Sacred Forests in northwest Yunnan, China: a conservation priority?
Sacred sites around the world are serving as de facto nature preserves for biodiversity conservation. Much attention is focused on mapping them (see http://www.sanasi.org/SANASI/public/home.jsf), and potentially, incorporating them into conservation planning. However, Teri Allendorf and her colleagues questioned whether the incorporation of Tibetan sacred forests into Chinese conservation networks was appropriate in the case of northwest Yunnan Province.http://silvis.forest.wisc.edu/publications/Sacred-forests-are-keystone-s... Jodi had previously done field work and research that culminated in her PhD degree, in northwest Yunnan region in China. In this part of the world, certain patches of forests are considered sacred and protected by villages. What does that mean? It means that people go into the forest to pray to and light incense because they believe their lives will be blessed and filled with joy and success if they do so. Jodi's interest in these areas was related to their biodiversity and she focused mainly on registering which bird species occur in those sacred forests. Jodi published a bird field guide both in English and in Mandarin as a result of her work (http://birdsofshangrila.forest.wisc.edu/). To complement Jodi's biodiversity study, they conducted interviews with the local residents in the villages who protected the areas. They were interested in understanding how local people value sacred forests and if their relationship with the forests might be changing. Their research found that local residents see this small sacred forest patches almost only as religious areas. They do not value them as wildlife habitat or as an area that provides other ecological benefits such as clean water or soil protection. In fact, the forest serves a single purpose, a place to go to pray for good luck and future benefits.This perception of the forest is the same across different age groups and everyone goes to pray in the forest, which indicates that people's religious appreciation of the village sacred forest does not appear to be decreasing.