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Saving wetlands can save cranes
( 2003-12-23 09:30) (China Daily by Wu Yong)

An internationally sponsored project to protect white cranes is going along smoothly in China, according to a senior official from the State Forestry Administration.

The goal of the project, backed by Global Environment Facilities, is to strengthen the protection of major wetland areas in China, Russia, Kazakhstan and Iran that are crucial to the survival of white cranes and other endangered migrant birds. Its designed timetable runs from 2003 to 2009.

The project in China involves five locations: the Poyang Lake area in East China's Jiangxi Province, Zhalong Nature Reserve in Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, Xianghai and Momoge nature reserves in Northeast China's Jilin Province, and the Kerqin Nature Reserve in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

"The first phase of the project has been going on well, despite the negative effects of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in almost all areas of life and work in China, " said Qian Fawen, a bird expert with the Chinese Academy of Forestry, who is also in charge of the project in China.

A group of experts have been brought together to compile a basic manual on wetland protection and management, and training classes for wetland staff are under way. Wetlands in different areas can ask for technological and management assistance and for help in carrying out projects.

Experts say the project will help in the construction of a wetland network to protect endangered bird species in Asia and help solve the conflict between ecosystems and the nation's economy.

There are only 3,000 white cranes left in the world. Most of them are based in Siberia, and migrate annually through Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces to spend the winter in Poyang Lake, in Jiangxi.

China had set up 353 wetland nature reserves by the end of last year, which are home of 33 rare water fowl, according to senior official from State Forestry Administration.

Expert from Jilin's Momoge nature reserve bureau said the main threats to the wetland areas are shrinking water resources and reclamation projects eating away at the wetland areas.

"We are thirsty for help from society as a whole. Everything will be fine as long as water resources are not depleted," said Wang Bao, head of the Momoge nature reserve bureau.

The general situation has been improved greatly in the past several years, said Gao Wei, an ornithologist from Northeast Normal University.

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