China's nascent national park program has taken another step toward increasing the coverage of the country's most important natural sites with the announcement of a new planned national park in Yunnan.
The Lijiang Municipal Government announced that it will invest 500 million yuan (US$73.1 million) with Yunnan Tourism Group (云南旅游产业集团) to build China's next national park in Lijiang's Laojunshan area, which is expected to open to the public in three years.
Still officially pending government approval, Laojunshan National Park (老君山国家公园) would be China's – and northwest Yunnan's – second national park. China's first national park, Pudacuo National Park (普达措国家公园), opened in 2007. In an odd twist of bureaucracy, Pudacuo has only been officially recognized by the Yunnan provincial government as a national park and is still waiting for official recognition by Beijing.
The proposed national park at Laojunshan is projected to cover an area of 1,085 square kilometers (419 square miles). Located 60km from the city of Lijiang, it will serve as a showcase of the biological and cultural diversity at the heart of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in northwest Yunnan which contains the headwaters of the Yangtze, Mekong and Salween Rivers.
Laojunshan is home to 168 endangered plant and animal species including the Yunnan Golden Monkey. It also boasts 10 percent of the world's rhododendron species. The area is dotted by dozens of alpine lakes, the most famous being Dragon Pool (龙潭).
US-based NGO The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has worked with local governments on both the Pudacuo and Laojunshan park projects. Dr Zhou Dequn, manager of the Laojunshan project at TNC, told GoKunming that Pudacuo offers many lessons for Laojunshan.
Citing the pending approval by the central government for Pudacuo, Dr Zhou said that China would benefit from a legislative framework that provides for a more streamlined approval process for parks. The experiences of Pudacuo have also shown the importance of a master plan incorporating fundamental survey work focused on natural and social data collection, he added.
"As there are no national regulations for national parks, we have to assist local governments to set up regulations with a bottom-up approach – namely the local congress formulates national park regulations first and submits to the provincial congress for final approval," Zhou said.
"It is very time-consuming and difficult to reach an agreement among the different stakeholders before final approval, as the national park is almost a brand-new conservation model for mainland China."
Zhou said that in addition to legislative issues, optimizing the impact of national parks on local communities was also a major challenge for China's national park program.
It will be difficult to achieve "real win-win results for conservation and local community development," he said, adding that to do so would require balancing conservation with local community development, figuring out what role local communities can play in national park management and ensuring that local communities benefit from the development of national parks in China.
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