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UPDATED: January 26, 2011
Shrinking Conservation Zone Draws Ire

A proposal from the Ministry of Environmental Protection to redraw the boundaries of a crucial fish conservation zone in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River has met strong opposition from environmental organizations.

The ministry is seeking public opinions on the proposal, which would see the Upper Yangtze National Nature Reserve for Rare and Endangered Fish shrink by more than 1,400 hectares.

The reserve, stretching from Yibin in Sichuan province to Chongqing, is considered by conservationists to be the last haven for several endangered and endemic fish species, including Chinese paddlefish, Dabry's sturgeon and Chinese suckerfish. Areas both upstream and downstream of this section of the Yangtze River have already been plagued with dam projects.

A statement about the proposal was posted on the official website of the ministry after a panel of experts recently agreed that reducing the conservation area will not ruin the aquatic habitat.

The State Council will give its final say on whether to redefine the reserve boundaries based on experts' views and public opinion.

But environmental organizations strongly warned that trimming the reserve to make way for a proposed dam in Chongqing may bring devastating effects to both rare fish species and common types of carp that are served as food.

The Xiaonanhai hydropower project, involving an investment of more than 30 billion yuan ($4.6 billion), has been listed as a key project for the southern metropolis of Chongqing during the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) period.

Chongqing officials strongly backed the project and the adjustment of the reserve to ensure better supplies of energy and water resources to support the city's economic growth. Chongqing has set a target of 13.5 percent growth for 2011, the highest in the country.

In an open letter to deputies to the National People's Congress and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, Friends of Nature, one of China's leading environmental organizations, said sacrificing ecological conservation for development projects is not only a departure from the country's promise to protect biodiversity, but may also "set a bad precedent" for similar practices in the future.

"If a green light is given to Chongqing this time, other provinces along the reserve could always file similar requests for developmental reasons, which will endanger the existence of this natural reserve - and many others all around the country," said Li Bo, Friends of Nature's executive director.

Environmental organizations also called for more transparency on how agreements have been reached among experts in the ecological impact review, but Li said the request was turned down by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

The reserve was already trimmed in 2005 to exclude the section between Xiangjiaba and Xiluodu on the upper reaches to allow for the construction of two giant hydropower plants.

(China Daily January 25, 2011)

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