Prowling Pandas Become Policy Advisers
Vanessa Hull evaluates the impacts of zoning on pandas in Wolong Nature Reserve in southwestern China
The comings and goings of a pair of girls are helping breathe some life into a zoning policy that's aiming to protect the Chinese environment.
The girls--Mei-Mei and Pan-Pan--are pandas outfitted with GPS collars. Vanessa Hull, a doctoral student from the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability at Michigan State University (MSU), is using the movement of collared pandas to understand the effectiveness of zoning in the Wolong Nature Reserve in southwestern China.
Wolong, like many nature reserves across the globe, is home to both animals and people. Increasingly, governments are turning to zoning ordinances to protect habitats while still allowing people access to a livelihood. People in Wolong historically have farmed, chopped down trees for fuel and construction, kept livestock and accommodated the tourists who stream in to see the beloved pandas in breeding centers.
Hull has spent years periodically living in the Wolong Nature Reserve to understand the delicate balance between pandas and the people who live amongst them.
Wolong has been zoned into three areas. The "core" area strictly limits human activity to reduce human impact on pandas in the wild. The "experimental" area thrives with homes, businesses and roads. In between is a "buffer zone" of limited human access that is intended to acknowledge that it's hard to declare a forest pristine if a hotel is right next door.
The result is a way to understand policy and provide a novel look that goes beyond theory. Hull has shown that zoning in Wolong is protecting some, but not all, prime panda real estate. The study also is helping to show where improvements are needed. These improvements include the following:
"We're showing that you should have zoning in your toolbox to conserve habitat, but it shouldn't be the only tool you have," said Hull. "It needs to be paired with other policies when it comes to human behavior. We know that it is crucial to work directly with people and provide benefits to people to preserve habitat."
--Sue Nichols, Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, Michigan State University
This Behind the Scenes article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.