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National park to heal 'Mother Mountains' in Northwest China

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The Qilian Mountains are known as the "Mother Mountains" by the people of Gansu.[Photo/Xinhua]

China is stepping up efforts to protect a vast mountain range in Northwest China.

On Monday, the management bureau of the Mount Qilian national park was unveiled in Lanzhou, capital of Gansu province. The park, which covers an area of more than 80,000 square km, extends to northern Gansu, and includes the nature reserve of Mount Qilian, in addition to a series of other nearby national parks and wetland.

"The Chinese government will take strict protection measures and make related regulations to help with the construction of the national park," said Li Chunliang, with the National Forestry and Grassland Administration.

The Qilian Mountains stand on the border of the provinces of Gansu and Qinghai. The nature reserve was designated a national protected site in 1988, but hundreds of mines in the area and many construction projects took their toll on the environment.

An ecological restoration campaign was launched in October 2015 across the reserve, which covers close to 2 million hectares, with construction projects under close scrutiny and mines being decommissioned.

The Qilian Mountains are known as the "Mother Mountains" by the people of Gansu. The snow and glaciers of the range water of the Hexi Corridor are an important way for traders to transport their wares along the ancient Silk Road.

The corridor remains important to this day -- more than 5 million people who live along the Heihe, Shiyang and Shule rivers depend on the mountains for their water.

The mountains are known for their natural resources, hence the abundance of mines. Mining is often seen as a fast way to make money. Since the 1970s, the number of mines has mushroomed across the mountain ranges, particularly in the reserve.

"In the peak year of 1997, 824 mines opened in Gansu's Zhangye, of which 770 were in the nature reserve," according to a local resource development official, who declined to be named.

Decades of logging, mining, the building of factories and even tourism, have all had adverse effects on the reserve, including water loss, soil erosion and subsidence.

"If you walk deep into the reserve, you see breathtaking vistas, but you can also see the damage done by the mines," said Fang Yintian, former director of the standing committee of the local legislature. "These are the direct results of over exploitation."

Authorities have not been blind to the destruction caused by all this "development." In September 2015, the Ministry of Environmental Protection summoned the reserve managers for talks. It was as a result of this meeting that mines were ordered to close. Many locals were also relocated to help the grassland in the mountains recover.

In 2017, a government plan was passed to pilot the construction of a national park in the mountains.

"We have been working to restore the environment and the eco-system, and shut down illegal projects, and we have achieved significant results," said Wang Enguang, with Qinghai's provincial department of forestry.

"I have given up herding and opened a restaurant with the help of the government," said Ma Mingqi, who lives near the mountains. "I am glad that our homeland is getting better every day."