2004 Yang Yuming

Yang Yuming

Yunnan Province is a global biodiversity hotspot. From the Meili Mountains to the Honghe River Valley this geographically and ecologically diverse province has more plant species than any other in the country, including more than 160 species of rhododendron and azalea, and many medicinal herbs. The Xishuangbanna prefecture in northwest Yunnan is particularly important botanically as many species are endemic to these last remnants of the most northern stands of Asian old growth tropical wet forests. Thirty endangered animal species including snow leopards and red (lesser) panda, add to the significant faunal diversity of the province. Yunnan is also home to 25 minority cultures, approximately half of the country's 56 ethnic groups. The Yangtze, Mekong, Salween (Nu) and Irawaddy - four of the world's major rivers - pass within 55 miles of each other in northwest Yunnan, offering abundant hydro-energy, potential fuel for China’s current extraordinary acceleration in economic development. However, unsustainable fuel-wood collection, expanding agriculture and over-harvesting of plants and animals continue to threaten the survival of the region's wildlife and ecosystems, where, in the face of modernization and social change, China’s richly varied minority cultures are struggling to maintain their precarious hold on traditional ways. Contributing to the threat is a controversial proposal, which calls for the building of 13 dams along one of the few remaining pristine rivers in the area, the Salween or Nu River. The Nu River runs through a unique canyon region designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.

Professor Yang is a leading opponent to the Nu River dam project and has long been an outspoken advocate for conservation in China, calling attention to the urgent need to protect and study the unique biodiversity of the country. He has repeatedly demonstrated his commitment to protecting and conserving the environment, carrying out a number of comprehensive scientific surveys mandated by the Yunnan Provincial Forestry Department and executed by SWFC. These surveys and his ongoing research have facilitated the establishment, preservation and maintenance of a number of critical conservation areas and reserves in this globally important hotspot. His firm belief in good science informing and shaping policy, is nowhere more evident than during his leadership of the Chinese members of the recent Rapid Biological Inventory multidisciplinary, multinational team to Southern Gaoligongshan, Yunnan Province. The rapid inventories were coordinated by the Center for U.S. – China Arts Exchange, University of Columbia, New York; Openlands, Chicago; Southwest Forestry College, Kunming, China; Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve Boashan Management Bureau, Yunnan, China; The Yunnan Provincial association for Cultural Exchanges with Foreign Countries, Yunnan, China; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, Chicago and The Field Museum and were made possible by funding from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Center for United States– China Arts Exchange, and The Field Museum. For more information about rapid inventories at The Field Museum, visit http://www.fieldmuseum.org/rbi/.

Rhododendron Forest at 2900 m, along the Southern Silk Road. Image courtesy of Robin Foster.Prof. Yang was promoted to his current position as the Vice President of the Southwest Forestry College (SWFC) in 1997. The Southwest Forestry College was established in Kunming, by the Forestry Ministry in Beijing in order to train forest officers in tropical forestry research and to achieve sustainable land use for Yunnan Province. As Director of the Institute of Bamboo and Rattan Research; Prof. Yang is a world-renowned expert on bamboo, with many publications on the taxonomy, ecology, sustainable use and conservation of bamboo. Through his leadership of these venerable institutions, he has played a significant role in training Chinese scientists and conservationists, thereby building scientific and institutional capacity within the country and ensuring scientifically sound conservation policies for the good of future Chinese generations. International collaboration has played an important role in Prof. Yang’s career from his early involvement in the Tropical Ecology Support Program aimed at sustainable natural forest management in Xishuangbanna, through the establishment of permanent monitoring plots, and subsequent doctoral student programs, to his recent collaboration with the multinational rapid inventory team. Not only is his commitment to future Chinese generations clear, but his ongoing research programs including the establishment of the Quinghua – SWFC Union of Biodiversity Conservation, demonstrate his recognition of the global responsibility of China.

This year, we have the privilege to honor Prof Yang Yuming as an individual who has made an enormous difference to conservation in China. He has been an active and effective advocate for conservation efforts in Yunnan, championing preservation projects that greatly benefited from his support. His engagement, abilities and outstanding achievements are clearly apparent and The Field Museum is proud to present the ninth annual Parker/Gentry Award to Professor Yang Yuming, Vice President of the Southwest Forestry College (SWFC), and Director of the Institute of Bamboo and Rattan Research, SWFC, Yunnan, China.

For more information on the unique flora of this South-Central China hotspot. visit hengduan.huh.harvard.edu/fieldnotes.