Brief history of environmental protection:
Jiuzhai Valley first became a park in 1978 and initially was focussed more on anti-logging and restoration work. However, as tourism and education have risen in importance in the new Chinese economy, the park has followed these trends and has been extremely progressive in recent years, inviting foreign expertise in sustainable tourism development, community outreach and environmental technology to come and provide assistance and advice.
There are over 70km of wooden walkways throughout Jiuzhai Valley National Park. Not only do these improve the sustainability of tourism in the park by reducing the impact of visitors on the environment, they also maximise visitor enjoyment by facilitating walking through the national park to sites not visible from the road. These walkways have been built with the absolute minimum impact on the surroundings.
Toilet and kitchen waste in Jiuzhai Valley is presently managed to avoid seepage and aesthetic concerns. However a new municipal waste treatment plant has recently been completed and three new systems are being built. These are:
1. Park Village waste water systems for the local people
2. Park tourist toilet system
3. Major waste treatment plant for the region
Local Community work
The park works with outreach and local communities in many ways. It set up a Community Liaison Office in 1989. Today, with a staff of 17 it provides assistance to local people in business planning, health and education, land ownership and legal advice as well as holding community meetings and participatory seminars where local issues and park-community dialogue can take place.
Educational projects run by Jiuzhai Valley, include a regional forest fire prevention program. Fire risk is high in these Alpine environments and controlled burning of meadows and fire breaks is necessary to prevent very large fires from occurring. The majority of local communities still live in traditional wooden houses, so house-fire risk is also very high.
Jiuzhai Valley has taken the lead with the development of international partnerships with organisations such as the IUCN and UNESCO, universities around the world, such as University of California and Washington in the USA, Chemnitz in Germany and Osaka in Japan. Jiuzhai Valley has created sister park relationships with Plitvice Lakes in Croatia, Cradle Mountain in Tasmania, with Yosemite, Yellowstone and Olympic National Parks in the USA, as well as attending the World Parks Congress for the first time in 2003 in South Africa.
These partnerships and links help Jiuzhai Valley to measure itself against the experiences and challenges in management, tourism development as well as community development and environmental protection in a variety of different environments and settings around the globe and through staff exchange and training has proved one of the parks greatest strengths and something it is very proud of.
These exchanges are mutually beneficial to all parties involved. Niki Nicholas, Chief of Resources Management and Science in Yosemite National Park said of one such exchange in February 2007, "With our diverse visitor base in Yosemite, it is incredibly valuable to be able to exchange perspectives and knowledge with these (Jiuzhai Valley National Park) rangers. We are excited to be a part of this global communication and betterment of our world's public lands." Among the topics covered on this particular program were carrying capacity, visitor management, and relationships with local communities.
Jiuzhai Valley has been monitoring animal and plants populations since the late 1970's. Water monitoring of the surface lakes and streams began in the 1980's. However with the major increase in tourism since the 1990's aligned with a logging ban on the Yangtze river basin (of which Jiuzhai Valley belongs) and major changes in lifestyle for the rural Tibetans living in these areas, more focussed and complex environmental monitoring was required. Thus in 2007, Jiuzhai Valley began the implementation of a new Integrated Monitoring System based on Geographic Information Systems mapping and database technology. In brief this means focussing on a small number of key "vital signs" for the health of the Jiuzhai Valley National Park, and its capacity to remain undamaged by tourism or other more subtle influences such as climate change.
Today the park monitors water and forests in a measurable weekly protocol, takes readings from satellite and automatic sensors in weather and land use change and is beginning a Visitor Experience for Resource Protection (VERP). This VERP study, the first of its kind to be carried out in China, looks at visitor experience and visitor behaviour in a park or protected area and studies impacts on this experience as the key criteria, rather than a base analysis of visitor numbers to the site.
Restoration of landslips, and replanting of old growth pine forests, logged here in the 1960's has formed the basis for the forestry programs at Jiuzhai Valley over the past 30 years. Notwithstanding the risks inherent in pure planting programs (forest fires are a natural part of mountain ecology in these regions, so pure planting and suppression of fire leads to more timber in the forests that can burn later) there are now thousands of hectares of new and healthy forests in the park and surrounding mountains, where once, scarred hillsides and blackened stumps were the norm.
The national government’s planting programs are more concerned with inhibiting flooding, than with wildlife habitat creation and conservation. That said, their huge regional forestry programs have had positive knock-on effects for wildlife and in the past 10 years such as re-growth of bird habitats, of bamboo panda habitats and rich alpine and sub-alpine forests are now providing vibrant ecosystems for the park’s species to live in.