Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development in Southwest China

University of Wisconsin-Madison NSF IGERT China Program

Field Trip Report (June 5 thru June 22, 2006)
Submitted by Ed Friedman, Bill Karasov, Sam Kung, Josh Posner, Jan Salik,
Ken Shapiro, Yong-Ming Zhou, A-Xing Zhu


I. SW Consortium Leadership and support from CAS-Beijing

With Dr. Ji, stepping down from the directorship of the Kunming Institute of Zoology to head its Primate Center, Dr De-Zhu Li, Director of the Kunming Institute of Botany and his deputy Dr. Yong-Ping Yang graciously agreed to become the linking Institute between the SW Consortium and the IGERT project.  KIB is an institute (224 staff) led by dynamic scientists, growing rapidly, and has a large student contingent (about 140 MSc and 120 PhD students).  With their botany, ethnobotany, impact of grazing and burning research, and land use change units, they will be an excellent link with the biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods project.

After our two-week stay in Yunnan, we went to Beijing and met with the Director of International Programs (Cao Jinghua), the Deputy Director of the Life Sciences and Biotechnology Bureau (Dr. Zhao Yongren), the Director of the Resources and the Environment Bureau (Dr. Bojie Fu), and the Vice-President of the Academy (Dr. Chen Zhu).  Dr. Chen was very supportive of the program and saw the focus on sustainable agriculture as an umbrella that includes both Bureaus. Vice President Chen and Dr Fu both spoke about the need to include Institutes from the Resource and Environment Bureau, especially the Chengdu Institute of Mountain Hazards and the Environment. In addition the Vice President wanted the project to include the Academy’s Center for Agricultural Policy (Jikun Huang), which is housed in Beijing in the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research (A-xing is in this Institute).

Wu Ning, the Director of the Chengdu Institute of Biology was not able to attend any of our meetings, but his deputy Luo Peng was with us in Kunming and on our field trip.  In addition to working in Sichuan and with the Institute of Mountain Hazards, CIB is working on a grazing project in Deqen County. We will be getting more information on this project from Dr. Peng.


II. The field trip:

a. Potential Research themes:

We had very good logistical support from KIZ (Chunyu Liu-aka Angel) and several CAS scientists joined us for part or the entire trip (Xiao Wen & Rui-Chang Quan (KIZ); Xuefei Yang (KIB); Luo Peng (CIB); Zhao Weidong (Science Director Nature Reserve). We visited two wetland areas (Lashi and Napa Lakes) and visited alpine meadows around Jisha ( Zhongdien County) and Benzilan ( Deqen County).  CAS colleagues and the IGERT team felt that these two ecologies were good targets around which we could develop interdisciplinary teams (please see Appendix I & II for more details).

b. Meeting with Diqing Prefecture Officials

  • Director of Environmental Protection (Zhigang Zhao): 1 National park (BNR) and 3 prefecture parks ( Haba Snow Mountains, Napa Lake, & ???). Commented that copper mining was going to expand in the region


  • Bita Lake National Park (Bao Fuhong): Bita Lake was established as a park in May, 2004 about 25 km from Zhongdien—111,300 ha in size with about 5,000 households living within the park area


  • Science and Technology Institute (Vice Director Weixhe He): about 100,000 mus have been retired from annual cropping due to the Upland Conversion Program. This is equivalent to approximately 1/6 of all cropland in the prefecture. [Rainfall estimates Zhongdien (800mm); WeiXi (1000mm)]


  • Tourism Department (Vice Director John Chen) Three big sites are Meili Snow Mts, Shangri-La, and WeiXi with the snubnosed monkey. Each season in Diqing Prefecture has a different hallmark color: Spring is the Rhododendron flowers, summer is the alpine meadow flowers, fall is when the trees change color, and winter is white with snow. About 1/3 of Prefecture income is from Tourism. They anticipate by the end of 2006 to have had 300,000 tourists, of whom, about 30,000 are foreign tourists. Net profit per tourist is 200 Y/trip for Chinese and $200/trip for foreign tourist. If farming, one’s annual income is approximately 1400 Y/year, while if in tourism, rural incomes are nearly 5-6,000 Y/year


  • Economic Development Bureau (Vice Director Yu Zhou)


  • Biamaxuechan Nature Reserve (Science Director Zhao Weidong). Outlined four issues on which he is interested in having UW collaboration (1) Grazing is important within the Reserve and as animal numbers increase, the pastures are degrading. (2) 60% of the snubnosed monkey population is within reserve. The Forestry Dept. decided last year to establish a research center in Weixi and he would like UW help in developing the research center. (3) He is looking for ways to get local people involved in protecting the monkey. And (4) there are many important medicinal plants in the Reserve and for some, collecting is their main source of income. Developing sustained harvesting plans is important.


c. Alpine Garden:

The curator of the Shangri-La Alpine Botanical Garden is Fang Zhendong. Due to conflicting meetings he was not available to show us the garden but IGERT trainee Michelle Haynes and Jan Salick were able to act as our guides. This hilltop site was a sacred site, and so has a bit of diverse forest and we saw a number of beautiful flowers, including Blue Poppy and a ladyslipper orchid called the Tibetan orchid (Cypripidium tibetica). The Botanical Garden has an exposition center and is building a research center (nearly complete) with offices for organizations (e.g., TNC, which organized funding), a herbarium, and living quarters for visiting scientists (including our people, perhaps!).


d. Tibetan Studies Institute: Visited by Drs Friedman and Zhou


e. Biamaxueshan Nature Reserve (BNR):

Our understanding is that the Biamaxueshan Nature Reserve is approximately 280,000 ha in total and home to about 1,700 snubnosed monkeys. The Nature Reserve was established in 1983 in Deqen County and the county director is Mr. Xi Luo. The Northern District (Shu Song station) includes about 80,000 ha, and 48 villages (7,000 people) in 3 administrative villages. The Southern district (Xia Ruo Station) includes about 120,000 ha, 236 villages and about 8,100 people. In 2000, the Reserve expanded to northern WeiXi County (80,000 ha) and the county director is Liu si Kang (Tacheng Station).


The major livelihood activities in the Nature Reserve are agriculture, pasturing, and collecting mushrooms and herbs. With the County Directors we discussed a number of issues and programs:

  • The Reserve collaborates with the Tong Toulin Buddhist temple-work with the monks to teach environmental education


  • Sacred Mountain Program. Trying to develop eco-tourism program in some of these pristine areas


  • Sustainable mushroom harvest. With TNC and WWF they are setting up harvesting rules.


  • Herders are concerned about Alpine meadow degradation due to overgrazing, fire prohibition and the resulting rhododendron encroachment


  • Farmers are concerned with wildlife damage to crops. Currently only 20% of the value will be officially compensated. With Global Environmental Fund (GEF) subsidies, the Reserve assisted farmers at one demonstration site to build walls or fences around fields.


  • The Reserve is working to reduce logging for firewood and house construction.
    • Promote the use of solar heaters to reduce wood fuel consumption (from 1 day/week to collect firewood without solar heater to only 2 hrs /week with a heater). Farmer pays 800Y and projects pay 1700Y for solar heater
    • Promote iron stove for more efficient burning
    • Promote the use of biogas
    • Trying to get farmers to use less timber in house building. Currently Tibetan houses consume about 30 m3 per house (250 trees). Reserve allows one house per 30 families per year and cement, not wood shingles.


  • Promoting co-management of the nature reserve (firewood collection rules, matsutaki and other medicinal plants collection rules; co-manage village forest or let each individual family manage their part of the woods. Currently about 20% of communities in the Reserve receive GEF/WWF/TNC subsidies


In Shangri-La we met with Mr. Xie Hong Fang (Director of BNR), Mr. Jia Du (Deputy Director) and Mr. Zhao Weidong, (Science Director). Although the Reserve is only 40 km N-S, that is equivalent to 2000 km along biodiversity gradient due to the great differences in elevation and rainfall patterns. It is estimated that 9,500 peasants live in the Reserve itself, and another 65,000 peasants rely on Nature Reserve for their income. The 2004 PRA (?) survey indicated that incomes around the Reserve are only 56% of national average income. Mr Fang indicated that faculty and students working within the Reserve would need both Provincial and National Forestry Department approval. His suggestion was to develop an umbrella Memoranda of Understanding with Yunnan Forestry Bureau to “cover” all the students and research themes.


It is interesting to note however that population growth has been slow in Deqen County: between 1950 and 2005 the population increased from 50,000 to only 60,000 people. This suggests that in the future, the pressures on the Reserve may not intensify. Although it is true that many people enter the Reserve today to graze and collect botanicals, it seems likely that these activities will decrease in time as more profitable job opportunities present themselves. Perhaps future prospects for the Reserve are good.


f. Village Visits (see map):

The team visited 5 villages (4 Lisu and 1 Tibetan) in the Reserve in DeQin and WeiXi Counties that were all between 2100 and 2700 masl. The informal interviews highlighted the following points:

  • The families interviewed were fairly small (3 to 5 people) and their land holdings were also small (4 to 8 mu; 0.25 to 0.5 ha). Villages were generally 10 to 20 households;


  • All the families grew wheat, barley, potatoes, corn and some families had soybeans or phaseolus beans. If they had access to lower lying land, they also grew rice. Most farmers could get some government subsidies for fertilizer, hybrid seed, and rolls of plastic to help with weed control. We wonder if they also got actual food subsidies. In one village farmers did sell unshelled walnuts (12 Y/kg)


  • All the families had some animals (chickens, pigs), many had goats, and most also had a few cattle (3-8) that were primarily used for fattening and animal traction. There was little discussion of dairy. The village herds (40-80 animals) in these villages were handled communally during the summer when they were on the Alpine meadows and each family spent a certain number of days herding the animals. Generally the animals went to the high pastures once planting was completed (June 15) and returned in time for crop harvest (Oct. 15). Some livestock is lost every summer to wolves and bears.


  • All the families interviewed spent a significant amount of time collecting mushrooms and herbs in the forest. Although difficult to estimate their income from these activities, several families indicated that it was probably between 1000 and 2000 Y/yr. Lower lying villages without good forest resources often paid a permit fee (100 Y/yr) for the right to collect in another village’s forest. In a general discussion about over harvesting, most of the informants were interested in the concept of restricting harvesting on a given mountain for a year, and rotating the ban to a different area each year.


g. Yunnan University (Contacts made by Drs Ed Friedman and Yongming Zhou)


h. Center for Biodiversity and Indigenous Knowledge (CBIK)

We met with Andy Wilkes (Director of Programs) and Jie Qian (General Director). They are an organization with a professional staff of 25 (6 lead researchers), whose strength is in community based work and their focus on action research. They have three program areas that closely intersect with the IGERT project

  • Watershed governance (legal framework for environmental justice). Facilitate government and villagers committees to study a common issue and try to develop solutions (e.g. fishing rights and dams, lumbering and building Tibetan houses)


  • Community Agriculture (focus on agro-pastoralists in Lijiang and Zhongdien Counties). Use of a Rapid Appraisal methodology to talk to people about range degradation (Rumex (a curly dock), a Euphorbiaceae (a leafy spurge Euphorbia adenochlora), and rhododendrons as well as the development of a network on monitoring quadrates.


  • Eco-tourism project in the village of Jisha


III. Meetings in Beijing


a. Peking University, China Center for Economic Research (CCER) and College of Environmental Sciences

We met with Yao Yang, Deputy Director of CCER (research) and an alum of UW Ag and Applied Econ; Hu Dayuan, CCER Deputy Director (graduate studies), Xu Jintao, College of Environmental Sciences, who had recently come to PKU, and Michael Barnett, another UW alum. Xu pointed out that natural resource management issues in Yunnan are not mainstream Chinese issues because they center around community management under customary tenure, while in most of China individual rights prevail. Yao responded that many people are concerned with Yunnan, because it is the garden of China, it is heavily Tibetan and Tibet is of major concern, and erosion problems in Yunnan are similar to those elsewhere as in NE China. There was then some discussion about the complexity of collaboration between the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Peking University. Nevertheless, Xu said he would welcome our IGERT Trainees who might want to come to PKU to discuss their research.


b. Meeting with NSF

We met with William Chang, Director of the newly opened NSF Beijing Office. Chang also serves as the US Embassy’s Science and Technology Attache. Bill had previously been responsible for Asia in NSF/Washington’s Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) so he knows that side well. The Beijing office’s objective is to promote collaboration. There are about 150 NSF projects, large and small, totaling about $50 million, and cooperation is with CAS. MOST, MOE, NSFC, CASS. Chang wants to empower individual scientists to cooperate, to reduce challenges, to help them find collaborators.


Bill gave us a brochure listing funding opportunities from NSF OISE. He urged Wisconsin to do the following:

  • Apply for funds for conferences and workshops (two at a time- Madsion and China) from NSF-USA. The NSF OISE programs are labeled, “International Planning Visits” and “International Workshops.” Chang suggested that CAS make a similar request to NSF-China (for meeting in Yunnan). He gave us the name of Chen Huai ( as an NSFC contact. He holds a position similar to Cao Jinghua’s in CAS. We should meet him.
  • When the trainees are not on their IGERT year, they can apply for dissertation funds from NSF under the Doctoral Dissertation Enhancement Projects program.
  • Once the IGERT project has been working for a few years, UW should resubmit the PIRE proposal showing the initial successes. NSF was surprised to get over 200 PIRE applications. It could only fund 12. It will make PIRE and annual competition.
  • Chang said it was easy to “reitemize” NSF grant funds. So, if we got supplementary funds, as for conferences, we could use them to our best advantage in China or the US.


Chang noted that the Yunnan Provincial Government might be a source of funding for Chinese collaborators. They have funds for local people to study abroad, funds for minorities, funds for applied research. The CAS branch head in Yunnan can direct us. The former president of the CAS Yunnan branch is now in the provincial government, which should help.


Chang has spoken with the visa officers in hopes of easing visa problems for Chinese scientists coming to the US. He offered to help us with this. He suggested that we encourage our collaborators to apply early for their visas, that we should visit the Counsel General in Beijing (several years ago we met with the head of the visa office), and that our collaborators try to reduce possible misunderstandings at their interviews by coming with English resumes (in GOOD English) and written explanations of why they are coming to the US and who will pay. We should also visit the Chengdu visa offices and write to them. He will provide name of contact. Since A-Xing works with USDA, he can get the Ag Attache (Casey Bean) to help with visas.


c. Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research.

The meeting was presided over by Vice Director Li Xiubin (works in land use change). Also present were two scientists from the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy (Jikun Huang and Ms. Linxiu Zhang) and two colleagues from the Center of Resource Science (Zhang Lei, and Ms. Xhen Lin). A good discussion ensued about the potential to collaborate since the Institute is interested in many of the same themes as the UW faculty. We also discussed the difficulties of working in Yunnan and the high cost of doing research.

Appendix I Alpine Ecosystem

Appenidx II Wetland Ecosystem