According to an analysis of protected areas in the World Database of Protected Areas, protected areas in the hotspot cover some 14,000 km² (or 5.3 percent of the area). This coverage drops dramatically, to 1.4 percent of the hotspot, when one considers only those classed in IUCN categories I-IV. Among the best-known and most important protected areas in the hotspot is the 2,000-km² Wolong Nature Reserve in western Sichuan, which is home to the giant panda, and around 4,000 plant species, including the Chinese yew (Taxus chinensis).
Emei Shan, an isolated and protected limestone mountain on the eastern edge of the hotspot, rises to 3,099 meters and is considered to be one of the botanically richest and most diverse mountains in the Northern Hemisphere. The mountain is one of the few places where the Tibetan macaque (Macaca thibetana) can easily be seen. Emei Shan Natural and Historical Heritage Reserve is also the only known site for two threatened amphibians: the aforementioned Rana chevronta, and Batrachuperus londongensis (EN), which is known only from the Longdon River.
Other protected areas include Luoji Shan Nature Reserve, which contains more than 2,000 species of higher plants, including more than 50 species of Rhododendron; and Gaoligong Shan Nature Reserve. Gaoligong Shan has recently been expanded across the Nu Jiang (Salween) and Lancang-Jiang (Mekong) rivers to link with the Bai Ma Xue Shan Nature Reserve and the east bank of the Jinsha River (part of the Yangtze) to create the Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Site, which provides protection for the many different ridges and valleys and their highly distinctive flora. However, while a number of important areas are already protected in this hotspot, much more remains to be done, with the enormous watershed value of this region in and of itself providing more than adequate justification for increased protection (given that five of the great rivers of Asia originate on the 5,000-meter Tibetan Plateau).
One way of ensuring that the network of protected areas adequately conserves biodiversity is through the conservation and monitoring of Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), sites holding populations of globally threatened or geographically restricted species. KBAs are discrete biological units that contain species of global conservation concern and that can be potentially managed for conservation as a single unit. In the Mountains of Southwest China hotspot, Conservation International-China, in collaboration with Peking University and other local partners, is in the process of identifying and delineating KBAs. This work on KBA definition, supported by CEPF, is a refinement of the broad-scale priorities identified during the the 2002 Priority Setting Workshop, hosted by Conservation International (CI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Nature Conservancy (TNC). A proposed "EcoPartnership" composed of local biological research institutions, conservation NGOs, universities, and government agencies will aid in the refinement and monitoring of conservation outcomes by providing access to information through a data-sharing network.
A number of Chinese government policies represent hope for conservation in the Mountains of Southwest China. In response to the catastrophic floods of 1998, the government has completely banned logging within most of the hotspot. Other laws include a Land Conversion Program, also referred to as the Grain to Green Policy. This program includes a ban on agriculture on steep slopes, prohibitions against forest clearing for shifting agriculture, and specific species protection laws. The Land Conversion Program has provided important opportunities for biodiversity conservation. In this billion-dollar investment by the Chinese government, currently underway throughout the hotspot, farmers are given subsidies to replant barren slopes. Monocultures of pine and fruit trees have been an initial result, and conservation groups are hoping to work with the government to propagate more diverse native vegetation, and to expand biodiversity-friendly habitat throughout the region.
In addition its high biological diversity, the Mountains of Southwest China hotspot features a rich diversity of cultures. The hotspot is home to 16 ethnic groups, including Tibetans, who live in a large portion of the hotspot. In Tibetan culture, sacred landscapes have protected certain areas for centuries. Thousands of villages and monasteries have their own sacred site —a mountain, lake or patch of old-growth forest. However, this tradition has recently been challenged by outside influences and the demand for economic development. Preserving and reviving such a tradition will provide much impetus to protect the biodiversity in this hotspot.