GOLOG Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in northwest China’s Qinghai Province is home to China’s forest farm with the highest elevation, Ma’ke River Forest Farm.
Before the 1990s, the forest farm was one of the major timber suppliers in Qinghai Province. Since 1998, China has initiated projects for protecting natural forests across the country.
The mission of Ma’ke River Forest Farm thus changed. Staff workers of the farm and people living nearby put away their electric saws and picked up shovels to plant saplings. The sustainability-oriented approach of striking a balance between harnessing the green assets and protecting the ecology has enabled them to improve their lives.
Ma’ke River Forest Farm in Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Povince, is famed for its primary forest with the highest elevation in the source area of the Dadu River.
From Lumberjack to Forest Ranger
Zhu Fuhai, 49, is the deputy chief of a forest zone in Ma’ke River Forest Farm. Zhu used to be a lumberjack before 1998.
“I started logging on the farm in 1993. Back then, trucks drove to the mountains every day to transport timber,” Zhu recalled. Evidence of the past logging activity can still be found from the sparse amount of trees with a height shy of one meter on both banks of the Ma’ke River due to heavy timber felling at that time.
According to Zhu, the saplings were planted 10 years ago. Due to the high altitude and cold climate, plants on the farm grow extremely slow and the vegetation cover will take a long time to recover from damage.
The consequences of deforestation go far beyond such damage. According to Zhu, the place was frequently plagued by natural disasters including torrential flooding and mudslides some 20 years ago.
Changes started in 1998 when Qinghai Province introduced a ban on logging in the natural forest. Ma’ke River Forest Farm launched a pilot program to protect natural forest resources. The profit-oriented logging on the farm came to an end and forest protection became a priority. Accordingly, Zhu ended his career as a lumberjack and made a career transition, becoming a forest ranger.
What happened to Ma’ke River Forest Farm is the epitome of the development model featuring excessive emphasis on economic growth rate adopted by some regions in China during the last century. Over-exploitation of natural resources strained the relationship between humanity and nature.
Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) held in 2012, the CPC leadership with Xi Jinping at the core has been promoting ecological protection with a slew of detailed measures. China pledged to facilitate the development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt by promoting well-coordinated environmental conservation and avoiding ill-planned massive development. Committed to preventing and remedying air, water, and soil pollution, China has been making great strides towards realizing the goal of building a “Beautiful China.” In 2018, ecological civilization was enshrined in China’s Constitution.
A ranger of the Three-River Headwaters National Nature Reserve on his routine patrol on December 6, 2019.
Relinquishing logging as a source of income is no easy thing for local farmers and herdsmen as they needed to find new ways to support their families.
According to Han Caibang, director of the local forestry authorities, an increased number of people fell into poverty after the logging ban was issued as a major source of their income disappeared.
Thus the challenge that lay ahead was protecting the forest while enabling and empowering the people to prosper. “The answer can only be found in the forest,” Han said. Local government led farmers and herdsmen to plant morel mushrooms and Tibetan tea in the forest, turning the forest land into a cash cow for people’s livelihood.
Another attempt by local authorities was recruiting local farmers to work as forest rangers. Apart from the full-time forest protection team, local government also organized a part-time team, fulfilling job responsibilities including patrolling the forest, tending to the trees, and taking care of injured wild animals, earning them each a monthly salary of RMB 1,800. “This is not only about a stable monthly income, but also about fostering awareness of protecting the forest among the general public,” Han said.
“Excessive deforestation used to be rampant as we exploited the forest to build houses and cook food,” said Gatai, a Tibetan villager living near the forest farm. “Now, we realize that we can have a better future when the forest is well protected.”
Enhanced awareness about the importance of ecological protection is a result of constant public communication. At present, residents in the village take turns to patrol the forests.
“Thanks to the efforts of local people, the forest resources on the farm have been well protected and local people have had their incomes increased,” said Han. “Forest protection can be sustainable when local people benefit from the endeavor.”
As the ecology in Banma County of Golog improves, more wild animals have been spotted on the forest farm. Banma County is an ideal habitat for wild macaques, which in the past were scarce and also very afraid of people. In recent years, however, they came out of the mountains and frequented the village for food, according to Ma Zhanbao, deputy director of local forest farm authorities.
The ongoing COVID-19 epidemic has caused people to re-assess their relationship with nature – only a green development path could lead to high-quality development and harmony between humanity and nature.
In the report on the work of the government delivered by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in May, China vowed it will boost the development of the energy conservation and environmental protection industries, toughen punishments on illegal hunting and trading of wild animals, and carry out projects for protecting and restoring key ecosystems to promote ecological conservation.
For Ma’ke River Forest Farm, it has a clearer goal to strive for.