Workshop yields collaborative solutions for conservation and sustainable development in Sichuan

April 9, 2014

New, collaborative strategies for maintaining China’s rich biodiversity emerged from a workshop hosted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Chengdu Institute of Biology and the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies March 17-18 in Chengdu. 

The workshop was coordinated to build a framework for research collaboration between the two institutes and to explore opportunities for the Nelson Institute to help train conservation managers, at both university and provincial bureau levels, through innovative curriculum designs. Cooperative efforts between these institutes extend back to the 1970s and have been recently renewed around issues of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. 

Established in 1970, the Nelson Institute is one of the world’s foremost institutes of the environment, with expertise in the protection of biodiversity and sustainable economic development on human-dominated landscapes. Because southwestern and western China are home to some of the world’s most prolific biodiversity, the institute can bring valuable expertise to partnerships with Chinese academic and provincial environmental management bureaus says Nelson Institute Director Paul Robbins, who delivered a keynote speech at the workshop.

With the Wisconsin
Idea as a backdrop,
the Nelson Institute
and the
Institute of Biology
now aim to build
on the cooperation
generated at the

In his remarks, Robbins outlined global trends in conservation and the strong potential for improving overall biodiversity on landscapes that fall outside the boundaries of traditional protected areas. While recognizing the important role of protected areas for conservation, he emphasized that by rethinking where conservation occurs, both researchers and managers of conservation and development can innovate their management strategies for improved ecological outcomes across a range of landscape types. As an example, he cited his fieldwork in India, where intentional modifications in diversified agricultural landscapes have vastly improved levels of biodiversity.

Keynote speakers at the workshop also included Zhao Xinquan, director general of the Chengdu Institute of Biology, and Wu Xiaoling, director of the Sichuan Bureau of International Cooperation. Zhao’s speech focused on sustainable development and management of alpine grasslands, while Wu spoke about the importance of international cooperation and exchange between China and the United States. 

UW-Madison’s guiding mission, known as the Wisconsin Idea, provided a key theme throughout the workshop. The Wisconsin Idea states that real-world challenges must drive university research questions and subsequent management applications. This idea has special value for international cooperation between the institutes, faculties and governments, since it engages multiple sectors to solve complex problems for greater social benefit. 

With the Wisconsin Idea as a backdrop, both institutes now aim to build on the cooperation generated in Chengdu to establish more formal institutional relations on research and develop partnerships that better train environmental managers and students in the practice of conservation. 

Nathan Schulfer is professional programs coordinator for the Nelson Institute professional master’s program in environmental conservation