Trip Report: China’s National Park System Evaluation

June 12, 2019

Photo By: Rudy D'Alessandro, National Park Service

Trip Report:  China’s National Park System Evaluation

By: Jon Jarvis

May 22-June 5, 2019

Over two weeks, with funding from the Paulson Institute, Institute Executive Director Jon Jarvis led an interdisciplinary team to China to evaluate their efforts to establish a National Park system.  Accompanying ED Jarvis were UC Berkeley Professor Steve Beissinger and recent UCB Master’s graduate Thea Yang.  Also as a part of the team were two former National Park Service employees Doug Morris and Keith Dunbar, both with distinguished careers in park management and planning, two employees of the Paulson Institute, Rose Nui and Lucy Yu, and Travis Winn, an American citizen who has been living in China for 10 years, leading river rafting trips. National Park Service International Affairs Specialist for Asia, Rudy D’Alessandro was our “official US Government” representative. We were accompanied by two important Chinese officials: Madame Du Jinmei, the Deputy Division Chief, International Cooperation Center, Ministry of Ecology and Environment, and Mr. Tian Junliang, the Deputy Director of the Sanjiangyuan Pilot National Park. We had four members of the team who were fluent in Mandarin and English.

After a brief orientation in Beijing, we flew to Xining, the provincial capital of Qinghai Province. From there we traveled in four vehicles for eight days, covering over 3000 KM, with an average altitude of 4000 m (one pass was at 5000m). The 123,000 square kilometer (30 million acres) Sanjiangyuan Pilot National Park is the headwaters of three major rivers:  the Yellow, the Yangtze and the Mekong which serve at least 900 million people downstream. The area is sparsely populated, mostly nomadic Tibetan yak herders with small remote villages. Known as the “third pole” it is cold, dry, and high elevation. It is beautiful country, with most of the species of wildlife still resident.  We saw antelope, gazelles, griffins, hawks, wild donkeys, white lipped deer, foxes and one lone wolf. We did not see a snow leopard.  There are vast wetlands, high mountains, glaciers and roaring rivers.

We attended at least a dozen meetings with local officials and heard both their vision for the pilot park and their concerns.  We noted a lot of really positive efforts and also some things that are concerning regarding the conflict between development and conservation.  This effort to establish a national park system as a part of President Xi’s “eco-civilization” and “beautiful China” and the local governments have gotten the message. Making it work is the hard part, and they were all eager to hear from us on our experiences with national parks in the US and around the world.  

We closed out with a full day meeting in Beijing with over 20 officials, reporting on our findings and observations. The team unanimously recommends that Sanjiangyuan become China’s first National Park under the new program, as it has world class resources, both natural and cultural.  An important component is the embracing of the Tibetan culture and belief system in Sanjiangyuan as a part of its stewardship, capitalizing on the Tibetan respect for all life. 

ED Jarvis will be returning to China to present the results of the first report in August (19-20) at a National Park Forum in Xining. The full report on Sanjiangyuan National Park is due in November.  ED Jarvis will be also preparing a report on the budget/finance of the new China National Park System and preparing two training programs for their central government leadership in September and November at UC Berkeley.

Based on this experience, ED Jarvis has confidence that this effort to create a national park system in China is quite serious and has the support at the very top of the Government. The Institute for Parks, People and Biodiversity has the opportunity to build a program of conservation of national parks that will foster national pride in China, putting conservation of their parks in every classroom and potentially affecting the biodiversity of China as well as the planet.  


Institute Executive Director Jon Jarvis (6th from the left), Professor Steve Beissinger (12th from left) and UC Masters’ Graduate Thea Yang (1st on left) with review team, Paulson Institute and government officials in the Qinghai Province, China