Changbai Mountain， in north- eastern China’s Jilin Province， has been receiving considerable media attention lately. Some 400 delegates， including ecologists， nature reserve managers， scholars， experts， government officials， representatives from protected areas， and journalists from China and 15 other countries attended the first Changbai Mountain International Ecological Forum in mid-September.
With the theme “Strengthen Natu- ral Conservation and Inherit Ecological Civilization，” the event aims to explore new ideas， methods， and channels for ecological construction as well as strengthen international communication and cooperation.
Communication and Debate
The forum included three major subforums concentrating on biodiversity protection， ecological civilization construction， and forest ecosystem research， respectively. Along with attending the subforums， an important task for ecologists and experts was brainstorming ideas about forming a new international organization， the World Protected Areas Alliance， as proposed by Changbai Mountain Nature Reserve.
Many Chinese scholars and experts have already been working on the initiative for a long time， which aims to strengthen communication and cooperation related to protected areas worldwide and improve nature reserve management and social influence. Some have asserted that advanced ecological concepts and technologies haven’t been efficiently exchanged and joint efforts towards biodiversity protection haven’t been very effective， which inspired the call for long-term working mechanisms between global protected areas.
“More than 10 percent of the planet’s land is protected，” notes Xie Yan， an associate research professor with China’s Institute of Zoology who detailed the draft work plan for the alliance. She explains that the major reason for establishing the World Protected Areas Alliance is the promotion of information exchange – sharing research， conservation and management methods for protected areas.
Professor Chung-II Choi， former Chair of the UNESCO/MAB Program International Coordinating Council Committee， maintains high hopes for the alliance. He opines that Changbai Mountain should first find alliances with neighbors and then expand to other areas gradually. “By ‘neighbors’， I mean countries such as Mongolia， Russia， the Koreas， and Japan，” he explains.
But not everyone shares his optimism. Wang Ding， secretary general of the Chinese National Committee for Man and Biosphere （MAB） Program， expressed concern： “I don’t want a bunch of big talk here that ultimately produces nothing.” Wang suggests a secretariat be established within the Changbai Mountain Nature Reserve to prepare for the alliance’s establishment.“And the whole program shouldn’t overreach，” Wang adds. Some experts believed that the existing protection systems are already effective tools and top-down structures. They don’t want to see competition between a new alliance and existing protection organizations.
As for this concern， some biologists at the forum suggested that the proposed alliance could act as implementer at local levels.“It is not competition，” argues Xie Yan. “And the new alliance is in great need of intellectual support from existing organizations.”
China’s Ecological Efforts
For the past three decades， while China has been developing at a blistering speed， negative results arising from the neglect of ecological protection have become glaring， such as degradation of natural resources， biodiversity decline， pollution， and extreme weather. All of these factors have sounded an alarm for the government about the magnitude of the possible ecological damage.
Not only have more laws and regulations for ecological protection been promulgated， but policies were introduced to attract more people， especially those living in and around nature reserves， to join efforts.
Local residents are encouraged to work closely with government in ecological protection. Former loggers were hired as forest rangers. Seasoned poachers now serve as government experts to protect their former prey， and farmers are financially rewarded for avoiding the use of chemicals on land that is destroyed by large animals from protected areas.
But despite all of this， a major challenge for ecological protection in China remains balancing protection and economic development.
Unlike developed countries， where nature reserves are managed by specialists and biologists， China’s reserves are primarily managed by government agencies which usually lack sufficient professional staff with ecological protection backgrounds. Also， many protected areas struggle to survive without outside support at all. The lack of institutional and financial support from the government pushes some protected areas to opt for development at the expense of conservation.
“Although it may be a different story with officials at grassroots levels， I think China’s top leaders have fully realized the importance of ecological protection，”explains Xu Zhihong， chairman of the Chinese National Committee of MAB Program. Like many participants at the forum，Xu is confident that China’s efforts towards ecological protection are on the right path， and just need greater participation in terms of international experience sharing， cooperation， and communication. Changbai Mountain， or Ever White Mountain， was so named because its primary peak is covered with thick snow almost year-round. As a dormant volcano， Changbai Mountain， with most of its peaks exceeding 2，000 meters， is the tallest mountain in northeastern China and features rich biodiversity. The Changbai Mountain Nature Reserve was founded in 1960. In 1980， the reserve joined the International Man and Biosphere Reserve Network of UNESCO， and in 1992 it was listed as a Class-A Chinese reserve by the World Wide Fund for Nature （WWF）.
As a singular genebank of species and natural museum of the world， Changbai Mountain boasts rich biodiversity and vertical zonal distribution of vegetation. Birch， pine， and other tree species flourish together in untouched forests. The area is a habitat for bears， deer， leopards， and wild boars. Many wild birds also inhabit in this area， including owls， black grouse， woodpeckers， and the Chinese merganser. At present， the mountain is home to nearly 2，700 species of plants and 1，600 species of animals.
“Changbai Mountain has special values and significance in many fields， including ecology， wildlife， geology， history， and culture，” noted Wang Weiguang， president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences， at the forum. “However， people haven’t fully realized the mountain’s ecological importance and value. Details of the mountain’s ecological construction haven’t yet been accurately documented and disseminated.” Wang added that the forum convened with the goal of increasing global public understanding of Changbai Mountain’s ecological situation， boosting cooperation and developing the mountain into a model to be adopted throughout China for ecological preservation.