China’s new National Park Institute

China’s Leap Forward in Ecological Conservation.

In a groundbreaking move, China will see a new batch of university students enroll this September at the freshly constituted National Park Institute, a first-of-its-kind academic institution dedicated to the preservation and development of the country’s natural ecosystems.

Operating under the aegis of the Beijing Forestry University, the National Park Institute is entrusted with a crucial task – to assist the development of China’s National Park conservation scheme. The ambitious project, set for completion by 2035, aims to construct a comprehensive protective framework for the country’s natural ecosystems, a feat that Li Chunliang, a former vice minister of the State Administration of Forestry and Grasslands, claimed would be the “world’s largest.”

But how does the formalization of education play into China’s grand ecological vision for 2035? Xu Jiliang, President of the National Park Institute, explains that the institute’s objective is twofold: to remedy the existing talent deficit and to augment China’s “ecological discourse power.”

Established in May, in the heart of Beijing, the institute aspires to undertake interdisciplinary research related to China’s construction of ecological civilization, outlining it as its specialty. Xu emphasizes that the institute is staffed by 73 full-time faculty members, proficient in areas as diverse as forestry, soil and water conservation, ecology, and agricultural and forestry economic management. According to ecological expert Xiong Chulong, such diversity underscores the fact that the construction of an ecological civilization is not merely about conservation; it’s a complex, multifaceted subject requiring specialist knowledge.

For a resource-rich country like China, specialized skills become even more critical to address the sustainability challenges of ecological development. The national parks inaugurated in 2021, brimming with biodiversity in the form of tropical rainforests and tigers, represent both an opportunity and a challenge. According to Xu, the development of these national parks faces a “structural shortage of talent,” a gap the institute aims to fill by incorporating courses in management and environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

Apart from traditional classroom instruction, the institute has crafted immersive off-campus programs. Students from different disciplines will have the opportunity to conduct fieldwork at research stations near national parks like the Three-River-Source National Park in Qinghai Province and the Wuyi Mountain National Park, a World Cultural and Natural Heritage site known for its unique Danxia landscape (cover photo).

Three-River-Source National Park, Qinghai province.

The institute’s mission extends beyond imparting knowledge and training; it also envisions becoming a world-class talent training base in national park management and conservation. It’s set on producing high-caliber graduates who can serve as a “high-end think tank,” comprehending the unique “characteristics” of China’s national parks.

Launched in 2021, China’s National Park scheme is a strategic national initiative aimed at safeguarding the country’s key ecological zones. The first wave of national parks inaugurated under this scheme covers an area of 230,000 square kilometers, encompassing nearly 30% of China’s key terrestrial wildlife species.

These parks, such as the Three-River-Source National Park and the Giant Panda National Park, serve dual purposes: ecological conservation and public education on the environment. In keeping with this, the National Park Research Institute was jointly founded by the National Forestry and Grassland Administration and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Its goal is to foster international cooperation in this field, as evidenced by the recent “dialogue between the China-France national park systems.”

By cultivating the next generation of ecological experts and leaders, the National Park Institute is poised to play a critical role in China’s ecological development, ensuring the country’s natural splendors can be enjoyed by future generations.

Source: Beijing Times, July 22, 2023.

Author: Lynn Hatem is journalist for Beijing Times.