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Mt Changbai suffers from human encroachment
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Changbai Mountain, a State-level reserve in northeast China's Jilin Province, is suffering more and more environmental damage due to over-exploitation, according to a China Youth Daily report on December 31, 2008.

Established in 1960, the Changbai Mountain Nature Reserve was integrated into the UNESCO "Man and Biosphere" program in 1980 and became part of the world's biosphere reserves. It is supposedly rich in species variety, including 2,277 plants and 1,225 animals.

1,400 trees felled to build villas in the primitive forest

Villas under construction in the primitive forest
Villas under construction in the primitive forest 

In the Changbai Mountain's primitive forest, three European-style villas are shaded among 200-year old spruces and Korean pines. Along with a main building and two guest-room buildings, they are named "VIP Reception Center".

According to a complaint filed with the Department of Land & Resources in Jilin Province, 1,400 trees were felled to build this reception center. "An ornamental fish pond alone led to the destruction of more than 50 trees."

The Changbai Mountain Development & Construction Group Co., Ltd is in charge of the whole building project. "It is a province-level project", said a local official, emphasizing its status as carrying province-level approval.

However, the Jilin Provincial Department of Land and Resources investigation tells a different story.

A staff member told China Youth Daily that only the main building and No. 1 guest-room building have been approved while there are no records concerning the No.2 guest-room building and the three villas.

This case is still under investigation, and final reports have not yet been released.

Changbai Mountain: Protected and developed?

The mountain has suffered a good deal more than the three villas and felled trees. The twin topics of Protection and Development have given rise to an acrimonious debate.

With the establishment of the Jilin Changbai Mountain Protection and Development Zone Administrative Committee on January 22, 2006, protection and development were supposed to proceed in harmony. The local media called it "a turning point in the history of development in the mountain area."

"Protection first" is what officials of the committee advocate; however, their official speeches and documents are more concerned with development.

"VIP reception center", Changbaishan airport expressway, Changbaishan ring roads, office buildings, hotels…..These projects are all connected with tourism and infrastructure construction.

Within the past three years, the committee has received a fund of 4 billion yuan (US$585.08 million) from national and provincial investment as well as World Bank loans; of this sum, only 1 billion yuan (US$146.27 million) has been used for protection.

The development of the mountain area has brought major change to local people's lives. Roads have improved and the local economy is growing. But Shen Xiaohui, a researcher who had worked in the reserve for 18 years, suggests that the committee is moving from partial to full-scale development of the area, doing great harm to the nature reserve in the process.

"A new round of measures have been implemented to develop the area. 'Protection' comes a distant second," said Shen, expressing his concern.

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