Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development in Southwest China

University of Wisconsin-Madison NSF IGERT China Program

Field Trip Report (May 28-June 16, 2007)


Teri Allendorf (UW-IGERT Manager)
Beth Lawrence (UW trainee)
Jill Baumgartner (UW trainee)
Michelle Olsgard (UC-Santa Cruz associate)
Jocelyn Behm (UW trainee)
Josh Posner (UW-IGERT PI)
Yang Bo (6/1-6/6) (TNC)
Brian Robinson (UW trainee)
Michelle Haynes (UW trainee)
Rob Streiffer (UW faculty)
Tim Hildebrandt (UW trainee)
Jamon Van den Hoek (UW trainee)
Tony Ives (UW faculty)
Yang Zhiwei (KIB)


This was the first field visit that included the IGERT trainees (7) and one IGERT associate. Our objectives were primarily fourfold:

  • To reinforce and expand the general contacts we had made during previous trips
  • To help the students make specific research and administrative contacts;
  • To facilitate communication and teambuilding among the IGERT trainees and faculty; and,
  • To visit NW Yunnan and learn more about the landscape and people living there.

Prior to our kick-off workshop at the Kunming Institute of Botany (KIB) on Monday May 28 th , several of the IGERT trainees attended the Eco-Summit in Beijing (May 21-26) and presented a poster about the IGERT project. In addition, Dr Tony Ives conducted a three-day workshop May 23-25 at KIB on (i) evolutionary phylogenetics; (ii) ecological population dynamics, and (iii) statistics for correlated data. About 25 students attended the workshop for the full three days. Our Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) hosts felt the workshop was extremely useful. We will try to do a workshop again next year; possible topics include environmental economics or environmental policy.

Trip Itinerary

Research Contacts

Chinese Academy of Sciences:

  • Our delegation was lodged at the Kunming Institute of Botany guesthouse and we met frequently with our host and collaborator, Dr Yang Yongping (Deputy Director of KIB). On Monday, May 28 th, at KIB we participated in a research collaborators workshop. The intent of this workshop was to introduce the IGERT students to Chinese colleagues with similar research interests who are potential collaborators and who, in addition to being resources themselves, could recommend other potential collaborators. Participants included representatives from KIB, KIZ, Southwest Forestry University , Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, and the Kunming Medical College . In addition to the UW faculty and staff listed above, the Wisconsin team was also assisted by the presence of Drs Ed Friedman, Ken Shapiro and A-xing Zhu.
  • We visited Kunming Institute of Zoology several times, both as a group and individually. We met with Dr. Ji Weizi , Dr. Zhu Jiangou, and Xiao Wen, as well as two young scientists working with Black Neck Cranes (Wan Kai, Wu Heqi) who may collaborate with Beth Lawrence. Dr Zhu will be collaborating with Jamon van den Hoek as he develops his PhD topic on land use change in NW Yunnan. Jocelyn Behm and Dr. Ives had the opportunity to conduct some amphibian collections with Dr Rao Ding-qui in the Nujiang valley, and Dr Rao was extremely helpful in introducing Jocelyn to potential research projects.
  • We visited the Kunming offices/laboratories of the Xishuangbanna Botanical Tropical Garden . At XBTG we met a soil ecology researcher, Mr. Yang Xiaodong, and Dr. Ives met with the Institute Director Dr. Chen Jin in a separate meeting.

Kunming-based Universities:

With the assistance of Dr. Yang, we visited three Yunnan-based Universities.

Southwest Forestry University (SWFU): We met with the Eco-tourism Department (Dean Wen Ye and researcher Jianmei Yang) as well as the Office of International Cooperation (Li Maobiao). Mr Li is a graduate of Cornell University and very interested in promoting relations with the UW. Areas of overlap between SWFU and the UW IGERT include research in protected area planning, eco-tourism, wetlands management, and land use change in Yunnan .

Yunnan Agricultural University : We met Prof. Li Yongmei, the vice-director of the Division of International Exchange and Cooperation. Areas of common research interest with the University include rangeland/pasture management, marketing of NTFP, and alpine soils. It may be possible for students to work with IGERT Trainees; apparently a typical BS degree includes a six-month research experience.

Yunnan University : We met with Mr Lu Xing in the International Programs Office. Mr. Lu is trained as a forester and in rural development and until recently was the head of the Yunnan participatory rural appraisal (PRA) network. Due to that link, he has a broad vision of the different research activities being undertaken in the region. We spoke about working with Yunnan University to develop a short orientation workshop for next year's IGERT visit that would help the new trainees learn about NW Yunnan and on-going research activities. Teri and Josh will be working with Mr. Lu on this idea.

NGO Contacts

The group was very fortunate to have full presentations about the activities of various NGOs, including the Center for Biodiversity Conservation and Indigenous Knowledge (Qian Jie, Yin Lun), The Nature Conservancy (Rose Niu, Yang Yuming), and Conservation International (Xuefei Yang). These meetings were very valuable to the students as they highlighted the key conservation and sustainable livelihood issues in NW Yunnan. On our bus trip to Shangri-la, we spent a night in Lijiang and met the TNC staff in their offices in Old Town (Lu Shang, Mu Jianhua). Once in Shangri-la we had the opportunity to meet with The Mountain Institute (Guang Yu, Jessie Feng). Areas of common research interests included the role of NTFPs and rural poverty, wetland management, indoor air pollution, range management and biodiversity conservation, micro-credit, as well as Tibetan timber use (construction).

Organizations in NW Yunnan

Director Fang Zhendong and Deputy Director Ma Zong Ling of the Alpine Botanical Garden were our hosts for the time we were in Shangri-la. Its facilities provided an excellent "home base" for our trip. Mr Fang organized an important workshop for the project allowing us to introduce ourselves and meet a wide range of organizations working in NW Yunnan. Beth Lawrence and Michelle Haynes plan to work with Director Fang as they develop their research topics. The group also visited with the Forestry Department's Wetlands Conservation Unit (Dir. Mr Zhou; Napa Hai-Mr Mi) as well as the Baima Nature Reserve Administration (Dir. Mr Xia Hong, Sci Dir Mr. Zhao Weidong, Eco-tourism Mr. Xiao Lin). These were important institution-to-institution visits and hopefully will facilitate work in the Napa Hai wetlands and Baima Nature Reserve. A final visit was made to the Tibetan Research Institute where we met Ms. He Chuyen. Their focus is primarily on Tibetan culture.

Field Visit

The team drove by bus from Kunming to Lijiang and on to Shangri-La. Along the way we visited the Lashi Hai Nature Reserve. Once in Shangri-La, we visited the Alpine Botanical Garden, the Napa Hai Nature Reserve, spent a night in the eco-tourist village of Hamagu and took two hikes into the sub-alpine summer grazing areas. Different students spent time visiting different villages or actors involved with growing eco-tourism activities in the region. Tony, Jocelyn and Rob also took a side trip to the Yangtze River prospecting for frogs. What follows are some of some of our general findings from interviews around the Napa Hai Reserve:

I. Livelihoods:

Crop farming : Farms tended to have about 4 mu (1 mu = 625m 2 ) of arable land per capita and the farming mix was barley, rape, buckwheat, potato, and a local brassica grown for pig feed (majing). Farmers marketed little of their agricultural production except for some trading of potatoes for rice (5 kg potato: 1 kg of rice). Although we had arrived after land preparation, it appeared that most fields were prepared with oxen or hand hoes and most of the two-wheeled tractors were used for hauling (compost to the field, fire wood etc). We didn't see any 4-wheeled tractors. Although we did see some backpack sprayers, interviewed farmers did not use herbicides or pesticides and we did not encounter anyone using commercial fertilizer.

Livestock: All the farm families interviewed had both yaks and cattle (about 10-15 in total), in addition to pigs (<10). It was suggested that the 17 villages around Napa Hai (6,000 people) had a combined herd of nearly 20,000 animals of which about 2,500 are pigs. Generally the yaks stay near the village and in the wetlands until late spring (we were told they would move to their upland pastures in mid-June), and return to the village after crop harvest (late October). Often the cattle do not move up with the yaks to the summer grazing. Each village seemed to have a designated herdsman when the animals are in the wetlands. We heard of two approaches for herding the animals during the summer months: 1) each family takes turn sending up a herdsmen for several days to tend the entire village yak herd; or 2) each family sends someone up (2-3 hour hike) to tend its own animals. We didn't have a sense that livestock production for meat was a major source of income but one farmer told us grown cattle go for 5-6,000 yuan/head and yaks for 2,000 yuan/head. Most families indicated that they did make yak cheese and butter and did sell some of their production.

Other: Matsutaki mushroom collection did not appear to be very important in the area (200-1000 yuan/yr). On the other hand, carpenters were in high demand due to all the construction going on. (One reported earning 25 yuan/day plus three meals). Most families talked about other family members working in the City of Shangri-La or further away.

II. Common Lands Management

The wetlands : When asked if each village had access to certain sectors of the Napa Hai wetland, a respondent replied incredulously ".cattle go where there is grass". In another set of interviews the farmers indicated that they did have a zone in which they kept their animals. Animal management on the wetlands is probably a complicated story that will need to be understood as part of any improved management plan. Generally speaking however, none of the producers indicated problems of over stocking or reduced forage quality.

The forests: One of the most impressive observations was the magnitude of the timbers used to build the Tibetan homes and seeing teams of yaks pull these logs from the forest. Cutting timber for a house is only permitted if the current house is over 20 years old; the family has local village permission to rebuild; and, Forestry Bureau approval. Evidence of historical (and possibly recent) timber harvesting was extensive areas of shrub oak forest which represents early succession towards recovery to pine forest.  In addition to timber and some collecting, the major use of the forest and associated meadows is summer grazing by yaks.

III. Napa Hai Reserve Management

The management at Napa Hai looks like an example of the difficulties facing nature reserves in China . Many nature reserves have been set aside by provinces but there is little ability (financially or institutionally?) to manage these areas for biodiversity conservation. Legally, because they are supposed to strictly protected, they provide few to no benefits. However, in actuality in Napa Hai, there actually seems to be free use of the area for grazing by livestock.

One businessman (Ma ZhenMing) has the tourism concession or the user rights for Napa Hai. We did not determine exactly what they are and both terms were used. Apparently he paid several million yuan for a lease of these rights for 40 years and currently tourists pay 30 yuan per visit. In addition, he pays many of the villages around the area some amount of money, varying from 2,000-25,000 yuan/household. This has been occurring for three years. The amount paid to a village depends on how many tourists come to that area of Napa Hai. However, tourism has been declining, so there was some conjecture from informants that the amounts being paid may decline. The villagers who provide ponies also benefit from a wage that he pays them to give pony rides to tourists. Shangra-La Botanical Garden gives the village down the hill from them an annual payment.

WWF initiated a Wetland Association to which five of seventeen communities surrounding the area belong to, but one local person told us that the association is not really functional. There are also many other NGOs working in the area.

IV. Ecology of Napa Hai

Water pollution from Zhongdian was cited by many as the major threat to Napa Hai. There are also invasive species of fish, both intentionally released and escaped from pens. Water level is also an issue and the new "Master Plan," (WWF, TNC, Southwest Forestry College , and Napahai Nature Reserve) is recommending that a dike be built to allow for higher water levels for winter black-necked crane habitat.

Tian Kun of SWFU and TNC has found 150 plant species at Napa Hai with a couple of dominant sedges. There are about 300 black-necked cranes that use the area, although some people locally said there were as many as 500. They eat insects and roots.

Livestock grazing has heavily impacted the wetland and probably caused a concentration of nutrients from manure and compaction problems. However, the wetland did not seem as eutrophic as might be expected.

V. Nature Reserves and National Parks

Hypothetically, nature reserves are meant to be managed for biodiversity conservation, with no extraction and no tourism. Some nature reserves however, are heavily impacted by farming (Lashi Hai) and livestock grazing (Lashi Hai 2000 ha, Napa Hai 3000 ha). The Baima Nature Reserve is much larger (2,800 km2) but does have 9,600 people living within the Reserve and 70,000 around the Reserve. As a result, nature reserve status does not ensure that the area is primarily without human intervention (like a US Wilderness area), and since organized tourism is not permitted, the parks have few financial resources. A new approach, promoted by The Nature Conservancy is to design "National Parks" that are approved at the Prefecture and Provincial level. These are designed to permit organized tourism with roads, hiking paths, restaurants and lodging. If these parks are successful, TNC hopes that the national government will accord them National Park status. Currently, one park has been created, Pudacuo National Park at Bita Hai, and there are four parks "on the drawing board":

  • Meli Snow Mountain
  • Laojun Mountain ( Lijiang County )
  • Northern Gaoligong Mountain (Nu River Gorge)
  • Shangri-La Gorge


The group felt that the trip was successful in introducing the participants to many of the key players in Northwest Yunnan , initiating collaborative links with Chinese colleagues and increasing a sense of community among the students and faculty. Suggestions for next year's trip include 1) having more presentations from Chinese researchers so that the students have a good foundation of shared knowledge about northwest Yunnan before going into the field and 2) conducting field visits to a number of sites where students might conduct their research.