Field Museum gives Parker/Gentry Award to Chinese conservationist


Prof. Yang Yuming, outspoken critic of damming Nu River in Southwestern China, wins prestigious award

Rice paddies outside the Gaoligong Mountain National Nature Reserve in China's Yunnan Province, through which the Nu River runs. One of the primary threats to the reserve is chemical runoff from such fields.
Photo by Debra Moskovits, courtesy of The Field Museum
Click here for a high resolution version of this image.

CHICAGO--The Field Museum will give its ninth annual Parker/Gentry Award to Prof. Yang Yuming, one of the People's Republic of China's foremost conservation advocates. He is a leading opponent of the massive project to build 13 dams on the Nu River in Southwestern China that was to begin construction this year.

The Nu is one of only two major rivers in China that has not been dammed. Last year, UNESCO named it a World Natural Heritage Site. Before emptying into Myanmar and Thailand, the Nu runs 1,750 miles in China through the "Grand Canyon" of China and some of the most biodiverse regions in the world.

Prof. Yang will receive the award at a special reception on May 25 at The Field Museum. He will be in Chicago and available for interview May 23-28, at which time the museum will issue a proclamation to support China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in his decision last month to suspend the construction of the Nu dams. Other institutions signing the proclamation calling on the government to cancel the project and protect the region and its people include the Morton Arboretum, Chicago Botanic Garden, Nature Conservancy (Illinois Chapter), Openlands Project, International Crane Foundation, Brookfield Zoological Society, Canal Corridor Assn., and Center for Humans and Nature.

"Prof. Yang is a key advocate for the Nu, one of the last pristine rivers in Asia," said Doug Stotz, ornithologist and conservation ecologist at The Field Museum. "It flows through the home to some 7,000 plant species, a significant number of them endemic to the region, and 80 rare or endangered animal species, including the snow leopard and Yunnan snub-nosed antelope. Almost certainly, it is home to new species waiting to be discovered."

Last year, The Field Museum published a report on the region's rich biodiversity based on a Rapid Biological Inventory (RBI) conducted by several partners, including the Center for United States-China Arts Exchange at Columbia University and the Southwest Forestry College in Kunming, China, where Prof. Yang is Vice President. Prof. Yang led the Chinese team members on the RBI.

Many plants found during the Rapid Biological Inventory of the Gaoligong Mountain National Nature Reserve are new to science. This fungi of the Marasmius genus has not yet been named.
Photo by Greg Mueller, courtesy of The Field Museum
Click here for a high resolution version of this image.

"This inventory helped convince the authorities to reconsider damming the Nu, and Prof. Yang's role was critical," said Gerald Adelmann, Executive Director of Openlands, which also participated in the RBI. "Opposition to the dam is a litmus test for China, which is allowing dissent about the Nu dams and earning respect worldwide for its openness and environmental concern on this issue."

In addition to being the home of incredible biodiversity and breathtaking scenic beauty, the Nu runs through the home of many diverse cultures. In fact, the Yunnan province is home to 25 of China's 55 recognized ethnic minorities. Many of these peoples, whose culture and heritage have been closely tied to the land for hundreds of years, would lose their way-of-life if the Nu dams were built. Other dam projects around the world have endangered, displaced or destroyed communities.

The RBI surveyed ethnic minorities living near the Nu, including the Han, Lisu, Bai, Dai, Yi and Hui. It identified resources and capacities that could help the communities develop economic activities, such as ecotourism, that would be compatible with the local ecology and culture.

The Nu dams are planned to generate hydroelectric power to help fuel China's rapid growth. They would provide 21.3 million kilowatts of electricity, surpassing the power of the controversial Three Gorges Dams on the Yangtze River by more than 3 million kilowatts. Small wonder that Nu means "ferocious" in Chinese.

"Due to the inevitable devastation that the Nu River dams would inflict on the environment and culture, we strongly oppose them," said Debra Moskovits, Vice President of Environment and Conservation at The Field Museum. "Prof. Yang's commitment to conservation and scientific research, as well as his recognition of China's global responsibility, is clear."

Established in 1996 by an anonymous donor, the Parker/Gentry Award honors an outstanding individual, team or organization in the field of conservation biology whose efforts have had a significant impact on preserving the world's rich natural heritage and whose actions and approach can serve as a model to others.

The Award bears the names of the late Theodore A. Parker III and Alwyn Gentry, ardent conservationists and leading naturalists. Parker, an ornithologist, and Gentry, a botanist, died on August 3, 1991, while surveying hill forests of western Ecuador. The pair worked closely with Field Museum scientists on several joint efforts, including the rapid inventories for conservation.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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