Dauria International Protected Area (DIPA)

The Russia-Mongolia-China Dauria International Protected Area (DIPA) was founded at the junction of the borders between Russia, Mongolia and China on 29 March 1994. Four specially protected nature areas of the three countries were combined to create DIPA:

  • Daursky Zapovednik (state nature reserve) and Tsasucheisky Bor National Wildlife Refuge under Zapovednik management in Chitinskaya oblast of Russia;
  • Mongol Daguur strictly protected nature area in Dornod aimag of Mongolia, which borders on the Russian reserve;
  • Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China.

The creation of this trilateral protected area, consisting of functionally connected wetland and steppe habitats, was of special importance for biodiversity conservation in Dauria, particularly for the protection of migrant species of birds and mammals. Besides biodiversity and ecosystems conservation, the main target of the international protected area is monitoring of natural processes and phenomena in the Dauria steppe ecosystem.

Despite the differences in nature protection regimes and in the management and staff of the three areas, DIPA as a united international reserve has been a conservation success. Since the first years of DIPA’s existence, the area was managed to promote cooperation, first in science and later in environmental education.

The first stage of the econet’s development included a joint inventory of animals and plants within the reserves. During the twelve years since establishment, more than 300,000 km? of the region have been investigated by joint scientific expeditions. Surveys also covered the upper reaches of the Amur-Heilong basin from the Khentii to the Great Hingan Mountains. The total length of the expedition routes has exceeded 100,000 km. This enormous tri-national survey was a great opportunity to acquire data on biodiversity and distribution of rare species, define conditions of regional ecosystems, and also to select key areas for conservation of a number of species. (see Map Dauria Steppe Global 200 ecoregion protected areas.)

Dauria represents a narrowing of the transcontinental migratory flyways for birds. Thus, the region is globally important for conservation of a number of migratory and nesting birds. Among these are 30 species on the IUCN Red List (including globally rare or vulnerable), five species of cranes, swan goose, relict gull, and others. The most valuable and important data concerning conservation of individual species of birds were acquired for the white-naped, red-crowned, hooded, and demoiselle cranes, as well as swan goose.

The Ramsar Convention Bureau recognized the region’s importance and listed the reserves comprising the DIPA as wetlands of international importance. All three reserves were listed. A current plan calls for the presentation of the international protected area as a united transboundary wetland. Other globally important areas have been identified, including the Argun (Erguna) and Huihe River floodplains, Lake Buirnuur, and Aginsky lake-steppe complex. All have special importance with respect to Ramsar Convention implementation .

Another significant and model result of the joint work is research on the abundance, population structure, and geographic distribution in Dauria of the Mongolian gazelle. This enabled a set of recommendations for gazelle conservation in Mongolia and for their population recovery in Russia.

Thorough analysis of the information obtained in joint scientific research revealed that ecosystem fluctuations and redistribution of animal populations are strongly correlated with cyclical climate fluctuations. During droughts the decrease in numbers of breeding great bustards on Mongolian steppes is accompanied by increases in forest steppes and forests of Transbaikalia. Increased numbers of nesting red-crowned cranes on the Argun River and their appearance on the Torey Lakes occurs together with decreases in numbers of nesting cranes in the Far East.

Awareness of such climate-induced phenomena allows for a more objective estimate of the long term threats to the region’s biodiversity. Such awareness also allows for more robust conservation planning. For example, with the beginning of the dry period, negative factors such as fragmentation of animal habitats and fires are of greater consequence. Disturbance of animals by people is also a greater concern due to increased competition for water. This situation is especially apparent in Mongolia where pastures are often situated near nesting areas of cranes and crucial parts of migratory routes of Mongolian gazelle are blocked by large numbers of yurts (portable homes used by nomadic herders).

Careful analyses of ecosystems and populations of rare species in relation to natural and anthropogenic factors enabled DIPA workers to propose a number of conservation measures. These included: (i) an interconnected multi-level regional network of protected areas; (ii) programs for conservation of critically threatened species, and (iii) integration of economic development planning with conservation planning to achieve sustainability.

In Russia, Mongolia, and China sites were identified for protection as strict nature reserves. When suggesting the category for the new reserves both biodiversity significance and socio-economic factors were taken into account. For example, increasing the area of buffer zones of the Daursky and Mongol Daguur reserves and of the transit zone of the Dalai Lake reserve was more practical and useful than enlarging the area of the core zone of the reserve. The main purpose of enlargement was to secure temporary migratory paths across a very large territory, which can be achieved through buffer zone management regulations just as easily with new core area. At the same time, with participation and assistance of DIPA personnel, new protected areas were founded. These are Aginskaya Steppe Zakaznik (Wildlife Refuge of regional importance in Russia) and Onon Balj National Park in Mongolia. Work to create a high-level protected area on Lake Buirnuur in Mongolia was underway in 2006, as was the planning for a Russia-China transboundary reserve on the Argun River floodplain. Goal-oriented action plans for the conservation of great bustard, swan goose, cranes, and Mongolian gazelle are currently being elaborated.

Table. Importance of Daurian ecoregion for conservation of some rare birds species (after Goroshko 2006)

Species

Number in the region

Percent of world
population

Swan Goose (Anser cygnoides) 41,000 75
Great Bustard (Otis tarda dybowski) 1,050 66
Demoiselle Crane (Anthropoides virgo) 73,000 37
White-naped Crane (Grus vipio) 1,400 29
Relict Gull (Larus relictus) 2,430 20
Siberian Crane (Grus japonensis) 275 13
Hooded Crane (Grus monacha) 1,200 13
Asiatic Dowitcher (Limnodromus semipalmatus) 300 2

 

It is important to note that several new protected areas are being established in the border regions of the three basin countries. The gazettal of Onon Balj National Park and the Mountain Steppe Refuge on the Mongolia-Russia border are the first steps toward the establishment of a new transboundary protected area in the Onon basin named “Source of the Amur.” The establishment of nature reserves on the Russia-China border (the Argun River floodplain) and the Mongolia-China border (Lake Buirnuur) – and their subsequent incorporation into DIPA — will secure all three reserves of the international protected area with a single common boundary. This is of special importance for ensuring the conservation of a valuable natural ecosystem and for establishing a single wetland, transboundary biosphere reserve based on protected areas in Russia, China, and Mongolia. Globally important biodiversity features along with a rich cultural history will make DIPA a viable applicant for trilateral World Heritage Site listing.

To construct a network of connected protected areas in Dauria it is especially important to consider the interaction between DIPA and other reserves of the region. This will enable the design of more intelligent research projects and more targeted environmental educational programs while promoting cooperation among the three countries. At present, joint activities in different fields bind the international protected area with Huihe National Nature Reserve and Sokhondinsky Zapovednik (Bioshere Reserve) in China and with Alkhanai National Park in Russia.

Cooperative environmental education in DIPA is one of the biggest advantages over a traditional piecemeal approach to protected areas. It is important not only for popularizing the protected area and raising the level of ecological awareness, but also for strengthening public relations between the neighboring regions of Russia, Mongolia, and China. Cooperative conservation education began with joint presentations in Mongolia and Russia to describe the reserves. International environmental art competitions were organized for children. Examples of cooperative work now underway include the preparation and publication of jointly collected information in popular scientific editions, international environmental camps for children, seminars for protected area staff, the design of a joint web-site, and a base for the development of national and international ecological tourism.

Cooperative environmental education is closely tied to one task of DIPA as a biosphere reserve — facilitating sustainable regional development and reducing conflicts over natural resources. At present, all national parts: Daursky, Mongol Daguur, and Dalai Lake reserves are listed as UNESCO Man and the Biosphere reserves.

Socio-economic features of the border regions differ considerably in the type of settlements, economic structure, and living standards. Yet the three countries share many social and ecological problems that DIPA can help resolve by promoting ecological and educational tourism in the region. Today all three reserves have worked out excursions and tourist routes and have constructed visitor-centers. However, the standards of tourism infrastructure in the three countries and levels of state support for tourism enterprises vary widely.

Cooperation at DIPA is not the only story and we must touch also on transboundary tensions. The main problems are: (i) lack of state financing for international activities; (ii) communication problems (absence of translators from reserve payrolls); and (iii) difficulties in crossing the borders to work cooperatively in the border zones. This situation is due mostly to under-funding of international reserves as a special form of protected area by the national governments of the three basin countries.

Nevertheless, the 14-year history of DIPA convincingly demonstrates the benefits of and bright prospects for this form of international cooperation. As a complex nature-protection institution, DIPA can achieve numerous goals at regional, inter-governmental, and global levels.

This is true primarily for scientific research and monitoring carried out according to regional or global programs and protocols. Such programs are vital because of the reserve’s position on the crossroads of migratory flyways of birds. The compilation of shared and comparable databases enables objective estimation of the conditions and trends of ecosystem change in relation to natural conditions as well as anthropogenic factors, all of which vary across the Dauria ecoregion. Using reliable transnational data obtained from these cooperative programs, qualified scientists can elaborate effective programs for regional restoration and conservation of biodiversity. This must lead to enhancement of the interconnected network of Dauria protected areas by including a range of stakeholders from education, commerce, and state and public agencies.

Having gained experience of international cooperation, DIPA occupies a central position in the organization of an effective system of interaction and collaboration of all nature reserves in the region. Based on its role in scientific and environmental work, DIPA can be a powerful educational and cultural center, in particular, as an international scientific station and a base for field training of students.

At the same time, international protected area arrangement, however fruitful, cannot alone ensure full preservation of Dauria steppe and wetland ecoregion in its entirety. For example, water transfers from the Haila’er/Argun, Khalkh, Kherlen, and Onon Rivers proposed by China and Mongolia are likely to negatively affect wetland ecosystems throughout Dauria. DIPA staff can assist research on possible environmental impacts of water transfers on biodiversity, but transboundary water resource management lies far outside its realm of responsibilities. This example clearly demonstrates that securing of sufficient ecological linkages necessary for ecosystem conservation and resource management is an issue that should be resolved through ecological network planning. Management of transboundary river and lake basins is the responsibility of water management agencies rather than of protected area management units. To overcome this potential barrier to integrated basin management, present and future agreements on transboundary waters in the dry Dauria ecoregion should be fully coordinated with ecological network development. The rich and unique research data produced by DIPA should be fully considered when making management decisions that affect biological resources by altering hydrologic regimes.

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