In pristine forests, isolated villages, nature preserves and major cities, last May’s Wenchuan earthquake devastated both human and animal life.
The 8.0 Richter-magnitude quake was felt a thousand miles away in the cities of Shanghai and Beijing. Some 4.8 million people were left homeless, 374,171 were injured and more than 80,000 died. The government of China reacted quickly to evacuate people and provide temporary housing, medical assistance, running water and electricity.
The people of Zhongba, in the buffer zone of Bai Shui He National Reserve (an area 200,000 hectares, or nearly 500,000 acres, in size) were also deeply affected by the earthquake.
Prior to the earthquake, Zhongba’s community knew little about the work of the Bai Shui He Reserve’s conservation station in Zhongba - they just knew they were not allowed to hunt or collect timber within the reserve. But collecting non-timber forest products like mushrooms and medicinal herbs has been a mainstay of their economy, and prior to the earthquake, this was a growing threat to the forest ecosystem.
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An Agreement to Protect People, Forests and Pandas
CI and a local partner, Shan Shui, have been working with the local community to protect both forests and livelihoods in the area for some time. Those partnerships, called conservation agreements, formally bring together local stakeholders who elect to conserve, rather than exploit, natural resources in exchange for benefits that compensate for the income that more environmentally harmful activities might provide.
To be successful, a conservation agreement links these benefits to conservation actions and makes conservation a desirable source of income.
The Zhongba agreement commits the people of the community to actively protect the forest, patrolling to keep illegal loggers, hunters and poachers out of the conservation area — a key habitat for the threatened giant panda and other species. In return, the community will be paid for the patrols, be granted rights to manage the area and given technical support to help sustainably collect medicinal herbs and develop herb plantations.
After the Earthquake
Within 10 days of the earthquake’s main tremor, Shan Shui’s team visited some of the affected communities. In Zhongba, the Chinese government was already providing temporary shelter, running water and electricity.
However, the community was isolated and unaware of events in other parts of the country. They were frightened and did not have a place to come together or begin planning for the future.
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Shan Shui helped by providing a tented ‘community cultural center’ equipped with a TV and DVD player to connect to the outside world. The community center became the central gathering place to share fears and experiences, check the news in other earthquake-affected places and receive reports from government officers.
In order to increase information access, the team also launched a community newsletter. At the beginning, Shan Shui’s team helped to lead and edit the interviews, but quite quickly, a group of enthusiastic teens began to conduct the interviews themselves.
Among those teens is Li Zongrun, an energetic 15-year old with a wide, ready smile. He explains how exciting it has been to gather different stories and interview “very important people” like the mayor of the closest town. “My news is read by everyone,” he says proudly. “People are happy to be informed.”
In the wake of the earthquake, CI, Shan Shui and the people of Zhongba remain committed to begin the agreed-upon conservation work, even as it is adjusted to meet evolving needs.
For example, the patrol team now monitors changes in rainfall and river flow –and other signs of impending danger resulting from aftershocks or landslides. In the future, the patrol team will work to protect the forest from illegal loggers and hunters, and the community will support the rehabilitation of the destroyed forest areas. Conservation agreement funds will support the community’s reconstruction.
Slowly but surely, the people of Zhongba will rebuild their homes. They will also help restore the forests which are home to a number of threatened species such as the giant panda, red panda and the golden snub-nosed monkey. New work, and new lives, will rise from the rubble the earthquake left behind.
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