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Grasslands and Grassland Sciences in Northern China
throughout this region and left the land bare in many areas. For example, from 1950 to 1990 in the village of Wulanaodu, which is located in the center of the banner, the human population increased by more than 13 times, from 23 to 328, and the number of livestock 44 times, from 266 to 12,031, with significant growth recorded for animal numbers of all types. Villagers recall that in the 1950s the grass was dense and tall, whereas today it is sparse and short. As the vegetation has disappeared, sand dunes have begun to move across the landscape. According to one estimate, 47% of Wengniute has been degraded, salinized, and/or alkalinized. Despite desperate attempts to erect windbreaks, fix dunes, and reintroduce vegetation, it remains questionable whether the natural resources of this area can sustain the current pressure of people and animals, much less the heavier loads that seem destined for the future.
Some 250 km northwest of Wengniute, across the Daxinganling Mountains and up on the Mongolian Plateau, is the "typical" grassland of Xilingele League.1 There are differences in natural conditions between these two sites: The former has sandy soils, whereas the latter exhibits greater variety, from basaltic-derived soils in the south, through sandlands in the center of the region, to granitic-derived soils in the north. Xilingele is also higher in altitude (ca. 1000 m versus 500 m) and has a lower average annual temperature (0°C versus 6.3°C), but precipitation in the two areas is comparable (300–400 mm), and both have experienced the same centrally directed influx of Han migrants, sharp increases in human and livestock populations, and expansion of cultivated land.
What most clearly distinguishes the two areas is the density of their human populations. Wengniute Banner, south and east of the Daxinganling, in a slightly warmer region more suitable for agriculture and closer to the center of the Han population, has about 35 persons/km2, whereas Xilingele, which is on the plateau, cooler, less amenable to agriculture, and further from the cities of northern China, has no more than one-tenth that number. Some grasslands of Xilingele, near settlements and watering sites, show signs of degradation, but in most places the vegetation remains intact. Differences of human impact are more significant than natural conditions in accounting for the variation in the state of these grasslands.
The reforms of the 1980s, which were designed to increase production, have had uncertain effects on the grasslands of these areas. Throughout China, grazing animals have been distributed to producers under the "household responsibility" system. At sites visited in Xilingele and Wengniute, family herds reportedly range in size from 25 to 100 cattle and 100 to 300 sheep, with a few horses. However, there is considerable variety in the allocation of range-lands. In Xilingele, each herding family is assigned a fodder field, where it has exclusive right to cut grass for winter feed, whereas pastures are held in common and herders are free to graze their animals on any available land. Because