Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development in Southwest China

University of Wisconsin-Madison NSF IGERT China Program

Proposals developed at the Workshop on Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development in the Northwest of Yunnan, China

Kunming August 8-18, 2002

Proposal V:

Land use policy and its impact on soil and water conservation, biodiversity and livelihoods
in Tacheng, NW Yunnan, China

Hu Huabin:, Sha Liqing:

Land cover changes in Yunnan Province have been implicated in the disastrous flooding in the Yangtze River in 1998 and have earned NW Yunnan a place on The Nature Conservancy “Hot Spot” list for sites in greatest danger for loss of biodiversity. In response to these recent events and as part of an overall policy in Yunnan to make it the cultural diversity and biodiversity province of China, important changes in land use policy have recently occurred. The goal of this project is to serve as an “early warning system” and gyroscope for the provincial government as to the impact these policy changes are having and can be expected to have on soil and water conservation, biodiversity conservation and restoration, and livelihoods.

The Natural Forestry Protection Program placed an effective ban on logging natural forests and burning the adjacent grazed buffer zones in October 1998. Farmers, industry laborers and local governments are still recovering from the drastic loss of income that this ban caused. Some of the reported efforts of local people to respond to this loss of income have been to increase grazing in highland areas and harvesting of non-traditional forest products. A year latter the “Sloped Farming Conversion” policy was enacted that obliges farmers to abandon farming on slopes above 25 degrees (47%). Subsidies for five to eight years for lost production are offered to farmers that reforest those areas. In the two years since the program began, approximately 0.3 million hectares have been retired from cropping and 85% have been reforested, 10% put into improved grassland and 5% terraced.

Other recent policy initiatives that have had a major effect on land use in NW Yunnan include the establishment of nature reserves and the on-going evolution of land tenure legislation. Currently there are 120 reserves in Yunnan Province covering 6.5% of the land area (How many of these in NW Yunnan?). In a drastic change from the past, 70% of the forests in NW Yunnan are under collective management and only 30% owned by the State. The Grasslands tenure law (1995) has also begun to have an important impact on the management of local goat, sheep, cow and yak herd ??

Are these policies affecting land use in NW Yunnan? If they are, what effect are they having on land cover, biodiversity, water and soil conservation and local livelihoods? This project seeks to address the following research questions:

  • Is land cover changing in the upper Yangtze basin? If so, how over 1970-2000? How does this influence the flow and quality of water?
  • What is the impact of Natural Forest Protection Program (NFPP), Upland Conversion Program, and Land Tenure legislation on:
    • –on biodiversity (inventory)
    • –on water & soil conservation (field data, modeling)
    • –on farmer livelihoods (surveys)
  • What role do institutions (local, governmental) play in mediating the application of land use policies?
  • How do farmers traditionally manage soils for fertility and erosion control?
  • What is the indigenous response to changes in land use policy & ongoing land degradation?
  • What are the necessary interventions to promote sustainable land management and biodiversity conservation?

To address these questions the project will work at three scales: 1) a macro scale of the upper Yangtze River basin; 2) a meso scale of Weixi County and the Tacheng Township; and, 3) a micro scale of village surveys and field plot work.

At the macro scale, an historical analysis (1970-2000) will be conducted on land cover changes and their impact on river flow and sedimentation. In collaboration with the GIS/Data management team and using the HYDRA (Hydrological Routing Algorithm) and IBIS (Integrated Biosphere Simulator) suite of models, estimates of the impact on land cover change in basin hydrology will be developed and tested against data sets from adjacent watersheds (Mekong, Salween).

At the meso level, our plan is to focus on the Tacheng township

Site Description of Tacheng Township, Weixi County, Diqing Prefecture, NW Yunnan

Tacheng township in Weixi county is located in quadrangle area of Lijiang, Weixi, Shangrila, Deqin counties. The valley is dissected by the Lapo-River between 1500 and 4200 masl including great cultural and land use diversity. The site is particularly famous among alpine ecosystems. The alpine and sub-alpine vegetation consists of diverse forest types distributed among several vertical montane zones at different altitudes in the mountain ranges. The distribution of vegetation in region from high to low altitude is as follows: alpine meadow (3800-4800m), alpine conifer (3000-3800m), deciduous forest (2600-3900m), oak forest (3000-4000m), pine forest (2500-3500m), and evergreen broadleaf forest (2000-2800m).

Forest ecosystems provide human beings with food, fuel, medicines and building materials as well as ecological services such as the nutrient cycle, soil erosion control, and climate and water regulation. Region has the most diversified forest ecosystems in the world, as reflected in the vertical distribution of vegetation from alpine meadow to evergreen broadleaf forest.

Tacheng is an Autonomous Township. Besides Lisu, Malimasa and Tibetans also some Han, Bai, and Naxi-families are living in the villages. Lisu live near the upper reach of the river in the forest areas and cultivate potatoes, corn, wheat and barley as well as vegetables. Further down follow the Malimasa (a sub-branch of Naxi-people) and the Tibetans. Historically, Tacheng was important as the seat of governance of the ‘exigent’ Mosuo magistrate (tusi), and as the location of one of the most southerly Tibetan Buddhist temples in Yunnan.

The newly established nature reserve, Laojunshan, covers one third of township territory. Laojunshan is one of the key sites in the portfolio with global significance in terms of biological, scenic and cultural diversity. It situates in between two great rivers (the Yangtze River and the Mekong River), encompassing around 2,400 km 2, with deeply dissected terrain and large span of altitudes (2,000 to 4,500 m asl.). Over 1/3 of the area is in Lijiang and the rest in Jianchuan, Lanping and Weixi. In the site, there are: a) two natural groups of Yunnan golden monkey, one of the most endangered animal species in the world endemic to China; b) large patches of intact alpine conifer forest, which is Yunnan golden monkey’s habitat; c) many other classified national protected wildlife and plant species; d) many kinds of diversified natural communities and ecosystems with global conservation significance, important ecological service function and high academic research value; e) unique purple sandy rock outcrop and alpine moraine lakes. All of them except the last one, which has high value for public appreciation, are the biodiversity conservation targets identified in the ecoregional planning phase. Thus, biodiversity conservation and tourism development are the two scenarios for the perspective of the region.

The Baimaxueshan Nature Reserve is the largest protected area in Diqing Prefecture, covering a total area of 187,977ha (before expansion). Tacheng services a natural corridor both for fauna and flora exchange between two nature reserves, which are important habitats for snub-nosed monkey.



4200m ß ------------------------------------------------------------------------->1500-m






Vertical landuse



Swidden-fallow lands


Irrigated paddies

Rivers and fishing

Land tenure









Mosaic alpine rangeland

Timbers & NTFPs


Wheat, rice, maize, potato, etc.

Walnut, lacquer, fruit trees, beans

High Yielding Varieties

Willow trees



Hunting & gathering

Shifting cultivation

Permaculture Homegarden

Terraced agriculture


Customary institutions

Outside interventions

Our research program in the township will focus on analyzing the impact of recent land use policy on actual land use. In particular we will undertake:

Biophysical measurements:

  • Map the recent changes (1970-2000) in land use and land cover in the Tacheng township
  • Inventory the amount of plant and animal biodiversity currently present in the selected watersheds and impact of recent land use changes on that biodiversity
  • Soil mapping?
  • Model the impact of land use changes on water run off and sediment loads using watershed models (e.g.WEPP, SWAT)
  • What is the impact of Natural Forest Protection Program (NFPP), Upland Conversion Program, and Land Tenure legislation:
    • on biodiversity (inventory)
    • on water & soil conservation (field data, modeling)
    • on farmer livelihoods (surveys)
  • How do farmers traditionally manage soils for fertility and erosion control?
  • What is the indigenous response to changes in land use policy & ongoing land degradation?
  • What are the necessary interventions to promote sustainable land management and biodiversity conservation?

Socio-economic analysis:

Role of traditional and government institutions in addressing land use issues Typology of household livelihood strategies.

At the micro level, we will have a number of activities to anchor the meso and macro studies. On-farm analysis of gender issues, nutrient cycling, participatory technology development Plot work to study the impact of alternative land uses on soil biodiversity, best practices for soil and water conservation.

Back to 2002 Conference