Course:FRST370/Projects/The relationship between adjacent communities and Gaoligong Mountains, Yunnan, China

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Yunnan Province

This case study examines Gaoligong mountains and Gaoligongshan nature reserve in Yunnan province, China. As the biggest natural reserve in Yunnan province, there are significant natural resources and diversified ecosystems. This case study focuses on surrounding villagers responded and participated in the establishment of the Gaoligongshan nature reserve (GNR). Local residents have a close relationship with Gaoligong mountains including their daily lives, livelihoods and conservations in this area. The state government through community economic development, forests resource cultivating and identification with local people cultures and traditions to management Gaoligong mountain regions, and successful coordinated GNR protection and community economic development with local ethnic minorities.


Gaoligong Mountains

Yunnan province is located in the southwest of China and borders the countries Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. It is in a mountain area with an average elevation 1,980 meters. Due to the pleasant climate and varied terrain, Yunnan is rich in natural resources and diverse in plants. It is also the most ethnically diverse provinces in China. Yunnan has 25 ethnic groups out of 56 ethnic groups in China, such as Bai, Dai, Hani, Yi, Lisu and Miao. The ethnic minority groups in Yunnan accounting for about 34% of the total population.

Gaoligong mountains are sub-range of the southern Hengduan Mountain Range in western highlands and straddling the border of southwestern China and northern Myanmar.[1] Gaoligongshan nature reserve established in 1986 and under the authority of the Chinese Ministry of Forestry. It became a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. Agriculture is still a challenge which impacts the ecosystem of this region because farmers using chemical fertilizers on the crop that threat soil condition in GNR. There are 360,000 people from approximately 16 ethnics minorities living around this area. People livelihood depends on agriculture, household industries like handicrafts and carpentry. The Chinese Ministry of Forestry substantial support in tourism development in GNR and ecotourism became one of the major subsistence for local residents.

Tenure arrangements

The forest tenure in Gaoligong region were divided into 4 kinds: traditional forest, freeholder forest, collective forest, and state-owned forest.[2] Extraction in the reserve is illegal, but some of forest below the reserve in the slopes and foot hills is collective forest which managed by community and extraction allowed.[3] The ethnic minority groups around Gaoligong area are full of worshiping to forests and trees due to their traditional culture, so the traditional forests were well protected by their management. In 1981 the Ministry of Forestry implemented “three-set” (San Ding) policy, and most villages were assigned parts of freehold forests. They have responsibilities to manage their forests, they could carry on all the forestry production activities on their freehold land. The benefits of operating and processing forest products and by-products directly belong to each household. They are motivated to manage and protect forests. There are three management ways for collective forests. 1) A group of villagers as forest guards patrol mountains and report violations. 2) The responsibilities of forests management were transferred from groups of forest guards to an individual household that prevented stealing or logging form forests. 3) Since the 1960s, villagers spontaneously organized the joint management of the collective forests, and they formulated relevant forest protection treaties, management measures, and harvesting period together. All the participation share the benefits of forests management. 4) Different groups have united to carry out unified management for collective forests, and they held meetings to exchange information about management. The state-owned forest was regulated by the Ministry of Forestry, these forests are located in a remote area and supervision of forestry department was limited.[2]

There are 85% Lisu people live in Henghe village. Henghe village located on the edge of GNR, people who live there rely on forest and get benefits from the forest. They have collective forest 219.2 hm², 2/3 of it is freehold forest. They managed their forest by traditional morality, customary laws and headman power.[4] The customary law of Lisu was a social behavioural norm formed by community members in the process of production and life. There did not have forests management regulations that written on a paper, so the chieftain usually judges between right and wrong when conflict rose between villagers. The chieftain had the power to manage forests, land, and social affairs, and community members must obey the leader. In the past, the management of forests in Henghe Village relied mainly on customary laws to manage and mediate disputes. Nowadays Henghe Village has the government's administrative management system like other places. The forest is managed by the forestry department, but the Lisu people still have their “King”. Although he has no administrative duties, he has an important influence in social affairs of the Lisu community and the forest.[4] Lisu people have a traditional morality that they fair and equal in their long-term production. Individuals had a strong dependence on collective ownership, and they could share benefits to other community members such as meat of prey.

Conflict and Countermeasures

Due to poor management of collective forests, the limitation of natural resources could not meet the demand of villagers’ living. In order to meet the needs of life, some villagers stole fuelwood and timber in the nature reserve and sold to vendors at high prices. They also illegal hunting and stealing wild animals in nature reserve because alive wild animals can sell a good price in marketing. GNR is one of the most biodiversity natural reserves in China, it is rich in medicinal herbs, flowers, vegetables, and mushrooms. Selling these non-timber forest products brought economic income for the community, but forests were destroyed by lacking rational use.[5] GNR adjacent residents have traditional customs that grazing, beekeeping, digging herb, and collecting non-timber forest products like mushrooms and green fodder. After the establishment of the nature reserve, it is difficult for villagers to change their habits. They entered the protected area and took some resources from it, this was conflicting with the regulations of GNR. With the number of wild animals increases, animals in nature reserve destroyed crops in the surrounding area and hurt villages.[6] Villagers were not satisfied with compensation that inevitably lead to conflicts between community and government.

There are 4 countermeasures can be used to resolve conflict:

1) Develop a community economy such as developing tourism. Ecotourism is one way that helps increasing nature reserve income and driving the local community’s economic development. Gaoligong area has a pleasant climate, long history, diverse ethnic groups and biodiversity which provide a good condition to develop tourism.[5]

2) State government can help with enhancing energy infrastructure in adjacent villages like exploiting solar power or wind power. Because more renewable energy has been used that less forest fuel will be consumed by villagers.

3) Using a scientific collective management to increase community forest resources. The Ministry of Forestry may carry out reforestation on arable hills and wasteland in order to develop community forest resources.[6]

4) The government could also restrict some traditional habits of local residents. For example, restricting their non-timber products collection area and scale.

Affected Stakeholders

Women had less awareness to the establishment of the nature reserve and they hardly can get benefits from forests. Women less likely entered the reserve than man, and their attitude was less positive than man. They had less knowledge about the reserve contributed to women being less likely to perceive benefits on regulation services. When gendered divisions of labour cause women to have more direct negative experiences with nature reserve they more perceive costs than man.[7] They are living in a rural area, so most of them were not educated that makes them lacking knowledge about everything in the nature reserve. Another affected Stakeholders are farmers who live in the edge of GNR, they might have a part of the land in reserve area and they have the responsibility to protect this land. The agriculture on their farmland restricted by GNR regulation such as banned chemical fertilizer in reserve that influenced their crop productivity.

Interested Outside Stakeholders

GNR is regulated under the Ministry of Forestry, the government started developing ecotourism. The ecotourism development can drive economic development. More and more people visited here that helped accelerate local economic development. The income could be used in strengthening infrastructure and protect biodiversity in the nature reserve. Tourists have a chance to get into a biodiversity place, they can see different kinds of rare plants and animals in GNR. They can enjoy the geothermal energy (hot spring) in the Gaoligong area, which benefits to human health and also a good way to relax. People from other cities can learn a lot of about ethnic culture and experience tradition activities.[8] 

Environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) can build a relationship with local government, help them to maximize the local resources and provide solutions about environmental conservations. They do not directly relate to those areas, and their funding issues by private donors, corporations, and some institutions. Therefore, ENGOs involved in local environmental protection or provided assistance to nature conservation, but their benefits were not affected by local development.


Due to the increase of population in adjacent communities, per capital forest resources were limited and unevenly distributed. Forest resources management should be changed with collective forest tenure system reform in 2007 in order to adapt to the diversification of property rights and decentralization of forest tenure structure. The priority should be improving and optimizing the forest resources management model because governance plays an important role in forestry development. The effective utilization rate of forestry land is low currently, but the state government attaches importance to the development of tourism do increased forestry utilization rate and brought economic income to adjacent villages in GNR. For some freehold households, they want to maximize their economic income in short term as much as possible like logging and selling timbers, but they are lacking conservation knowledge that destroyed forest ecosystem balance and reduce their forest utilization rate in long-term.[2] The diverse culture and abundant nature resources make Gaoligong nature reserve important in the world. Development of tourism in Gaoligong area promote the protection of biodiversity but also threaten by forest degradation at the edge of reserve because of some community members excessive use forest resources or put a high expectation on tourism that put pressure on GNR.

Discussion & Recommendation

The establishment and development of GNR changed local residents’ daily lives and livelihood. The state government had been trying to balance the relationship between local people and the protection of nature reserve. Although there is still some issue present, there was more achievement on Gaoligong region. For example, after collective forest tenure system reform villagers have the right to operate their freehold land which made villagers more active in managing and protecting forest resources.[2] Also, GNR tourism promoted the economic development of adjacent villages and villagers received income by selling ethnic handicrafts or souvenirs to tourists. 

Developing tourism is a good way for whether state government or local residents because ecotourism is getting popular nowadays and the natural environment in GNR create a good condition for tourism. Sustainability should always involve in the processes of developing tourism and utilizing natural resources.[9] One purpose of developing ecotourism is to drive economic development in local communities and reducing community members dependence on forest resources in the nature reserve. Therefore, involving local residents participate in tourism development and encouraging them to introduce their culture to tourists that make them get benefits from tourism development.[10]


Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This conservation resource was created by Yinuo Chen.