Nu River Dam Threatens Unique Chinese Ecosystem

A massive dam project planned for the Nu River in southwestern China threatens to wreak havoc on a region that contains one of the world’s least-disturbed temperate ecosystems. The area, designated by the U.N. as a World Heritage Site, contains old-growth forests, 7,000 species of plants, and 80 rare or endangered animal species — all told, a fourth of China’s indigenous plant species and half of its native animal species. While no one expects to be able to stop the project, it has become a focus of China’s nascent environmental movement, with private enviro groups, the State Environmental Protection Agency, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences speaking out in an effort to push the project in a more eco-friendly direction. While not as internationally controversial as the Three Gorges Dam, the Nu River project is part of the same drive to develop western China’s energy resources to fuel the relentless economic boom in the east, a drive many claim is harming politically powerless peasants. Provincial official Wu Fan expressed little sympathy: “If it were not for the founding of the People’s Republic, these people would still be living a primitive way of life, like monkeys or ape-men.”