Places We Protect: Sichuan Province Land Trust Reserve

Land Trust Update

In a land bursting with natural and cultural riches, the Conservancy’s China Program is looking to boost conservation by introducing the country to a distinctly Conservancy-style approach.

“We are going to expand the land trust model we began in Sichuan through partnerships to protect 1% of China’s land in the coming decades,” says Zhang Shuang, the Conservancy’s China Program Director. “We will start by creating ten new protected areas in the next three to five years in China’s most ecologically important places.”

“We have begun the negotiation process for most of the ten new sites in provinces across China,” says Zhao Peng, Chief Conservation Officer for the Conservancy’s China Program.

These new “land trust reserves” will buffer existing parks and connect nature reserves, creating crucial wildlife corridors that preserve natural habitat for China’s animals, while allowing local communities to pursue environmentally friendly livelihoods. And, we will work closely with new local land trusts to provide technical advice and to carry out land management on the ground.

The land trust model will create a mechanism for sustainable financing that will help the Conservancy bring the private sector into conservation, giving local people, businesses, and individuals a chance to help make sure these lands continue to protect valuable natural assets into the future.

In a country where things are changing fast, The Nature Conservancy is working to keep nature the same. And we’re using one of our oldest strategies to accomplish something that, in China, is entirely new.

Here in Sichuan Province’s Pingwu County — one of the most important remaining pieces of giant panda habitat left in the world — we helped to launch the country's first land trust reserve. The reserve is a cutting-edge method of land conservation for China, and it's the biggest, best-supported example of such a strategy in a country where protecting natural resources is of global importance.

Laohegou Nature Reserve connects several existing nature reserves that need well-guarded buffer land to keep out poachers. It also provides a crucial refuge for a number of important species, including giant pandas, and is creating new livelihood opportunities for local people. But most importantly, it's the prototype of an innovative new model for protecting land in a country where conservation can do a world of good.

The First of Many

In all, China has created more than 2,500 nature reserves, all nominally protected by law. But many of these reserves are “paper parks,” plagued by insufficient on-the-ground enforcement of those laws; still more lack thorough planning processes or adequate management.

Regulatory shifts that have occurred in the past five years have opened up a space for civil society and conservation-minded NGOs to step up and help advance environmental protection in China. Through a variety of deals — mostly purchasing leases — the Conservancy and the government worked together to put more than 27,000 acres of Pingwu County under protected area status.

The resulting Laohegou Nature Reserve will be the first of many to employ the land trust reserve model of conservation. It’s a replicable model for expanding conservation across China, and it’s the ideal tool for creating new, fully funded, well-planned and adequately staffed reserves.

Healthy Planet, Healthy People

The reserve is also a crucial tool for helping local people find sustainable ways to support themselves. Just south of the reserve lie two communities that, collectively, are home to a few thousand people.

The reserve protects a mix of former logging forest, collective community land and “ecological forestland” — a Chinese classification for land where no logging can occur. The Conservancy hopes to broaden local communities’ economic horizons, and we’re working with them to plan out new livelihood options, like microfinance programs and eco-tourism jobs.

Additionally, the reserve should reduce the threat of poaching, which is perhaps the most critical ecological threat in this region. By placing the reserve’s land off-limits, we can crack down on poachers entering the adjacent Tangjiahe National Nature Reserve, a world-renowned sanctuary for pandas.

Protecting an Emblem of China

Scientists estimate that the land trust reserve itself has a population of around 10 giant pandas, an endangered species that is almost entirely limited to Sichuan.

Also sheltered by the reserve are golden snub-nosed monkeys, takin (a goat-antelope found in east Asia), Asian black bears, musk deer, porcupines and many bird species. The reserve also contains the sources of two streams, which are protected from the hydropower development that has choked many of Sichuan’s other rivers.

The land trust reserve has the potential to be a powerful model throughout China. But here in Pingwu County, it’s already poised to protect some of Sichuan’s greatest natural assets.

Panda Eats Shoots and Leaves — and Meat?!?

Pandas are herbivores, right? Well, new findings by Conservancy scientists suggest the issue isn’t as black and white as we’d thought.

Motion sensor cameras stationed on Laohegou Nature Reserve in northern Sichuan captured images of a giant panda consuming the carcass of a takin, a Himalayan goat-antelope. These photos provide visual confirmation that pandas at least occasionally eat meat in addition to their customary staple of bamboo leaves. 

Check out the accompanying slideshow for the images in question.


Pondering a Panda's Palate

Out of Sichuan Province comes extraordinary visual evidence: pandas do eat meat!