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China plans first national park

China is planning its first national park in the dense forest of northeast Heilongjiang Province, in an effort to balance environmental protection and moderate tourism development.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection and National Tourism Administration announced on Wednesday they had approved a site in the southern area of the Xiaohinggan Mountains (Lesser Hinggan Mountains) at the source of the Tangwang River, a tributary of the Songhua River.

"This region is home to the most intact and typical virgin Korean Pine forest in Asia, as well as more than 100 rare species of trees such as Dragon Spruce and Faber's Fir," said a joint statement issued by the departments.

It features diverse plant and animal life. Among its 612 identified species of plants, 10 are endangered and 40 of the 250 species of wild animals are similarly classified.

The region also has a spectacular granite landscape formed in the Triassic age (about 199 million to 251 million years ago), the most typical and beautiful site of its kind found in China, the statement said.

The park will join about 10,000 national parks in more than 200 countries and regions.

Previously, China had no "national park" system akin to Yellowstone National Park in the United States, for example. Instead, there were natural reserves of different levels and national Scenic and Historic Interest Areas. The latter was sometimes considered equivalent to national parks but their management stressed sightseeing more than environmental protection.

"Through this project, we would like to introduce the concept and management of a national park," the statement said.

The park is expected to rule out development projects that would harm the environment and limit areas open to tourists.

But the project is still in a very early stage. The park area has yet to be defined. Detailed information about the investment and management is not available, according to a ministry source.

(Xinhua News Agency October 8, 2008)