AMUR-HEILONG RIVER BASIN
Nature conservation: econet and protected areas
Protected Area Planning and the Emergence of Ecological Networks in the Amur-Heilong River Basin
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Most countries of the Basin have made a first and critical leap – oftentimes without even knowing it – toward understanding and promoting the concept of an ecological network: countries generally consider their suite of protected areas within a context of a country-wide protected areas system. In fact, in the Amur-Heilong River basin, each province in all three basin countries has developed a long term plan (extending to 2010-2015) for gazetting new PAs and upgrading existing PAs. Such plans are critical when considering the efficacy of PAs as a whole and when considering the need to join plans in any kind of ecological network.
We developed a series of regional transboundary maps, showing existing and planned protected areas in WWF priority Model Areas:
Protected Areas Planning in China.
Due to the rapid "greening" of national policies and the realization by national governments of a growing natural resource crisis, the number of new nature reserves (NRs) skyrocketed from 1995 to 2000 (see Figure below). However, for many local authorities, the establishment of a nature reserve serves as insurance of some government investment into areas where resource extraction has been abruptly limited by other policies or by direct resource depletion. This is supported by the drive to promote reserves to the national level, and make them eligible for funding from a variety of national programs or projects. National policies and funding programs are thus leading factors in planning and establishing NRs in most provinces. Acknowledging this reality, the national government applies more selective and stringent criteria to provincial proposals for new NRs. This has resulted in smaller numbers and acreages of presumably better habitats being gazetted as NRs after 2000.
Figure: Numbers (left scale) and areas (right scale) of nature reserves in China from 1956-2005
PAs within the Amur-Heilong River basin of China follow the general national trend, with Jilin Province having a small but most comprehensive system of PAs, and Heilongjiang Province having the most ambitious and innovative policies combined with the most difficult obstacles. 47 PAs were gazetted in northeast China and eastern Inner Mongolia between 2001 and 2005, with a total area of 3,649,238 hectares. According to 2005 plans, 29 PAs would be established in Northeast China and Inner Mongolia covering a total area of about 1,550,000 hectares. These successes were acknowledged by WWF’s Gift to the Earth campaign when the Government and Forest Department of Heilongjiang Province were recognized as Earth Keepers on 8 June 2005.
In the past five years wetland PA creation has been emphasized while the ability to establish forest PAs has been limited because logging was allowed in most areas of high biodiversity value. Most forest lands belong to three Forest Industry Bureaus that, being state enterprises, are have comparatively weak conservation policies and limited access to national project funding. So the future of forest ecosystem conservation in China's part of the Amur-Heilong River basin depends largely on Forest Industry Bureau reform. The future of wetland, grassland, and river basin conservation in China will ultimately depend on cooperation with neighboring Russia and Mongolia.
An important trend in China’s Heilongjiang Province is the development of protected corridors of wetlands along major rivers. Protection of the remaining natural wetlands in China should include formation of similar corridors for PAs. An example is the Wusuli (Ussury) River basin where several established NRs (some of them merged and promoted to national status) now include most of the floodplain wetlands of Wusuli River and tributaries in China. (See Map: Protected areas of Upper Ussury –Lake Khanka Basin. )
A new approach to PAs is being put into practice by SEPA, one based on Ecological Function Conservation Areas (EFCAs). These are large areas that, by design, include settlements and a wide range of human activities, and often overlie existing NRs. The aim is to provide coherent guidance to land use across critical ecological zones with important biodiversity and ecological processes. In many respects, these EFCAs are national level ecological networks and represent very tangible progress toward a watershed level ecological network for the entire Amur-Heilong River basin. There are at least three EFCAs planned in Heilongjiang province: in Greater Hinggan Mountains (Headwaters of Nen River), Small Hinggan Mountains (Headwaters of Tangwang River), and Sanjiang Plan.
Protected Areas Planning in Russia
Despite claims that a profound scientific basis underlies the design of its national PA network, Russia has a mixed record in terms of PA growth. However, throughout history the scientific community and NGOs have played key roles in PA planning and this has ensured the formation of a representative but uneven PA system. Despite its early start in 1916, the formation of the PA network always lagged behind in the remote Amur-Heilong River basin.
Privatization of land and natural resources, along with removing governmental controls from business activities, is rapidly shaping a completely new context for biodiversity conservation, to which conservation agencies, the scientific community, and environmental NGOs are yet to adapt. For decades, land for future PAs could have been set aside in a relatively simple and inexpensive way since the state still held most property rights. However, unlike industry, which will take a long time to revive, property rights are subject to change in the near future, seriously complicating the establishment of new PAs. In 1994, the government in 1994 declared a plan to establish 114 zapovedniks and national parks to fulfill that directive by 2005. However, due to a lack of cooperation and ownership of the project on the side of regional and local authorities, mainly caused by disagreements on land-use rights, only 28 PAs from that list were established by 2001. By 1998 the creation of zapovedniks ceased completely. Various agencies and entities claimed the lands proposed for protection and instead used them for resource extraction and development, and general support for environmental causes from the national government declined dramatically. Against this backdrop a new modest national plan was adopted for the period of 2001-2010 listing only nine zapovedniks and 12 national parks. By 2006 not a single new zapovednik was established in Russia. Four new national parks had already received all the necessary approvals from provincial authorities in the RFE, but only in 2007-2008 three of them (Anuyskii, Zov Tigra, Udegeiskaya Legenda,) were formally gazetted due to the constant change in legal requirements and management responsibilities of federal agencies.
Policy shifts in some provinces of the Amur-Heilong River basin are also lagging several years behind Moscow. In 1995-2002 substantial increases in provincial PAs were achieved in all provinces of the Amur-Heilong River basin, partly with the help of international support from WWF and other organizations. Provinces have issued pledges for a significant expansion of PAs. Khabarovsk Province, for example, proposed additions to its network of PAs covering more than 800,000 ha to be established by 2005. Special regulations on ecological corridors for ecological networks were also adopted. The government in Amur Province pledged to create an interconnected system of PAs covering up to 10 percent of the region by 2005. Primorsky promised to expand PAs up to 17.8 percent of the total region area. All of these programs were accepted as WWF Gifts to the Earth. The governor of Amursky Province fulfilled his obligations and others made substantial progress. Over a period of 10 years new PAs in the Amur-Heilong basin were established on 3.7 million hectares with support of international funding and work of NGOs including WWF, Khabarovsk Wildlife Foundation, and Amur Socio-Ecological Union.
Unfortunately, these plans were blocked by a 2004 country-wide administrative reform that shifted authority from the provinces to the national government. When authority reverted back to the provinces a year later, management responsibility for provincial PAs was also reverted, a new burden for regional governments since federal agencies ceased to managing them. The major concern in the provinces is how to manage and adjust existing PAs rather than how to create new ones. This concern is likely to stall development of PAs, at least in next few years, and despite the ambitious plans developed for each province. Despite the problems in expanding PAs in the its part of the Amur-Heilong River basin, the scenario there approximates that of its southern neighbor: Russia has moved from a piecemeal PA approach to a system wide approach, and, as such, has set the stage to consider larger, transnational conservation trends through an ecological network.
Protected Areas Planning in Mongolia
Government policy in Mongolia has been to increase the area of protection to 30 percent of the country. Part of this expansion would take place in the Amur-Heilong River headwaters. The climate in Eastern Mongolia is extreme and the region is ecologically vulnerable. Therefore, biodiversity conservation, sustainable use, and restoration of natural resources are very important during this time when human population and livestock numbers are increasing, settlements are expanding, and industrial development and human interaction with nature is intensifying. About half of the projected PA expansion will consist of strict protected areas (SPAs). The balance will be nature reserves that allow for some to significant natural resource utilization. The expansions were planned for areas that have little human habitation in order to minimize the social and economic costs associated with reducing natural resource extraction and human use.
Resource extraction projects and the development of infrastructure for international trade have introduced real-life corrections to these well-meaning protected areas policies. For example, local administrative and citizens’ representative meetings in the districts of Dornod Province proposed to protect “Kherlen-Menen,” “Jarantogoo,” and “Dashgain Tavan Nuur” biodiversity areas as Nature Reserves and Special Protected Areas. However, approval of this proposal was postponed due to road construction, oil exploration, and extraction in some portions of the area.
-Securing most important calving grounds of Mongolian Gazelle and linking new protected areas with Dauria International Protected Area.
Map collections: Protected areas
Detailed hydrography of Amur River basin
Protected areas in Russia
Protected areas in China
Protected areas in Mongolia
GIS: Ecological network
There are plans to establish new protected areas on both riverbanks in Hinggan Gorge in China and Russia (Photo by E.Simonov)
Protected areas in Amur-Heilong River basin:
Protected areas types in Russia, Mongolia, China
Major wetland regions of the Amur-Heilong River basin ( Table )
Ecological Network for Amur: The Amur-Heilong Green Belt Concept
Model areas for transboundary conservation: