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Young woman leading fight to keep wetland healthy

By Zhou Huiying in Harbin and Han Junhong in Changchun | China Daily | Updated: 2018-07-23 07:50

Recognition from pair of renowned tech tycoons boosts her resolve

A flock of red-crowned cranes roost in the Xianghai National Nature Reserve in Tongyu county, Jilin province. Photo Provided To China Daily

Wang Chunli was thrilled to receive a letter from the "Two Mas" - Alibaba founder Jack Ma Yun and Tencent CEO Pony Ma Huateng.

As the co-chairmen of the Paradise Foundation, an environmental NGO also supported by other famous entrepreneurs, the two tech tycoons praised Wang's contributions to ecological conservation in the Xianghai National Nature Reserve in Tongyu county, Jilin province.

For the past two years, Wang, 28, has been struggling to protect the balance between man and nature, with the former's developmental aspirations often coming at the latter's expense.

"Congratulations! You've won the Three-Class Merit Award for ecologically sound civil construction by your local government," they wrote in the letter. "It is also a great honor for our foundation."

Established in 1981, the reserve - located in western Jilin - is an important wetland for resting and breeding migratory birds.

Covering 1,054 square kilometers, the wetland attracts large populations of storks, swans, red-crowned cranes and white-tailed eagles.

In December 2016, the Paradise Foundation signed a 30-year agreement with the reserve and the Jilin government to establish the Xianghai Ecological Protection Center.

The center, which covers 175 sq km - about half of the reserve's core zone - is directly managed by the foundation and supervised by the local government.

It is China's first national nature reserve center directly managed by a nonprofit ecological conservation organization and supervised by a local government.

After finishing her master's degree in nature reserve management at Northeast Forestry University in Harbin, Heilongjiang province, in June 2016, Wang was appointed by the foundation to the reserve to help manage the multiparty cooperation.

On her first visit, she was bowled over by the rich ecological assets, but shocked by the severe human impact.

At that time, about 20,000 residents were living in 12 villages within the reserve. The residents continued to engage in activities that were strictly prohibited, such as allowing sheep to graze freely, hunting rare birds and catching fish in the core zone.

"I realized it would take a great effort to change hearts and minds, but I really didn't expect so many people would actually be allowed to reside in a nature reserve," she said. "There were even residents living among the habitat of endangered red-crowned cranes and beside rare flora."

When the center was founded, Wang became its director, and the first thing she did was recruit eight members for a patrol team from nearby villages.

"We had a plan to eliminate all harmful human activity in the reserve within five years," she said. "The locals are the most familiar with the environment they live in, so I needed their help.

"What's more important, the wetland will ultimately be managed by them. We will give it back to the local residents after helping them train a professional team."

Wang leads the team to control illegal grazing, fishing and poaching in the reserve each day.

In 2017, they helped the local government investigate over 600 violations. A GPS system showed they walked more than 40,000 km during the year.

Wang still remembers a case in which they helped police catch a poacher who illegally possessed a firearm in the summer of 2017.

"During a foot patrol, the team found a car in the core zone," she said. "Through the window, we noticed shotgun parts."

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