Rare birds flocking back to Yellow River
By YUAN SHENGGAO
Efforts to clean up the environment behind biodiversity revival
Tourists and photographers alike were glad to see that thousands of white egrets had gathered at the Yellow River wetland in the county of Pinglu, Shanxi province, in August.
While impressed with this rare and spectacular sight, tourists agreed that the arrival of so many white egrets, which are said to be extremely sensitive to the environment, is a sign of a substantial improvement in the local ecosystem.
The Pinglu wetland is not alone. Local media reports said that rare bird species have been spotted in many sections of the Yellow River, which runs nearly 1,000 kilometers through Shanxi, as well as in the river's tributaries in the province.
Local wildlife researchers said the new arrivals include swans, white egrets and black storks.
The arrival of such birds is evidence of Shanxi's efforts to protect its ecological system, they said, especially in the Yellow River drainage basin, which aim to create a pleasant habitat for both humans and wildlife.
China has recently carried out a campaign to promote the protection of the Yellow River drainage basin, targeting the sustainable development of regions along the river.
Shanxi is an important link of this national campaign. To respond to related strategic decisions made by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council, Shanxi has established a leaders' group. Members including the Party secretary of Shanxi, the provincial governor and other senior officials. The group's mission is to propose plans and regulations for protecting the Yellow River basin.
Under the guidance of the leaders' group, the Shanxi provincial government released a plan for the ecological protection and high-quality development of the Yellow River drainage basin in June. Another seven documents were released to assist the plan's implementation in the two months that followed. At the same time, 11 cities in the province released their regional plans for implementing the wider provincial plan.
According to the provincial plan, Shanxi's efforts in protecting the Yellow River drainage basin include building projects for ecological restoration, pollution prevention, flood control and water resource utilization. It says a total of 300 billion yuan ($43.41 billion) will be invested in 90 large projects in these regards during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25).
Shanxi has witnessed steady improvement of water quality in the Yellow River basin over recent years.
During the first six months of this year, 44 monitoring stations, or 75.9 percent of the total number of stations in the Yellow River basin, reported good or excellent levels of water quality. This is 11.5 percent higher than the figure in the same period of 2021.
Among all the Yellow River tributaries in Shanxi, Fenhe River is the largest. It has received almost the same level of attention as the Yellow River. Over the past few years, local governments have channeled huge amounts of investment into restoring 245 flood-destroyed reservoirs. They have repaired six reservoirs with hidden risks and enhanced 34 sections of embankment. These efforts are targeted at controlling floods and increasing water supply to the river, according to local officials.
The decadeslong campaigns in afforestation and soil erosion control have also contributed to the environmental improvement of the Yellow River drainage basin.
A part of the Loess Plateau, Shanxi has suffered soil erosion for centuries. Soil washed away by the rain has been eventually made its way to the Yellow River, making it the No 1 silted large river in the world.
The province's efforts in planting trees and grasses have greatly improved the environment of the Yellow River drainage basin. The increased vegetation coverage has contained soil erosion and increased the runoff of rivers, according to the Shanxi Forestry and Grassland Administration.
Its statistics show that the province has planted 2.78 million hectares of trees since 2012. Forest coverage reached 23.57 percent by the end of 2020, higher than the national average.
Another effort to protect the Yellow River's environment is the promotion of clean industrial production and the development of clean energy resources, with the aim of preventing water and air pollution.
This is in line with the Chinese government's plan for cutting carbon emissions, which aims to achieve carbon peak in 2030 and carbon neutrality in 2060, according to local officials.
While promoting coal mining, coking, steelmaking and other heavy industries toward clean production and higher efficiency, the province is now highlighting the development of solar and wind power, as well as hydrogen used as vehicle fuel.
The capacity of power plants based on clean energy resources now accounts for 34.3 percent of Shanxi's total, local statistics show.
Shanxi witnessed rapid growth in the development of solar and wind power industries during the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20). Windpower generation capacity increased at an average annual rate of 24.16 percent during the period. Meanwhile, the growth rate for solar-power generation was 63.22 percent. It ranked Shanxi among the fastest-growing provinces in the two sectors.
Another area that Shanxi wants to highlight is using the river to develop the cultural tourism industry. The Yellow River is seen as the mother river of China and a tour of it is a dream that many Chinese people want to realize.
In Shanxi, the Yellow River is one of the top three signature attractions along with the Great Wall and the Taihang Mountains.
There are a total of 39 scenic sites along the river rated above A class, including 22 4A and 5A sites. The highest rank for scenic areas rated by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism is 5A.
Zhang Liyuan contributed to this story.