YUSHU, Qinghai, March 12 (Xinhua) - Lozang Thub reaches into his traditional Tibetan robe and proudly presents a withered green booklet, an inspection certificate that qualified his father as a forest ranger. On the inside is a rare photo of the old man.
He has carried it since his father died in 2009 as a reminder of his inspiration to become a ranger in western Qinghai province's Sanjiangyuan (Sources of Three Rivers) nature reserve.
"I keep this picture with me at all times. It was my father who inspired me to be a ranger," said the Tibetan herder.
Locals like Lozang Thub, 54, are the core of protection efforts at Sanjiangyuan, the headwaters of the Yangtze, Yellow and Lancang (Mekong) rivers in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai.
As China plans to establish Sanjiangyuan National Park, thousands of local herders will be hired as rangers to guard against poaching, polluting and illegal mining.
Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed the protection of Sanjiangyuan and the building of China Sanjiangyuan National Park when discussing with lawmakers from Qinghai during the ongoing annual parliamentary session.
"We should protect the environment like protecting our eyes and treat the environment the way we treat our lives," the president said. He also called for concerted efforts to tackle poverty in the ethnic Tibetan region.
The Sanjiangyuan National Park will cover 123,100 square kilometers. The Yangtze River area of the park alone will span 90,300 square kilometers including 15 villages and more than 20,000 people. Local people will remain in the park, following their traditional way of life, said Lyu Yuan, a spokesman for Yushu city's environment protection office.
The government will hire one member of each family in the region as a salaried ranger for poverty relief and to further motivate the locals in environment protection, he added.
The park is mostly a mechanism of zoning and management. There will not be much visible barriers other than a few signs to separate the buffer zones and core conservation areas. Some tourism and educational projects will be allowed on the edges of the park. The buffer zone allows only approved scientific research. The core area strictly bans any activities, Lyu said.
GURDIANS OF HEADWATERS
"Paid rangers and local volunteers are guardians of the great rivers that affect the life of billions in Asia," Phuntsokdawa, president of Yushu' s literary federation said.
For years, Lozang Thub had ranged on horseback, braving the biting wind of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau's long winters, or on foot when water from the Tanggula Glaciers flushed down to the wetland in warmer times. It was not until last year that he got a motorcycle from the local forestry department.
Longbao, an hour's drive away from Yushu City, the seat of the prefecture, is one of a web of wetlands in the Sanjiangyuan Area. The wetlands purify the waters that form the great rivers and supports the ecosystem of many rare plants and animals.
However, the wetlands have an extremely fragile ecology because of the harsh conditions that come at altitudes of more than 4,000 meters.
The long winters allow little time for plants to grow. Efforts to restore ecology are complicated and often futile or need years to take effect, said Zheng Guiyun with the provincial forestry department.
As a ranger, Lozang Thub has extensive responsibilities - to prevent pollution, excessive herding and look out for poachers. In reality, most of his work involves monitoring and protecting black-necked cranes that breed in the wetland.
To intercept egg thieves who could sneak from any direction, Lozang Thub and other rangers take turns sleeping in tents on a slope at the center of the wetland. They often have to walk on barefoot as shoes easily get stuck in the marsh. Rheumatic arthritis is common among the rangers.
About 10 rangers patrol the 10,000 hectares of Longbao Wetland Park.
Lozang Thub said he has nothing to complain about. But his son Teswang Rigden said the job took a toll on Lozang Thub's health and sometimes egg thieves throw stones at him.
The provincial government is planning to build another wetland park along the Dequyuan River in Yushu, also part of the headwaters of the Yangtze River. About 1,000 additional rangers of wetlands will be hired by Qinghai's forestry department and their pay will be increased from 1,000 yuan to 1,800 yuan, Zheng said.
The pay is decent for Lozang Thub who started with only 300 yuan years ago. "Black-necked cranes have been with us since my childhood. Whatever the pay, I'll treat them like family," he said.