China is planning a major cleanup operation for Mount Everest next year and may limit the number of climbers and other visitors, Tibet’s environmental protection chief was quoted as saying Monday.

The cleanup and new measures are planned for the second half of 2009, Zhang Yongze told the official Xinhua News Agency.

China has already enacted some restrictions, including forbidding vehicles from driving directly to the base camp at 16,995 feet (5,180 meters), Zhang said. That was necessary to preserve the fragile Himalayan environment and melting Rongbuk glacier at the base of Everest, which has retreated 490 feet (150 meters) in the past decade, Zhang said.

He said further management was needed, including possibly limiting visitor numbers, but gave no details.

“Our target is to keep even more people from abusing Mount Everest,” Zhang was quoted as saying.

Calls to the environmental protection bureau rang unanswered on Monday.

At 29,035 feet (8,850 meters), the mountain is the tallest in the world.

Everest, which lies on the Chinese-Nepali border, featured most recently as the backdrop for the Beijing Olympic torch relay, in which a team of Chinese and Tibetan climbers carried the torch to the summit and back down again.

Chinese authorities enraged climbers by convincing Nepal’s government to join it in completely shutting down the mountain for several days during peak climbing season to prevent any possible disruption to the Everest leg of the relay.

Zhang described the Olympic expedition as a model of environmental responsibility, saying climbers, support crews and media had carted away large amounts of garbage and relied on a pair of “environmental toilets” to keep from fouling the mountain.

A climbing official in Nepal said he had not received any information from China on its plans to restrict access to the mountain next year.

Mountaineering department official Ramesh Chetri said Nepal planned to keep Everest open for the 2009 spring climbing season.