Empowering Local Communities to Protect Qinghai Plateau
“A villager called us through the walky-talky and told us that a wild donkey was hurt,” says Wen Zhou. “Whilst they were collecting trash they witnessed a wild donkey running from two wolves. It hit the fence, hurting its ankle, and now we need to get over there to help!”
Wen Zhou is a ranger from Moqu Village of Suojia Township in Qinghai Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve (SNNR), in western China. Whilst Wen and his patrol team were on their way, the villagers helped chase away the wolves and guarded the wild donkey. Upon arrival, the team provided emergency care to the two-year-old donkey, and waited with the animal until it was ready to return to the wild.
“In the past villagers would save the hurt animals voluntarily, but not necessarily knowing how to do so effectively. Now we have established this patrolling team to respond to calls from villagers. We aim to have a team on site within 3 hours of notification from the villagers” noted Xie Ran, project coordinator at Suojia Township. “Such increased efficiency can help reduce wildlife losses. This shows that the community empowerment scheme we have been piloting can be really effective for biodiversity conservation.”
Community- based conservation aims to ensure participation of local communities in the work of protecting local natural resources. Vast regions with harsh and diverse landscapes such as the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, which covers most of the Tibet Autonomous Region and Qinghai province, have scattered communities who share the land with wildlife including wolves, snow leopards, and wild donkeys. The Qinghai government has established a network of nature reserves since the 1970s to conserve these precious yet fragile ecosystems, and protect the multiple rare species that make their homes there. In total, Qinghai possesses over two billion hectares of protected area, covering around 30 percent of the total area of Qinghai province.
These nature reserves are managed by the local forestry department, and with limited funding available for protecting the nature reserves, the management body can only deploy staff to patrol the area a few times a year. Not only are such patrols inefficient in enhancing the protection of the ecosystem, but they are also costly in terms of finances and labor intensity. In addition, some of the protected areas overlap with the pasture land of many local communities. As such, it has been a struggle to balance the livelihood and development of local communities with better protection of the ecologically important land.
- So far, Qinghai has its own Biodiversity Protection Strategy and Action Plan. The project supported the incorporation of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development of protected areas into the provincial development framework and provincial 13th five-year plan of five sectors.
- The project has been working to establish 5 provincial environmental regulations on infrastructure, including that related to the construction of the state electricity grid, transportation and traffic, and green building development, in order to restrict practices that might reverse efforts in nature conservation.
- The project has enhanced the protection for over 3 million hectares of ecologically important land in Qinghai Province, guarding the local biodiversity with effective management mechanisms and monitoring systems.
To address such conflict and ensure effective conservation, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) China has been working with Qinghai provincial government since 2007 to pilot community engagement schemes in the area. Using small grants and conservation agreements, the UNDP EU-China Biodiversity Programme (ECBP) has been fostering participation of the local communities in co-managing protected areas. In 2012, to further promote and expand schemes in this area, UNDP initiated the Global Environment Facility (GEF)-funded “Strengthening the Effectiveness of the Protected Area System in Qinghai Province, China to Conserve Globally Important Biodiversity Project”.
The project initially piloted community conservation schemes in four townships in the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve (SNNR). At Suojia Township, one of the pilot locations, the project has established 64 small squads throughout four villages; each squad is composed of four neighboring families, who will manage their lands as a group. Squad members are responsible for picking up trash on their land and controlling the number of livestock in order to protect the grassland. In addition, members were trained in monitoring, patrolling and recording the wildlife they’ve observed, receiving subsidies in return for their efforts. For public areas outside the squads’ responsibility, the project helps the villages establish patrol teams made up of local villagers.
Wen says he enjoys the responsibility of being member to a patrol team. “Before I was just herding cattle every day and spending most of my time in areas that I’m familiar with. But now I get to ride a motorcycle around the protected areas while doing patrol work, helping animals that have been hurt or picking up trash along the road. I also like photography, and this job offers the chance to spot and take photos of wildlife like snow leopards, wild donkeys, and many other species. It is quite interesting.”
“Sangjiangyuan NNR is a vast region that covers over 15 million hectares of land. To protect such an expansive region effectively, it is important to engage the local community” said Dr. Fan Longqing, GEF Qinghai project manager. “The villagers can earn extra income from managing their grassland well and monitoring the wildlife. Meanwhile, with increased understanding of sustainable herding and the importance of nature conservation, the incidences of over-grazing have been reduced.”
Fan said that the project has also worked on mitigating conflicts between wildlife and local the communities, building anti-bear fences for 239 families in the area and drawing up compensation regulation for damage caused by wildlife, as part of efforts to encourage the communities to participate in wildlife protection. To date, the community management scheme covers over 3 million hectares of ecologically important land in Qinghai.
The GEF project is coming to an end, but Fan noted the most important legacy of this initiative is that the project helped the Qinghai government further understand how to utilize the power of community for nature protection and local sustainable development. “I think this model provides an example of how to effectively engage communities in managing protected land, which can be very useful in help improving the management of SNNR national park” said Fan. “It is important to empower the communities.”
Partnering with the People’s Government of Qinghai Province, UNDP has been implementing the GEF-funded project to Conserve Globally Important Biodiversity” since 2012. The five-year project aims to strengthen Qinghai’s provincial protected area system, with the objective to safeguard its globally significant biodiversity, including endangered species such as snow leopard, Tibetan antelope, wild yak, and maintain the healthiness of local ecosystems.