to the ecosystem had been modified due to environmental concerns.

The improved environment has seen the revival of the population of some endangered species. Images of Tibetan donkeys, blue sheep and yellow Mongolian gazelle, animals not seen since the 1990s due to excessive hunting, have been captured by infrared cameras several times in recent years.

Zhao said rangers were four times as likely to encounter a blue eared pheasant now than 20 years ago, with the chances of seeing a blue sheep seven times greater.

With three other rangers, he safeguards wildlife in 427 sq km of forest. They patrol the region for 21 days a month and each covers more than 30,000 km a year-nearly three-quarters of the Earth's circumference.

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Preserving ecosystems

Other areas have also seen their ecosystems recover and have gained better protection thanks to China's efforts to establish nature reserves.

When delivering a report at the opening of the 19th National Congress of the CPC in 2017, Xi said the country, as part of an effort to build a beautiful China, would develop a nature reserve system composed mainly of national parks.

That idea had its genesis in 2005, when Xi was the Party secretary of Zhejiang province. In August of that year, on a visit to Yucun, a village in Zhejiang's Anji county, Xi praised the local government for stopping mining activities and closing cement factories to deal with a serious pollution problem.

During the visit, Xi put forward his famous development theory that "lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets", which later became known as the "Two Mountains Theory".

The green development philosophy is changing the country, with action plans to fight air, water and soil pollution introduced in recent years and its harshest-ever Environmental Protection Law rolled out.

Ecological civilization was also included in the CPC Constitution as a principle for development at the 18th CPC National Congress. It was the first time in the world that a ruling party had highlighted green development in its charter.

In June, the State Council unveiled a guideline on nature reserves, with national parks as a major component, aimed at providing systemic protection for natural ecosystems, relics, scenery and biodiversity, and also safeguarding the country's ecological security.

Xi has personally reviewed plans for four of the 10 pilot national parks, including those for Qilian Mountain National Park, according to Yang Weimin, deputy head of the Office of the Central Leading Group on Finance and Economic Affairs, and demanded that the integrity and original condition of the ecosystems be preserved.

"The aim is to give about 215,000 sq km of land back to nature, to give roughly 2 percent of China's territory to giant pandas, Siberian tigers and Tibetan antelopes, and to give our future generations a larger area of pristine land," Yang said at a news conference on the sidelines of the 19th CPC National Congress.

According to the plan, China will set up a group of national parks and establish a new agency for managing natural assets by the end of this year, with the new system to become more efficient in the next decade.

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Thriving wild animals

The National Forestry and Grassland Administration said last year that the construction of all 10 national parks will be completed on schedule, adding that some had already made significant achievements in ecological and wildlife protection.

In May, Qinghai's provincial government said Three-River-Source National Park will be officially established this year. Covering an area of 123,000 sq km, mainly on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, it will protect the sources of three major rivers-the Yangtze, Yellow and Lancang-and wildlife including Tibetan antelopes.

In Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park, which spans the border of Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces, Siberian tigers and Amur leopards-two species listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List-have seen their populations increase in the past two years.

Zhang Shanning, deputy head of the park's management bureau, said 10 Siberian tigers and six Amur leopards had been born in that time.

In Giant Panda National Park, which unites more than 80 fragmented habitats scattered in southwestern China's Sichuan province and Shaanxi and Gansu provinces in the northwest, 319 cases of illegal use of forest land, 621 cases of commercial logging and 462 criminal cases of wildlife hunting and trading were subjected to prosecution or administrative punishment last year.

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Improving livelihoods

Relocation of residents from the core protected areas of most national parks is speeding up.

Nearly 2,900 residents have been moved from the core protected area in Qilian Mountain National Park in Gansu province, Wang said.

They include herdsman Kang Yongsheng and his family, who were relocated in November 2017 along with other residents of Nangou village.

Wang said the government gave one herdsman from each family a job as a forest or grassland ranger in the national park. The job, together with government subsidies, pays 100,000 yuan ($14,240) a year, equal to the amount they could earn from raising livestock.

Kang's son and daughter-in-law now work as taxi drivers in Zhangye, Gansu, and the family's living conditions have improved significantly thanks to its relocation.

Building on his decades in the company of wildlife, the mountains, grasslands and rivers, Kang said he loved working as a forest ranger.

"Now every time I see the soft clouds floating in the air, and deer and blue sheep drinking water quietly on the river bank, a strong feeling of peace and pride overwhelms me," he said. "I guess it's because of the love of the mountains, which I've taken as my home."


                                                                                                                -------------Article From China Daily

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