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China Invites Pressure to Help Curb Shrinking Wetlands
Zhu Baoguang is still the only professional conservation worker in northeastern China's Honghe River Reserve, which became one of China's 14 newly designated Ramsar wetlands Saturday.

Today is the Sixth World Wetlands Day and Zhu is overjoyed by the official recognition of the reserve on the Ramsar Convention's List of Wetlands of International Importance.

The reserve is China's largest and best preserved original marsh eco-system, situated in the plain areas along the middle and lower reaches of the Heilong, Songhua and Wusuli rivers.

In the past 50 years, the plain was one of China's largest reclaimed farming areas. The reclamation however has contributed to the shrinking of natural marsh coverage from 5.3 million hectares to the present 1.56 million hectares.

Zhu has been the only warden of the reserve for over a dozen years. His daily routine includes preventing people from sneaking into the reserve to steal resources and supervising the logging ban and fire prevention work. There is not much field research and eco-change monitoring for the middle-school graduate due to his limited knowledge and financial constraints.

"Honghe must become famous worldwide now. This can surely help improve the management and fund raising efforts for the reserve," said a cheerful Zhu.

Representatives from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Wetlands International offered their commitment today, on behalf of international wetlands conservation bodies, to work with the Chinese government to supervise the country's management of its listed Ramsar wetlands.

China became a contracting party of the Ramsar Convention in 1992, when the first group of seven reserves were acknowledged on the Ramsar list.

It was 10 years later that the second group was added to the list. Officials from the State Forestry Administration said that it will accelerate the pace by adding another 80 reserves to the list in the next 10 years.

James Harkness, country representative of WWF China, welcomed the efforts and said that over the past 10 years China has witnessed dynamic economic growth and has also become fully aware of the importance of the ecological environment.

He said China is responding actively towards the efforts for wetland conservation, which is seen as the most fruitful field for China's international cooperation in environmental protection.

Ni Hongwei, a research fellow from the Natural Resource Research Institute in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, said that by subscribing to the Ramsar list, China is giving itself enormous pressure for wetland conservation in order to preserve their reputation.

His opinion is shared by officials with the State Forestry Administration.

Yin Hong, executive director of the Ramsar Convention Implementing Office with the administration, said that the Ramsar wetlands will become a window for China's overseas financing for ecological building. But at the same time, they are closely monitored by international consensus.

If any of the Ramsar wetlands fail to meet international conservation expectations after a certain period of management, they will be put on a blacklist, she said.

Over the past decades, China's wetland resources have faced serious challenges, with the seashore wetlands coverage reduced by 50 percent and lakeside wetlands reduced by 12 percent. The total decreased lake wetland areas were equal to the total area of the present coverage of China's five largest freshwater lakes.

To counter the growing problem and protect the present 20 million hectares of natural wetlands, China is carrying out a massive "Grain for Green Program" in the Yangtze River reaches, and banned all reclaimed farming in northeastern China plains last year.

China will have to introduce international practices in the implementation of the Ramsar Convention, stricter than China's own at present, said the forestry official.

The biggest difference is conservation management planning. Most of China's reserves are spared intense ecological survey and evaluation before asking for financial support, which requires no specific management planning and measures.

Like the others, the Honghe River Reserve was founded in the 1980s without the designation of expertise assistance and clear planning. Its limited government appropriation is far from adequate to employ a team of professional researchers and conservation staff.

However, the warden of the Honghe reserve now feels more optimistic than ever about the future. He expects more money will come along with some promised training by international wetland conservation organizations. He also considers that his study of English during the past few years will now be of some use.

(People's Daily February 3, 2002)

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