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Ambitious Plan to Save Reserve
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An ambitious wetlands-protection project is to be launched this year in southwest China's Sichuan Province with the coordinated efforts of the provincial forestry, land and water resources departments.


The project, which will run for 24 years, will involve an investment of some 1.5 billion yuan (US$195 million) to protect all the wetlands in the province, which cover more than 4.2 million hectares.


Tang Daixu, head of the wild animal and plant protection section of the Sichuan provincial department of forestry, said the focus of the project will be the Ruo'ergai Wetland Nature Reserve where efforts will be made to alleviate the threats to the Yellow River caused by wetland deterioration.


Covering nearly 16,671 hectares, the Ruo'ergai Nature Reserve in Ruo'ergai County, in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan, is one of the world's largest alpine wetlands.


Ruo'ergai wetland (file photo)


Located in the upper reaches of the Yellow River in the eastern part of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, it is known as the "Reservoir of the Yellow River" as it is the source of 30 percent of the waterway's supply.


One of the world's most important areas in terms of biodiversity, it has 207 species of plants and 218 species of vertebrates and is a major habitat for endangered species such as the black-necked crane and white-tailed sea eagle.


However, over the past 15 years, its area has been reduced by nearly 40 percent due to global warming, reduced rainfall and human activities. This shrinking has led to changes in the animal and plant species unique to it and the future of the reserve is under threat.


Luobuza, a Tibetan who was born and grew up in the reserve, said: "There are now very few swamps in the reserve. I could ride my horse for 50 km and not find one."


Zake, who heads the reserve's administrative bureau, said that a large number of rivers and lakes have either shrunk or completely dried up in the reserve.


The Xingcuo Lake, for example, used to cover 469 hectares; now it covers less than 10. Its dry bed is a new source of desertification and a threat to surrounding meadows, he said.


He Biao, secretary-general of the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture government, said that desertification of Ruo'ergai was progressing at an annual rate of nearly 12 percent.


Professor Liang Yuxiang of Sichuan University, who led a recent investigation by scientists and journalists in the region, said that some 61,913 hectares, about 7.6 percent of its exploitable grassland, in the reserve were suffering from desertification. A further 135,333 hectares of land were under threat of desertification.


The new wetland-protection project will this year seek to control desertification in an area of 67 hectares and build an additional 900 sq m of bird ambulance stations.


Sichuan currently has 35 wetland nature reserves. It plans to build 19 more and establish nine wetland monitoring stations.


(China Daily May 9, 2007)

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