by Xinhua writers Chu Yi and Zi Qiang
KUNMING, Dec. 20 (Xinhua) -- Breathing with oxygen canisters and wrapped in thick down jackets, lines of tourists carefully climb the Yulong (Jade Dragon) Snow Mountain near Lijiang city in southwest China's Yunnan Province.
With its highest peak reaching 5,596 meters above sea level, the Yulong mountain range has 19 glaciers. December is the down season. Still, hundreds of excited tourists took selfies in front of glaciers and enjoyed the natural beauty.
Li Nilu, 46, lives in Heishuisan Village at the foot of the snow mountain. "In the 1990s, we began to rent coats and horses to tourists from around the world for mountain climbing. A horse ride could earn around 20 yuan (about 3 U.S. dollars) a day at that time, much more than farming," she recalled.
"Lured by handsome profits, almost everyone in our village joined in (the tourism sector)," Li said. "But problems followed - trees were felled and garbage were everywhere."
Last year, 3.7 million people visited the mountain, compared to only 4,700 in 1994, according to the management of Yulong Snow Mountain park.
However, contrasting with the increasing number of visitors are the shrinking glaciers. "We saw much more snow in the 1990s. We have lived our whole life here so we can really feel the shrinking," Li said. "I'm really concerned about Yulong's 'hair loss' issue. Some say it is going bald."
Li's worry is not groundless. Human activities and global warming are threatening Yulong's ecosystem. "Especially in the last twenty years, Yulong's snow line has been rising while its glaciers are gradually melting," said Wang Shijin, head of the observation and research station of glacier and environment in Yulong Snow Mountain, under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
"According to the natural law of climate change, the glaciers won't disappear in a short time. However, excessive human activities could worsen the situation of glacier retreat," Wang said.
To protect the glaciers, China has taken a variety of counter-measures. Last June, the CAS re-launched a comprehensive survey on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, on whose southeastern edge lies the Yulong. Scientists began to conduct surveys on glaciers and lakes, to achieve systematic solutions to glacier protection.
Lijiang has limited the number of the Yulong visitors to 10,000 a day and has implemented a rehabilitation and protection program in the area, constructing large groups of wetlands and lakes at the foot of the Yulong and making artificial snow on a regular basis to increase humidity that decreases temperature and slows melting. Vegetation in the area was gradually increased.
To avoid excessive human activities, the administrative committee of the Yulong Snow Mountain launched a reform in 2006, replacing local villagers with a professional tourism agency to provide services in a more scientific, systematic and standardized way.
"Local villagers can get a compensation and use the money to develop agriculture as well as other business, and professional operation in the scenic area can greatly reduce harm to the environment. The policy has yielded a win-win result between economic growth and ecological protection," said Liang Guoxiang, deputy director of the committee.
According to Liang, more than 166 million yuan (24 million U.S. dollars) of compensation has been given out in the past 13 years.
"Activities that may damage the environment such as horse riding have been banned, and we also removed sheds and booths that villagers set up in the past, to restore the ecosystem of Yulong and promote sustainable development of the tourism industry," he said.
The four-member family of Li Nilu will be compensated with 9,000 yuan each year in the next five years, plus income from dividends from collectively-operated businesses in the village and house rent.
Other parts of China are also taking actions.
In northwest China, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region has banned glacier tours and prevents any behavior deemed harmful for the ecosystem of local glaciers. Last year, a government plan was issued to enhance research on glacier protection.
Yan Weitao, deputy head of the environmental protection bureau of Urumqi County under the jurisdiction of the regional capital, said 65 herdsmen previously living in the core area of the Urumqi Glacier No. 1 have been relocated. The government compensated a total of 37.86 million yuan for grassland expropriation and relocation fees.
In Gansu Province, tours to the Laohugou Glacier No. 12 are also off limits to visitors.
"Joint efforts are needed to fight against melting glaciers and global warming. It's good to see more people realize that compared with destruction and conquest, restraint and protection are better tributes to mountains and nature," Wang Shijin said.