Wildlife Conservation and Bamboo Management in China's Southeast Uplands [*]

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. The subtropical forests, grasslands, and wetlands of Southeast China's WuyiDaiyun Mountain Range provide essential habitats for diverse wildlife, including a dwindling population of tigers. Three primary protected areas, the Meihuashan, Wuyishan, and Longxishan Nature Reserves, contain varied wildlife habitats and also provide natural resources for 7,000 people in several dozen villages. A field-based study of land use and habitat quality in these reserves shows that anthropogenic bamboo forests are among the least valuable habitats for wildlife but that, as the primary source of household income, bamboo monoculture is spreading rapidly and replacing habitats of greater ecological value. Although authorities in Meihuashan have demarcated the many broadleaf forest patches for strict protection, household income and bamboo-management research in all three reserves suggests that successful habitat conservation may ultimately depend on more equitable systems of land tenure, improved cooperative cottage industries, and greater local economic diversification. Keywords: bamboo management, China, political ecology, wildlife conservation, Wuyi-Daiyun Mountain Range.

With an area encompassing more than 6 percent of the earth's land surface and a tremendous diversity of topographic features and climates, China is biologically among the richest countries in the world (MacKinnon 1996, 14; CI 1998). [1] Recognizing the urgent need to protect China's natural heritage, government agencies at all levels have established more than 900 nature reserves in the past twenty years. By 1998 more than 930 reserves covered 7.7 percent of the country's land area (Benewick and Donald 1999). More than half of the reserves, most of them containing human settlements, are in the biologically and culturally diverse tropics and subtropics of the south (Schaller 1993; Zhou 1995; Daniels 1996).

Unlike northern and western China, where most rural, nonagricultural, and nonpastoral lands are under government jurisdiction, large tracts of mountain lands in southern China are managed by villages, households, or individuals. Greater local control of forest resources in subtropical China is a legacy of centuries of wet-rice cultivation and settlement in marginal upland valleys, where villagers also managed bamboo stands, forests, and grasslands on surrounding slopes, ridges, and peaks. Although many traditions of regional land use and tenure were altered during the periods of collectivization and communization (1957-1981), state-directed economic reforms between 1979 and 1981 mandated a return of collective agricultural lands to individual households under contract, which facilitated the revival of individualistic resource-management systems and private entrepreneurialism (Muldavin 1996). In today's economic liberalization and political pluralization, villages adopt different methods for dividing and alloc ating land and natural resources to individual households. The origin, diffusion, and impacts of village-level systems of resource control and household bamboo-management strategies are a critical local conservation issue. Unlike bamboo species that sustain the giant panda populations of western China, pure stands of mao bamboo, sometimes known as brush bamboo (Phyllostachys pubescens Mazel ex H. De Lahaie var. pubescens), are human formed, an anthropogenic vegetation type with great economic value but little value as a wildlife habitat. In economic terms mao bamboo is the most important of the 200 species of bamboo in China, with the most widespread distribution and the greatest total forest area. However, without intensive management by humans, which entails frequent clearing of surrounding vegetation, bamboo stands are quickly overtaken by more biologically diverse broadleaf and mixed forests (Huang 1992; MacKinnon 1996, 147).

In this study I examine the relationship between the conservation of wildlife habitats and village bamboo management in the Meihuashan, Wuyishan, and Longxishan Nature Reserves, which lie in the Wuyi-Daiyun Mountain Range of western Fujian Province, in China's Southeast Uplands (Figure 1). …

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