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Development, urbanization threaten wetland

By Wang Qian and Zheng Jinran (China Daily)

08:01, May 14, 2012

The Ergun wetland in North China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region is one of the largest in Asia. CHEN DIANJIE / FOR CHINA DAILY

Although the Ergun Wetland Protection Zone attracts more than 1 million domestic and foreign tourists every year, local forestry authorities struggle to balance operating costs for the zone, one of the largest in Asia.

"Besides the costs for daily protection and maintenance, the budget for infrastructure construction is far above our means," said Zhen Guang, head of the Ergun city forestry bureau in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

But money problems are relatively easy to solve, because Zheng is applying for State-level wetland protection zone status, which will bring funding from the State Forestry Administration.

Lack of a national wetland protection law, however, has become the major barrier for wetland preservation across the country, experts said.

"China does not have a national law exclusively for wetland protection. Therefore, local governments have no rights to punish wetland violators, which speeds up the urbanization of wetlands," said Niu Zhenguo, a professor of the Institute of Remote Sensing Applications under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

He added it is common for factories and villas to be built on wetlands or for dams and bridges to choke off the water.

Experts explained that the cost for 1 square meter of land reclamation from wetlands is less than 300 yuan ($47), much less than the price of land available through the market.

At the end of March, media reported that nearly 100 villas were built in Hebi National Wetland Park, Central China's Henan province.

With money to be made, many wetlands have vanished.

Wetland losses from the total 91 national protected wetland zones was about 8,152 square kilometers (almost equivalent to the area of eight Hong Kong) from 1978 to 2008, according to a four-year-assessment by the institute, which was released in February.

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