Many people know that the expansion of China’s economy is the fastest in the world, but few people know that the expansion of the China’s forest is also the fastest in the world. In reality, China is the only place where forest is aggressively growing while in many parts of the world, from Amazonia to Southeast Asia, and to Africa, the forests are shrinking, and dying.
Forest covered 9% of China’s territory in 1949. The coverage has increased to 16% now and is project to reach 20% in 2020.
Afforestation: A Strenuous Ecological Project
by Li Kangmei
The global forest coverage is dwindling by 17 million hectares each year.
This problem is arousing concern among the international community. The Paris Declaration adopted by 2,500 specialists from 130 countries and regions in September 1991 appealed to the world to reestablish global green vegetation. The 1992 World Conference on Environment and Development, with the participation of heads of state and government from many countries, listed the global forest as a major topic for discussion.
China, through strenuous effort, has increased both forest coverage and forest stock volume in recent years.
Cultivating Forest Resources
Each year, China creates 5.3 million hectares of forests, afforests another 3.7 million hectares of mountains where hunting and grazing are prohibited, and plants 2.4 billion trees by advancing the compulsory tree-planting campaign. These efforts have stabilized the coverage of the nation’s manually planted forests at 33 million hectares, and China now ranks first in the world in both the speed and scale of afforestation. The country’s current forest coverage rate is nearly 6 percentage points higher than what it was in the early 1950s.
To expedite the development of forestry and strengthen forest protection, the Chinese government has issued a series of legal documents in this regard in recent years. The first economic legislation promulgated by China was the Forest Law which, with the Wildlife Protection Law and other forestry-related decrees enacted thereafter, has put China on the track of governing forestry by law.
In addition, the government has tightened up control over the number of trees allowed to be cut down each year, and firmly curbed the reckless felling of trees that had occurred in some areas.
The country has devoted special efforts on a batch of forest ecological projects. In November 1978, immediately after China launched the reform and opening program, the State Council decided to construct a huge shelter belt crossing north, northeast and northwest China, known as the Three-North Shelter Belt Development Program. This gigantic project, referred to abroad as China’s green Great Wall, is expected to shelter over 4 million square km of land. At present, this largest ecological project in the world has already entered its final phase.
Construction of key ecological projects has significantly improved the ecological environment in the targeted locations, yielding tremendous social benefits. During the construction of the Three-North Shelter Belt over the past 19 years, a total of 18 million hectares of forests have been created, raising the forest coverage rate in the three-north regions from 5.05 percent to 9 percent, and bringing large tracts of desertified land and extensive areas suffering soil erosion under control.
The Three-North Shelter Belt project has also improved the ecological environment for 11 million hectares of farmland frequently hit by sandstorms and hot and dry blasts in the past, helping enhance their grain output by over 10 fold. The 893 hectares of pastures in these regions, formerly deteriorated as a result of desertification and salinization, have also been put under effective protection and registered a 20 percent increase in grass output.
Other forest ecological projects have advanced simultaneously. By 1996, the shelter belts meandering 18,000 km along China’s coastlines had basically merged together; the conservation forest project on the upper-middle reaches of the Yangtze River had completed afforestation covering 670,000 hectares of land; the Taihang Mountain afforestation project had created 600,000 hectares of forests; the national desertification control program had treated and developed 870,000 hectares of deserts; and the four newly launched shelter belt projects in Huaihe, Pearl and Liaohe river valleys and on the upper-middle reaches of the Yellow River had achieved noticeable progress.
These key state projects, covering 60 percent of China’s total land area, are forming an ecological protection network for the nation’s vast territory and a green shelter for its economic development.
Similar efforts have been made by various local authorities. In recent years, Yunnan Province in southwest China has constantly increased input in forestry, increasing its forest area by 200,000 hectares annually. Between 1989-96, the province afforested 3 million hectares of plains and mountains, increasing forest coverage by 16 million hectares when offsetting consumption. The forest coverage rate in Xishuangbanna has surged from 50 percent to the present 63 percent, while that in the Simao Prefecture has increased by 10 percentage points.
By 1997, the country had put 700,000 square km of land suffering soil erosion under control, stabilized the coverage of manually planted forests at 33 million hectares, and raised its forest coverage rate to 13.9 percent.
Despite unremitting efforts, forest coverage on China’s 9.6 million square km of land is still very limited. With its overall forest coverage rate much lower than the world average of 25 percent, China now only registers one-sixth of the global per-capita forest area.
Compared with many other countries, China faces more arduous tasks in forest protection and development. While providing consumption for 22 percent of the world’s population and ecological protection for 7 percent of the global land area, but with only 3-4 percent of the world’s forest resources, China must also tackle problems of ecological environment destruction both left by history and occurring currently.
In general, the trend of ecological deterioration has not yet been fundamentally curbed, and the country still faces a very grim situation.
At present, the land area affected by soil erosion covers 3.67 million square km, and 5 billion tons of soil continue to be lost annually. The 1.61 million square km of desertified land nationwide exceeds the country’s total acreage of cultivated land. Moreover, land desertification continues to expand at an annual speed of 2,460 square km, destroying nearly 100 million hectares of pastures and burying large tracts of farmland under sand. Water deficiency is threatening more than 200 Chinese cities, with the daily short supply exceeding 20 million tons. The species of wild fauna and flora have plummeted, with 15-20 percent on the brink of distinction. The occurrence rate of natural disasters has gone up, resulting in 3 million collapsed houses and 200 million victims annually.
Owing to the country’s sparse forest area, a huge amount of sand has been washed into rivers, muddying the water, raising river beds, and silting up numerous lakes and reservoirs. Besides its ascending river bed, the Yellow River has frequently reported dried sections in recent years. The Yangtze River is turning muddy, sounding an alarm that it is likely to become another Yellow River.
Growing silt and other adverse factors have cut the coverage of Dongting Lake from 4,300 square km in the early 1950s to the present 2,600 square km, and reduced the water surface of Poyang Lake from 5,100 square km to 2,900 square km, dramatically diminishing their flood water storage capacity.
Apart from topographic and climatic factors, limited forest area also is a direct cause of China’s frequent flood and drought calamities.
The value of protecting forest resources greatly outstrips profits from timber production. According to estimates by China’s scientific research institutes, the country’s 134 million hectares of forests can store 340 billion tons of water annually, an amount equivalent to 75 percent of the nation’s total reservoir capacity. Each year, the forests also prevent 7.68 billion tons of sand from silting up rivers and lakes and stem some 24 billion tons of sand from causing further soil erosion.
Facts prove that it is necessary to plant trees and afforest barren land on a large scale. Otherwise, the country’s valuable cultivated land may entail further damage, various natural disasters will not decrease, and the people will not enjoy a sound natural environment.
To protect forests, the Ministry of Forestry has launched reforms in forest areas, shifting the strategy of felling from natural to manually planted forests. Endeavors will be pooled to increase the proportion of manually planted forests designated as timber resources under intensive management to 15-20 percent of the nation’s total forest area.
By then, no felling will be conducted in natural forests, a way to effectively protect forest resources and allow for their ecological functions. By the year 2000, China plans to raise its forestry comprehensive utilization rate to 60 percent, expand the area covered by economic trees to 27 million hectares, and build 1,000 forest parks. The forestry sector’s total output value is expected to top 300 billion yuan through the development of all relevant trades.
China recently set the short-, medium- and long-term goals for completing its ecological environment construction program, a grand systematic project.
For the short-term goal, it will take some 15 years to curb the trend of a deteriorating ecological environment, put man-made soil erosion under control, and stop the expansion of land affected by soil erosion and desertification.
It will require another 15 years to meet the medium-term goal of significantly improving the ecological environment.
The long-term goal, to be attained by the mid-21st century, focuses on the establishment of a sound ecological system suiting the sustainable development of China’s national economy and ensuring that most parts of the country are adorned with beautiful landscapes featuring green mountains and clear waters.
Last edited by wigo; July 28th, 2006 at 10:20 PM.