II. Ecological Improvement and Biodiversity Protection
The positive efforts made by the Tibet Autonomous Region for ecological improvement and biodiversity protection in the past five decades or more have been crowned with signal success.
— Natural grassland is rationally utilized and the active grassland ecological protection is effective. Tibet contains one of the five largest pasturelands in China. It has 82.07 million ha of natural grassland, representing about 21% of the total natural grassland of the country and 68.11% of the total land area of Tibet. According to the first national survey of grassland resources, the variety of grassland in Tibet ranks first among all provinces and autonomous regions. Of the 18 types of grassland in the country, Tibet has 17. To protect the grassland ecology is an important link in preserving a complete and orderly chain of ecology on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
Though the grassland area in Tibet is very large, its carrying capacity is low. Grassland overload was not significant in the old days in Tibet, because of stagnant population growth, frequent natural calamities, and massive human and livestock deaths in times of snowstorms and other natural disasters. Since the peaceful liberation of Tibet, the average life-span of the local population has expanded remarkably, the population has kept increasing, and as a result the issue of insufficient grass to feed the ever-growing livestock population has begun to appear. Consequently, to keep an ecological balance on the pastureland has gradually become a prominent problem. To ease the contradictions between human beings and farm animals and between grass supply and farm animals, Tibet has taken a succession of measures to strengthen the rational utilization and ecological protection of natural grassland. First, emphasis has been placed on fencing and building water conservancy projects on natural grassland, and raising both the output level of grassland and its carrying capacity per unit area. Secondly, a pasture responsibility system has been implemented. In line with the principle of limiting the number of grazing animals by the size of the pasture, rotation grazing periods, rotation grazing areas and “no-grazing areas” have been designated. Efforts have been made to increase the market availability rate of the livestock and to effectively protect natural pastures by strictly prohibiting over-grazing. Thirdly, man-made grassland is being promoted so as to ease the pressure brought to bear on natural grassland by the ever-growing livestock population. Fourthly, efforts are being intensified to prevent or control hazards caused by mice, insects and poisonous weeds, and to maintain the natural ecological balance of the grassland by utilizing scientific means, and artificial and biological technologies. Fifthly, to enhance grassland amelioration in the pastoral areas, change the nomadic way of production, speed up economic development in pastoral areas and improve herdsmen’s living standards, projects to construct grassland in the pastoral areas, build permanent settlements for roving herdsmen, and restore and improve natural grassland have been launched since 2001. These measures not only have steadily raised the income of farmers and herdsmen and enhanced their living standards, but also ensured the sound development of the grassland ecology.
— Protecting natural forest resources, carrying out afforestation and improving the ecological environment. Tibet boasts 7.17 million ha of forest, and the stocking volume has reached 2.091 billion cu m. Tibet has the largest primitive forest in China. To protect Tibet’s ecological environment, the government exercises a “felling by quota” policy, and strictly controls the scale of tree-felling in forests. The annual felling amount for commercial purpose is limited to 150,000 cu m. Simultaneously, a rotation system is in place for lumbering bases so as to help restore vegetation. A project for the protection of natural forest resources on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River in Tibet, with a total area of 31,000 sq km, has been implemented in the three counties of Jomda, Gonjo and Markam that have a weighty bearing on the ecology of the lower Yangtze valley. In 28 counties along the upper reaches of the Jinsha, Lancang and Nujiang rivers and the catchment area of the Yarlungzangbo River, where the hazards of sandstorm and soil erosion are serious, a project to restore farmland to forest is being undertaken, under which 52,000 ha of cultivated land will be restored to forest and trees planted on 53,000 ha of barren mountains and wasteland. By 2002, some 6,700 ha of cultivated land had been restored to forest and 6,700 ha of barren mountains and wasteland afforested. The government is also striving to promote the development of energy substitutes and fuel forests, and popularize solar energy in order to protect natural bush vegetation.
It has become the conscious action of the Tibetan people to join afforestation efforts. The government of the Tibet Autonomous Region has formulated the “Forestation Plan of the Tibet Autonomous Region” and the “Opinions on Acceleration of Afforestation.” The people of the whole region are making efforts by starting with the improvement of their living environments, first of all by greening their courtyards, streets and urban environment in general, and eventually building green belts in river catchment areas where human activities are concentrated, and along major highways. The results have been remarkable. According to a survey, over the past 50-plus years some 70,000 ha of land have been afforested in Tibet, 90 million trees have been planted beside villages, houses, roads and waterways, and 1.5 million cash trees have been grown.
Afforestation and ecological projects have been launched steadily. Implementation of the key projects, such as the afforestation project in Lhasa and its outskirts, the construction of the shelter-forest system of the Yarlungzangbo River, the pilot project of the Yangtze River shelter-forest system in Markam and the pilot project for controlling sand by afforestation in Xigaze, has, to a great extent, improved the natural eco-environment of those localities. Since 1996, the State has begun to build a shelter-forest system along the upper and middle reaches of the Yangtze River. By 2000, it had invested more than 3.7 million yuan in the project, actively supporting Tibet in building man-made forests and sealing off mountainous areas to facilitate afforestation as appropriate to local conditions. The afforested area has topped 13,000 ha, which, as a result, has played a positive role in improving local residents’ working and living conditions. Following implementation of the project for the construction of the shelter-forest system of the Yarlungzangbo River, which is part of the key “three rivers” agricultural development undertaking, a man-made forest belt measuring several hundred km from Xigaze to Zetang on the upper reaches of the Yarlungzangbo River has been formed. Now, a new spectacular scene, the belt plays a positive role in conserving water and topsoil along the Yarlungzangbo River.
Due to the effective protection of natural forest resources and afforestation, the forest coverage in Tibet has kept growing. It has grown from less than 1% in the 1950s to 5.93% today, and has played a positive role in improving the Autonomous Region’s ecological environment. According to reports from relevant monitoring departments, due to the increase in man-made vegetation, the number of sandstorm days has decreased noticeably in Tibet. Currently, it is 32 days fewer in Lhasa, 34 days fewer in Xigaze and 32 days fewer in Zetang, than 30 years ago.
— Comprehensive control of soil erosion has brought noticeable achievements. The Tibet Plateau belongs to the alpine cold meadow and steppe landscape, which is characterized by poor water and soil conservation and vulnerability to serious soil erosion. Over the past 50 years, soil erosion has been effectively controlled by afforestation and construction of water conservancy projects. In recent years in particular, the State and the Tibet Autonomous Region have increased their investment in soil erosion control, which has yielded highly desirable results. By the end of 2001, the State had invested more than 36.8 million yuan in Tibet, built 53,000 ha of forests to conserve water and topsoil, grown grass on 67,000 ha, harnessed soil erosion on 1,166 sq km, and launched a comprehensive control project in the Radoigou small catchment area in Quxu County, Lhasa, and implemented comprehensive control projects for conserving water and topsoil in Gyangze and Nyemo counties. Simultaneously, the Tibet Autonomous Region has formulated the “Plan for Conservation of Water and Topsoil in Tibet” and several other plans in respect of water and soil conservation and soil erosion control, promulgated the “Measures of Administration for Water and Soil Conservation Projects in the Tibet Autonomous Region,” and made prevention, supervision and protection the top priority of the water and soil conservation work, in order to prevent new soil erosion caused by human activities. To enable the comprehensive control of soil erosion to be carried out in a more scientific way, the Tibet Autonomous Region launched, in 2001, the construction of a water and soil conservation monitoring network with an investment of more than 60 million yuan to provide overall monitoring for soil erosion across Tibet.
— Achievements have been made in desertification prevention and control. Sandstorms have afflicted Tibet throughout its history. Now, as a result of the expansion of the hole in the ozone layer caused by global warming, Tibet has been facing problems of rising snowlines, dried-up lakes, and deteriorated grassland in recent years. In some areas in Tibet, pastureland has suffered a natural deterioration, and some of it has been reduced to sand and stone. To control pastureland deterioration and desertification, Tibet has begun to improve the environment of its rivers, with the emphasis on improving small river valleys and the desertification of deteriorated pastureland. With the goal of establishing a relatively good ecological system of forestry and grassland, Tibet has adopted measures consisting of afforestation, aerial sowing and closing off hillsides to facilitate afforestation. It has planted trees, bushes and grass on a large scale near rivers and in areas that have been hit most seriously by pastureland deterioration and desertification. Projects to protect the natural forests and wetlands, and to reconvert farmland into forest or pasture have been carried out on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. In 2002, the goal was to reconvert some 13,000 ha of farmland into forest. The Central Government provided 10 million yuan as subsidy for seedlings, and 15 million kg of grain and two million yuan as allowance for families of farmers and herdsmen whose farmland had been restored to forest. Trees were planted in the vicinity of Lhasa, and in important agricultural areas forest shelter belts were built around the fields to reduce soil erosion by sand. These measures have brought the ever-expanding desertification threat under control.
— Great progress has been made in protection of biodiversity. Tibet is one of the most typically biodiverse regions in the world. It is an important gene pool for the biodiversity of the globe. At present, there are over 9,600 wild plants in Tibet, 39 of which are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and are under special State protection as rare and endangered species. There are 798 species of vertebrates and nearly 4,000 species of insects in Tibet, 125 of which are under special State protection, accounting for more than one third of the wild animals under special State protection. Approximately 600 species of higher plants and more than 200 species of terrestrial vertebrates are endemic to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
Over the past 50-plus years, the Central Government and the Tibetan local government have conducted extensive surveys on Tibet’s biological resources. They have worked out scientific plans and programs for the protection of wild animals and plants. They have also adopted a sequence of measures for effective protection of the rare and endangered species. In accordance with the relevant State laws and regulations, the Tibet Autonomous Region has established forest law enforcement organs and the Tibet Armed Police Forestry Contingent. They have conducted the “Hohxil Action Number One” and other special campaigns in the border areas of Qinghai, Xinjiang and Tibet to protect the Tibetan antelope and other rare animals. These campaigns have dealt a heavy blow to poachers and curbed law-violation activities that have done damage to wild animal resources. Meanwhile, the State has invested millions of yuan each year in infrastructure facilities for forest security and forest fire prevention in Tibet. In 2002, the State set aside 3.66 million yuan from its national debt revenue for a special project aimed at cracking down on poachers of Tibetan antelopes. It has also strengthened publicity on the protection of wild animals. Now people in Tibet are highly conscious of the importance of protecting wild animals, and the once rampant hunting of Tibetan antelopes has been brought under control.
Over the past 50 years or more, not one species in Tibet has suffered extinction. Biodiversity is effectively maintained, and biological types are continuously enriched. Red deer, generally considered by the international animal research community to have vanished in the 20th century, were discovered again in Tibet in the 1990s, and their numbers are increasing. As Tibet opens wider to the outside world, non-native creatures such as carp, crucian carp, eel and loach, high-productivity and quality cattle, sheep, pigs, chicken, ducks, as well as corn, watermelons and vegetables have been introduced from the inland areas to Tibet, where they are thriving today.
— Great achievements have been made in the establishment of nature reserves. Establishing nature reserves is an important method used by Tibet to strengthen ecological improvement and environmental protection work and implement the strategy of sustainable development. Since the 1980s, Tibet has established more than 70 nature reserves of different types. Of these, three are on the national level (four more national-level nature reserves are being planned) and 15 are on the autonomous region (provincial) level. The total area of the 18 nature reserves is 401,000 sq km, accounting for 33.4% of the land area of Tibet and 30.8% of the total area of China’s nature reserves. In addition, prefectures and prefecture-level cities in Tibet have established over 50 nature reserves of the corresponding level. A rationally distributed nature protection network of different types is basically in place. In light of the general program and requirements of the State, the People’s Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region is carrying out the “Development Plan for Nature Reserves in the Tibet Autonomous Region for 1996-2010.” It is expected that 28 new nature reserves at or above the autonomous region level will be established before 2010. By then, all types of nature reserves other than sea and seashore ecosystem ones will be found in Tibet.
In order to restore the natural ecosystem, human activities such as economic development are strictly limited in the established nature reserves. As a result, the ecological environment in most of the nature reserves has become stable and the prospects are quite good. Breeding grounds, habitats and important ecosystems for rare and endangered species, important wetlands for migratory birds, as well as the natural landscapes, geological sites and biological sites of scientific importance are now well protected. All the 125 wild animals, 39 wild plants and typical geological features in Tibet that are on the State protection list are well preserved in the established nature reserves. The Tibet Autonomous Region has more than six million ha of wetland, accounting for about 4.9% of Tibet’s total land area and ranking first in China. Its alpine wetlands are unique in the world. According to monitoring by the relevant departments, the number of both wild animals and plants in the nature reserves is obviously increasing, and the total reserves of wild animal resources have increased by upwards of 30%. Rare animals that had not been seen for many years have returned to their habitats. In the Changtang Nature Reserve, monitoring in the past few years has revealed that the numbers of wild animals such as Tibetan wild donkey, argali and antelope have increased to differing degrees. The number of Tibetan antelopes has reached 40,000 to 50,000 in the Nyima central reserve. After a nature reserve for black-necked cranes was established on the middle reaches of the Yarlungzangbo River, the number of black-necked cranes wintering there has increased each year, accounting for about 80% of the earth’s total number of black-necked cranes.