AMUR-HEILONG RIVER BASIN
Nature conservation: econet and protected areas
Ecological Network Development : The Amur-Heilong Green Belt
Related maps, pictures, links
i. What is an ecological network?
An ecological network is a network of natural and impacted areas that are connected functionally and spatially and are subject to special conservation regulations designed to fulfill the following key functions:
An ecological network also:
-includes representative species, ecosystems, and natural processes;
ii.The Benefits from an ECONET Approach in the Amur-Heilong River Basin
An ecological network is needed in the basin to establish the largest scale possible for protected areas but also to link biodiversity conservation with economic development and policy planning. Considering the role of such a transboundary network of protected areas in the context of regional development has several significant benefits:
=The values of the shared transboundary ecosystem would finally receive proper recognition and their conservation would be subject to cooperative, transboundary management;
iii. Amur-Heilong Green Belt
The idea of an ecological network for the Amur-Heilong exists – it is called the Amur-Heilong Green Belt – and it aims to protect priority wetlands, grasslands, and forest habitats throughout the basin but focuses on ecosystems along international borders.
In contrast to other issues affecting the transboundary environment, such as pollution or dam building, cooperation to develop a trans-boundary protected area network is promising and should be more fluid because it is largely unaffected by controversy. All basin countries recognize the value of biodiversity and have recently made significant contributions to its protection. At high political levels basin countries have signed key conventions and agreements to achieve nature conservation and restoration. These provide a solid foundation for sustainable management of the basin as a whole through transboundary protected area cooperation.
To date, the Green Belt approach to transboundary cooperation on PAs networks has been implemented using three approaches:
1. bilateral agreements for biodiversity conservation and nature protection: these are often paper agreements that achieve little of the original intent;
Moving forward, the Amur-Heilong Green Belt must take this initial progress on transboundary protected area cooperation and begin to focus on:
iv. Tasks ahead:
Several steps need to be taken in order to transform the idea of the Amur-Heilong Greenbelt Ecological Network into reality:
1. Existing international agreements must be improved,
Several steps need to be taken in order to transform the idea of the Amur-Heilong Greenbelt Ecological Network into reality.
1. Existing international agreements must be improved to allow for better transboundary cooperation
Improvement in the framework of bilateral and multilateral agreements would be the first step in securing a transboundary ecological network. Even limited additions to existing agreements and implementation mechanisms would make a world of difference. The following simple scenario describes a scenario for modifying such an existing agreement to allow for the unimpeded planning and establishment of an ecological network throughout the basin.
The Upper Amur-Heilong River basin already has the makings for a full-scale transboundary Ecological network by amending the trilateral agreement on the Dauria International Protected Area (DIPA) to cover the entire Daurian Global 200 Eco-region. The agreement was already agreed to in principle in March 2006 (see case study on DIPA), and represents a solid framework for developing a conservation plan for the entire area west of the main ridge of the Greater Hinggan Mountains. If implemented, the plan would simultaneously cover all ecological network development issues between China and Mongolia, and between Mongolia and Russia within the western part of the Amur-Heilong Basin and its immediate vicinity.
Russia-China relationships in transboundary conservation issues need to be strengthened by an additional bi-lateral agreement on transboundary ecosystem conservation that focuses on protected area planning and management, wildlife habitat management, and wetland conservation in the common border area of the Amur-Heilong basin. The State Environmental Protection Agency and State Forestry Agency of China and the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia are the most appropriate coordinating agencies for reaching such an agreement. Activities supported under such an agreement must include the establishment of joint research and monitoring programs, the coordinated planning of PAs, joint training and exchanges of PA staff and relevant agencies, and the development of joint databases and information centers. The agreement must also address issues such as enforcement of wildlife conservation laws in transboundary areas and harmonization of nature-resource use policies along the border.
The Sino-Russian interagency Sub-Commission on Environmental Cooperation formed in 2006 has already establish Biodiversity and Transboundary Protected Areas working group (task force) in 2007 and has included planning of transboundary network of protected areas and transboundary wetland conservation strategy into its workplan.
2. Data must be collected jointly and shared openly
High conservation value forests (HCVFs), natural grasslands, important wetland, and riparian areas must be mapped and prioritized for protection throughout the tri-national region. Such assessments (for HCVFs and other high-value habitats) must identify, map, and characterize key habitats for important species. For example, characterization and identification of critical spawning, rearing, and migration habitats for migratory fish need special attention. Population studies should be undertaken for all species of special concern. For instance, accurate estimates of important fish stocks and the impact of fisheries (including illegal catch) should help guide scientifically-based management decisions for quotas and other harvest limits.
Specific data exchanges on wide ranging mammal species like Mongolian gazelle and migratory bird species must receive specific attention from the three basin countries. And, across all species assemblages, their needs to be standardized methodologies for data collection. Some important progress has been made on this front where transboundary tiger monitoring in Russia and China is concerned.
Even incompatible national listings of endangered species cause confusion due to incomplete transboundary information. For instance, Russia still lists as critically endangered a good number of aquatic species considered staple food items by people in neighboring China even though such species are caught in the same waters. The harmonization of data would also benefit the conservation of species by emphasizing trade restrictions on species common in Russia but already on the brink of disappearance from the opposite river bank in China.
3.The existing network of protected areas must be reassessed
The establishment of PAs provides a legal basis for conservation actions that are not achievable by other means. However, the effectiveness of protection depends on many legal, social, and institutional factors, the most important of which have been discussed above. Although the extent of PA coverage of the basin as a whole is impressive, important questions remain:
What types and areas of priority ecosystems and which globally threatened species are protected within the PAs?
While for individual countries we can qualitatively answer most of these questions, we cannot yet draw a basin-wide picture showing how transboundary ecosystem conservation is served by the existing PAs. The planning alone involved in the creation of a tri-national ecological network would inspire much needed quantitative data.
4.Protected areas must be resilient in the face of a changing climate
Anticipated effects of climate change should be taken into consideration in any design of PAs or corridors. WWF-RFE has already encountered this problem in ecological network planning. A preliminary assessment carried out by the Environment Research Center of the University of Durham (May 1998) showed that under the most probable scenarios of global warming the effectiveness of the existing and planned PAs could decline substantially because of habitat fragmentation due to the northward progression of warmer winter temperatures. The following list of possible consequences of climate change should be incorporated into planning for ecological network design:
Potential changes in species distribution and migration should be taken into account when planning borders of future PAs. In some cases additional temporary elements such as buffer zones should be established to accommodate uncertainties associated with different climate change scenarios and their effects on biota.
5.Collaboration must take place in the Amur-Heilong network of protected areas
By 2006 there were nearly 40 large Russian PAs of national and provincial status established along the Chinese and Mongolian borders. In China the number and acreage of comparable PAs is the same. In Mongolia, 12 PAs have been established in transboundary ecoregions. In many cases, political borders cross natural ecosystems or migrating wildlife cross political borders. Ecosystem processes such as periodic floods shape habitats on both banks of boundary rivers and their disruption on one side affects both banks. Often populations of endangered species occupy both sides of a border zone and threats and impacts are similar and often interdependent on both sides. For all these reasons the management of these PAs would greatly benefit from transboundary cooperation. This was acknowledged early in modern relationships of Amur-Heilong basin countries.
In addition to the cooperative activities already undertaken at the transboundary and international NRs, there is a need for increased communication and networking between nature reserve professionals in the Amur-Heilong River basin that includes not only cooperation with one immediately adjacent sister-reserve, but access to region-wide expertise and related resources.
Such Green Belt network may organize many essential activities and processes to strengthen many Pas at once and facilitate most useful ties:
Table lists selected NRs in transboundary ecoregions and outlines prospects for future transboundary cooperation. Activities required to make these initiatives more effective include:
6. The Ramsar Convention must be used in a regional context
A sixth step toward the development of a regional system of PAs involves a more effective use of the Ramsar Convention Bureau’s Regional Initiative Program. This is ideally suited to the Amur-Heilong basin because all three basin countries are signatories to the Ramsar Convention.
All 12 of the basin's Ramsar wetlands are connected hydrologically or, alternatively, by the movement or migration of wildlife. Protection of these wetlands, therefore, could be enhanced by a coordinated effort under the Ramsar Convention. The current approach of Ramsar, which lists wetlands on a site-by-site basis, could well be supplemented and improved by a corridor approach that would list wetlands along rivers and borders such as the Wusuli-Ussuri floodplain or Argun-Erguna Midflow floodplain. Because of the immediate threats from economic development it is critical to hasten Ramsar listing of wetlands that are essential parts of the transboundary ecological network and coordinate planning and management on both sides in transboundary river valleys.
Table "Major Wetland Regions of AHRB" lists examples of Ramsar Wetlands and wetlands meeting Ramsar criteria, emphasizing their current status and the need for transboundary conservation when appropriate. From the regional wetland clusters presented in Table, only two would be effectively protected in the absence of strong transboundary cooperation. The existing 12 Ramsar sites cover just 15 percent of important wetland areas that meet the Ramsar Convention criteria. Except for Daurian Steppe and Khanka-Xingkai Lake, all other sites have no international management arrangements. This discrepancy obviously calls for more systematic, basin-wide wetland assessments and application of Ramsar conservation tools. The Ramsar Convention also provides a strong framework for developing an ecological network because it emphasizes integrated management of all types of habitats in important river basins.
An appropriate implementation model is the Ramsar Mediterranean Initiative in which 11 countries participate to conserve wetland habitats and biodiversity in the Mediterranean region. An advantage of the Ramsar regional initiative program is that the initiative establishes a secretariat, which serves as an implementation office and a clearinghouse for project funding and regional activities.
A Ramsar Amur-Heilong regional initiative would help catalyze a basin wide ecological network by helping:
The greatest value of the Ramsar Convention initiative with respect to the Green Belt concept is that the Convention covers important habitats and natural processes not only by means of establishing traditional PAs. Rather, all land-use policy issues would receive systematic attention within the realm of ecological network development. Spatial planning, land-use policies for forested watersheds, water utilization and water infrastructure policies, fisheries and game management are all subject to close analysis and evaluation when it comes to protection of freshwater ecosystem of a large river basin.
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
Protected areas in Amur-Heilong River basin:
Protected areas types in Russia, Mongolia, China
Major wetland regions of the Amur-Heilong River basin ( Table )
Model areas for transboundary conservation: