From 12 to 17 April, an IUCN monitoring mission visited the property, as requested by the Committee at its 30th session at the time of inscription of the property on the World Heritage List. The mission was able to hold discussions with various stakeholders, including representatives of the Sichuan Government, the A’ba Tibetan/ Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, the management authority of Wolong Reserve, as well as NGO representatives.
The mission assessed the implementation of the recommendations adopted at the time of inscription as outlined below:
a) Ensure the "Sichuan World Heritage Management Committee" has sufficient powers, resources and authority to ensure it can effectively carry out its role in relation to management of the property, including in relation to the review and approval of any major development proposals which may impact on the natural values of the nominated property;
The Sichuan World Heritage Management Committee (SWHMC) meets twice annually to discuss problems or issues identified by the management units and includes representatives from all 18 management units within the property as well as representatives from the Provincial Tourism Bureau, Provincial Cultural Heritage Bureau, and the Provincial Religious Affairs Bureau. The primary functions of the committee are to review management and formulate relevant policy measures for the property and, specifically, to review and approve or deny any project proposal which may affect the conservation value of the property.
However, the mission noted that the SWHMC does not request nor does it receive regular reports from the biodiversity monitoring programmes already in place, and its agenda appears at this time to be limited to reactively managing issues, as opposed to proactive oversight of the property. In addition, the SWHMC does not have any direct management responsibilities for the property, for example budget oversight. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that the management authority should establish regular reporting on the property’s state of conservation to the SWHMC, including information on habitat, wildlife populations and the conditions of local people, in order to allow the Committee to proactively manage the property and identify issues of concern early on.
b) Review existing infrastructure within the property with a view to better controlling impacts and, where possible, removing infrastructure and allowing habitat restoration with native species;
The mission noted that any infrastructure planned prior to inscription has been stopped, with the exception of the Yaoji dam (discussed under point (e) below), that the relief phase of the disaster recovery following the earthquake has just concluded and that ecological restoration has not yet started. However, the SWHMC has recently approved the development of a tunnel at Balangshan with the commitment to build, as part of the tunnel construction, animal corridors above the tunnel to facilitate wildlife movements. The SWHMC has identified two tiers of management including ‘strict core’ areas, in which the only use options are related to research and education activities, and ‘World Heritage protected area’, which permit some human habitation by local communities that were already established at the time of inscription. The SWHMC has rejected applications for 16 hydropower plants in the property and has established management principles prohibiting medium-large infrastructure and limiting road construction in the core zone. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN strongly urge the State Party and the SWHMC to apply the same management principles prohibiting large scale infrastructure and limiting road construction in the ‘World Heritage protected area’ zone, which has the same World Heritage status as the so-called “core zone”.
As part of post-earthquake construction, previously existing hydropower sites will be evaluated on an individual basis prior to approval for re-construction and, in all cases, the SWHMC will require that any hydropower facility maintain a minimum of 30% original flow. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that while this minimum flow is an important starting point, it may also be necessary to ensure seasonal fluctuation in flow levels in order to support biodiversity downstream of any dams, some of which may need variation to support life cycles. In order to determine the levels required, biodiversity surveys and identification of species that may require such variation will be needed for all dam sites as well as ongoing monitoring.
c) Review the possibilities for future addition of areas of high nature conservation value to the property; with priority on those areas which are particularly important for panda habitat and which are close to but outside the property. Options for developing conservation corridors linking the property with other suitable areas of panda habitat should also be reviewed;
As the earthquake and its aftermath have taken up significant time and resources from the Management Committee and management units, the options for addition of high nature conservation values to the property have been delayed somewhat. However, the mission noted that the SWHMC has identified the Caopo provincial nature reserve (in the North East of the property), the Tianquan and Yingjing counties to the south of the property, both having giant panda populations, as potential areas for expansion.
The mission recommends that once recovery from the earthquake is complete, strong consideration should be given to including the Rongjin Nature Reserve within the property. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN support the mission’s recommendations as Rongjin would provide an important link between the Qionglai and Liang mountain ranges, thereby connecting the panda populations from these two sites and supporting the longer term conservation strategy for the species. Rongjin Nature Reserve already has a management plan and structure in place and could be easily integrated.
d) Progressively increase the level of staffing and resources within all reserves within the property, with the aim of ensuring that the level of staffing and management in all areas of the property is equivalent to that within the Wolong Nature Reserve within a ten year period;
There is highly variable ability to support and undertake biodiversity monitoring programmes in the various management units of the property. Capacity in national forest reserves is higher than in scenic area properties within the site. The National reserves under the auspices of the State Forestry Administration (SFA) are benefiting from the national level efforts on standardizing and regularizing giant panda monitoring and capacity training and ongoing support in these reserves is demonstrated by the more complete monitoring and records available here. Invitations for training for staff within forest reserves are not extended to staff under the auspices of SFA. Therefore, in the scenic area sites within the property, capacity is not strong and the mission recommended that it be raised to the level of the SFA reserves to ensure effective and integrated management of the property.
e) In relation to the existing and proposed dams, ensure that: (i) the impact of the dam at Yaoji, and the associated relocation of people, on the values of the property be closely monitored; (ii) effective mitigation measures are applied at Yaoji to minimize the impacts associated with dam construction, the impoundment and the relocation of the village; with priority to implementing measures to encourage the establishment of panda habitat; and (iii) no additional dams are built within the property.
The Yaoji dam site was built within the buffer zone located in the middle of the property and with resulting significant ecological impacts immediately around the dam site. However, the mission did not observe any obvious changes to habitat within the property boundaries. The Yaoji dam site has altered the flows of the river and the company running the dam, Huaneng, has guaranteed a minimum flow of 30% to ensure adequate flow for downstream ecosystems. However, it may also be necessary to ensure seasonal fluctuation in flow levels in order to support biodiversity downstream of any dams, some of which may need variation to support life cycles.
While Huaneng has stated its intention to undertake adequate biodiversity monitoring, the mission noted that limited work has been done to date on this. Both the dam site and the property include habitat for some of China’s endemic species. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that SWHMC should urgently ensure that Huaneng, working with suitable partners, undertake biodiversity monitoring with follow up actions to ensure that local species, especially endemic species, and the integrity of the ecosystem that supports them, are not threatened by the dam. In particular, Huaneng, should work with local organizations having experience in biodiversity monitoring in this area to identify indicator species and develop and implement an appropriate monitoring programme.
The mission also noted that household incomes have increased as a result of the dam, which has led to increased holdings of yak on high alpine grasslands. The mission recommends that the yak management committee should set clear targets with respect to yak on the alpine grasslands. In addition, an impact monitoring programme is needed for the high alpine grasslands to ensure that increasing numbers of yak are not adversely affecting native biodiversity.
The mission team was informed that there are no plans for any additional dams to be built within the property, beyond the reconstruction of pre-existing dams damaged by the earthquake.
f) In relation to the Wolong Tourism Development Plan, undertake an independent expert review of the existing plan, under the direction of the World Heritage Management Office, to assess the impacts of the proposals on values within the nominated property and to recommend modifications that may be required. The World Heritage Office should also play a role in establishing tourism development guidelines, review of proposals and development of recommendations for mitigation of impacts for any major tourism development which may affect the values of the property;
As a result of the earthquake, some parts of the property were closed to tourism. Wolong remains closed to tourists almost two years after the event. Tourism numbers since the earthquake have fallen precipitously in the rest of the property, but not as much as in Wolong. The mission team noted that tourism guidelines have been drafted but have not yet undergone review. These include general guidance on international and national, local laws and regulations, zonal management rules; impact assessment for infrastructure; management principles for community development; and monitoring and impact assessment with suggested indicators. These guidelines do not yet include specific guidance for particular audiences in the tourism industry such as hotel owners nor do they include suggestions for management of tourism industry staff, for example, the potential option of certification to ensure that tourism-related staff understand the values of the property and actions needed to maintain those values. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN encourage the State Party to rapidly undertake a review of the tourism guidelines, under the direction of the World Heritage Management Office.
g) Address other management issues noted in this evaluation report, including in relation to local populations, scientific research and education;
Considerable portions of the local community, 1269 people, were directly affected by the earthquake and helping them to cope with this disaster has been a priority activity for the past two years. International cooperation projects, supported by inter alia the GEF, UNEP, and the US China Environmental Fund have been working to support livelihoods skills trainings for local people – supporting transition to alternative employment options in tourism, bee-keeping and biogas development. According to reports received, a number of research projects are underway within the property. In addition, discussions regarding collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment on longer term research and capacity building within the property have begun.
h) Consider changing the name of the nominated property to "The Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries" from the currently proposed name of: "The Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries - Wolong, Mt Siguniang and Jiajin Mountains";
The Sichuan World Heritage Management Committee has agreed with this name change.
i) Other conservation issues - the impacts of the Wenchuan earthquake in May 2008
The Wenchuan earthquake in May 2008 was one of the most devastating in China’s history with nearly 70,000 deaths, 375,000 injuries and almost 4.8 million people left homeless. Despite the potentially significant impacts of the quake, subsequent surveys have shown that the damage was limited to the northeast corner of the property and that the loss of habitat for giant pandas, in particular, was relatively minor with less than 3 % of panda habitat being affected. The result is that the integrity and values for which the site was inscribed have not been affected by the quake. The property management plan is being revised to take into account any relevant changes resulting from the earthquake and its recovery. At this time, no changes to boundaries or significant changes to management planning are envisioned. However, some changes to zonation (protected area vs. core area) will be included. The mission recommended that immediate attention should be given to the ecological recovery of earthquake effected sites, with completion, by the end of 2010, of an ecological recovery plan that includes i) identification of key areas for restoration and management strategies for restoration, and ii) strategies for mitigation of impacts from recovery activities, such as infrastructure construction.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN conclude that the State Party has made noteworthy advancements in the implementation of the recommendations adopted at the time of inscription despite the Wenchuan earthquake in May 2008. In particular, significant efforts have been made to enhance management and improve the integrity of the property. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that the values for which the property was inscribed are intact and note that despite the May 2008 earthquake, panda populations are believed to be stable. However, a number of the recommendations made at the time of inscription have only been partially implemented and should be addressed. The main issues requiring immediate attention include enhancing integrated monitoring and management capacity across all 18 management units of the property, establishing and implementing tourism management plans and monitoring programmes, and implementing the ecosystem restoration aspects of the post-earthquake recovery plan, especially in Wolong Reserve. In addition, to strengthen management of the property, the State Party should consider expanding the property to include the Rongjin nature Reserve as a critical link between the giant panda populations of Quionglaishan and Liangshan.