On the borderlands between Inner Mongolia’s rolling grasslands and the Loess Plateau’s dry, dusty canyonlands lies Helinge’er County, the site of an ambitious restoration project planned by The Nature Conservancy and partners.
This arid, windy land of mountains, hills and plains alternates between long, cold winters, and short, hot summers. An important agricultural, pastoral region, the county is viewed as a buffer zone between the Chinese capitol city of Beijing and the sandstorms that blow from the northwest. And the ancient city of Shengle, now a center of dairy production and food processing, may hold potential for sustainable development and a restored environment to work hand in hand.
The Nature Conservancy’s senior scientist for climate change in Beijing, Xiaoquan Zhang, PhD, says this fragile region is important as a potential break for advancing desertification, an anticipated benefit of restoration efforts. With cycles of drought, flooding and extreme storms expected to intensify with climate change, the opportunity to re-vegetate appropriate parts of this region in concert with China’s ongoing reforestation program provides a test case for solutions.
Work is proceeding on a plan to plant more than 6,100 acres with native trees, such as Mongolian Scotch Pine, Chinese Pine, larix, spruce and willow, as well as shrub species like peashrub and sea-buckthorn. With a $2 million grant from The Walt Disney Company, support from the local Laoniu Foundation and partnership with the Mongolia Forestry Department and local communities, the reforestation project will seek carbon storage benefits over 30 years.
Helinge’er is also near the boundary of one of 32 Priority Conservation Areas identified by China, with the possibility of creating a reforested corridor between the Yinshan-Helanshan-West Erdos priority area and two existing nature reserves. Such a conservation strategy could benefit many nationally protected species such as roe deer, foxes, Savanna hawks, goshawks and Bolao birds.
Along with sustainable management of water resources, one goal is to reduce soil degradation and prevent erosion during heavy rains and floods that can damage farming communities in the valleys below mountain streams. Tree planting is expected to start this year.
Learn more about the local landscape in this video with Evan Girvetz, The Nature Conservancy’s senior climate scientist, who visited Helinge’er County’s mountainous region in October 2010.
Lisa Hayden is a blogger and feature writer for The Nature Conservancy
Photos: ©Paul Mackie, (A view from the arid, rocky mountains of Helinge’er County; Xiaoquan Zhang, PhD, The Nature Conservancy’s senior climate scientist in Beijing, hikes in the hills of Helinge’er).
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