20080318-deforestaion in Yunnan.jpg
Deforestation in Yunnan
Currently around 14 percent of China is covered by forests. Most of these are in the northern, southern and mountainous central parts of the country. There are some tropical rain forests in Yunnan Province in southern China and in other provinces along the southern coast.

Illegal logging and slash and burn agriculture consume up to 5,000 square kilometers of virgin forest every year. In northern and central China forest cover has been reduced by half in the last two decades. The mountains in southwest China have suffered serious deforestation, logging, hunting and collection of plants and animals for traditional medicines.

The last remaining large stands of forest are in northeast Manchuria. Even these are being cut down at an alarming rate to be "made into chopsticks, toothpicks and Ping Pong paddles." Most of China's rain forests along southern coast are threatened although a few areas are protected.

The furniture industry in China gobbles up large amounts of Chinese timber as well as illegally-logged tropical rain forest timber from Indonesia and other places. The use of disposable chopsticks uses up 1.3 million cubic meters of timber a year according to China’s environment ministry.

Between the mid 1990s and mid 2000s China went from being a country that imported much of its wood products to one of the world’s leading exporters of furniture, plywood and flooring. China is also a leading consumer of paper. While many paper products are made with recycled paper China still has built a number of new pulp mills and in the future they will need trees to keep them going.

Chinese demand for wood is consuming foorests around the globe. The rain forest of the Congo and Cameroon in central Africa, the Amazon basin and the islands of Indonesia are all being heavily logged to supply China’s growing demand for wood and its rapidly-growing furniture industry.

Websites: Water Wars Pulitzer Gateway ; Paper on Coping Strategies pdf file ; Old FAO article ; Beijing’s Desert Storm ; DEFORESTATION Chinese Lumber Industry ; Terra Daily Report Terra Daily Report Environment Websites and Sources: China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environmental Protection (MEP) EIN News Service’s China Environment News Wikipedia article on Environment of China ; Wikipedia ; China Environmental Protection Foundation (a Chinese Government Organization) ; ; China Environmental News Blog (last post 2011) ;Global Environmental Institute (a Chinese non-profit NGO) ; Greenpeace East Asia ; China Digital Times Collection of Articles ; International Fund for China’s Environment .

Affects of Deforestation in China

Clear cutting and overgrazing have turned large areas of Qinghai province into a desert. Large tracts of forest also being cut down in Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces have threatened the home of the giant panda.

Logging and resulting erosion in the Yangtze River basin and along other rivers are believed to have caused devastating floods, landslides and mudslides that have killed thousands of people, washed away roads and caused billions of dollars in damage

Deforestation is blamed for the 4 percent decline in rainfall, 15 percent in the dry season, in the Xishuangbanna area of Yunnan, where 50 percent of local forest have been deforested

Deforestation in Tibet

In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Chinese logged the forested areas of Tibet very intensively. The film “Cutting Down Tibet”, made secretly by a Tibetan, shows huge logging camps in southern Tibet and trucks loaded with trees10 feet in diameter.

Deforestation has turned once clear streams muddy brown. An increase in the number of livestock animals and a rising demand for fuel is threatening to strip the valleys of vegetation. Run-off from denuded mountain slopes is believed to have been a factor in excessive flooding of the Yangtze River in 1998.

Deforestation has been slowed since the 1998 Yangtze flood. Logging has been banned in Omda, Markam and Gonjo counties in Tibet in part to prevent erosion from filling in the Three Gorges Dam reservoir on the Yangtze. Large reforestation projects are being carried out.

Combating of Deforestation in China

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More deforestation in Yunnan
China has banned logging in natural forests, earmarked $10 billion for reforestation projects and plans to spend $1 billion a year over 30 year to expand protected areas.

To reduce consumption of wood China has imposed a five percent tax on wooden flooring and even chopsticks.

The Min River valley, near panda habitats in Sichuan, is focus of ant-logging efforts. Lumber jacks are being trained as tree planters, logging is banned in some areas of Sichuan and Hubei provinces.

Following a widespread ban on logging in 1998, China's forests have started to recover but its paper mills, flooring firms and furniture makers consume more imported wood than ever, accelerating forest loss in Siberia, Indonesia, Tanzania and Brazil. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, October 18, 2010]

Chinese college students have organized a boycott of an Indonesian paper company for destroying tropical rain forests

Reforestation in China

China is engaged in a massive tree planting program too revitalize its forests and timber industry, conserve its soil and halt deforestation and reduce its reliance on imported timber.The government has planted millions of trees since the 1970s and turned large swaths of for formally barren land into forests. The effort was undertaken mainly to control floods and erosion but also has the added effect of combating global warming by soaking up nearly half a billion ton of carbon dioxide a year.

On the basis or reducing carbon emissions, huge tree planting efforts in China have offset deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia. In Asia, the tree planting program in China more than offset deforestation in other parts of Asia to produce a net increase in the amount of forested land in the Asia-Pacific region between 2000 and 2005.

A study published in 2006 in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found many of the world’s forests are making a comeback and some are more thickly forested now than they were 200 years ago. The great gains have occurred in China, Ukraine, Spain, Vietnam and the United States while the greatest losses have occurred in Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Philippines.

A 4,500 kilometers long Green Belt has been created in northern China with 35 billion trees.The planting in the north has been done in one-mile wide strips and the survival rate of the millions of acres reforested has been 70 percent. Another belt of trees has been planted in southwest China as a protective measure against typhoons.

Through its tree planting scheme China hopes to boost its forest cover to 20 percent by 2010. Tree-planting is considered a civic duty that must be performed by every person in China. The amount of land covered by forest in China has increased from 9 percent in 1949 to around 13 percent today.

After the Yangtze floods in 1998, a logging ban was imposed in natural growth forests and massive reforestation project was launched on the Yangtze watershed. Terraces on slopes steeper than 25 degrees are to be planted with grasses, bushes and trees. Huge tracts of farmlands are to be converted back to wetlands, pastures, forests and lakes.

Some of the reforestation work is done by sapling hole diggers who, for a days work, are “paid four or five packets of instant noodles which they consume dry because no water is available. In some cases holes are dug and terraces are built but no saplings are planted. When asked why one villager told the Los Angeles Times, “Because our labor is free, but they’d have to pay for the trees. The local officials embezzle the money instead.” When saplings are planted is when a Beijing VIP or television crew shows up.

20080318-water erosion

Erosion and Salinization in China

Logging, overgrazing and poor land use cause erosion which in turn causes lakes and rivers to silt up, arable land to be eaten away, and flooding to increase because vegetation that catches rainwater and slows its flow into rivers is gone.

Soil erosion is common on China's crop land that is not irrigated. The Yellow River--which drains much of Northern China-- derives its name from the 1.6 billion tons of eroded, ocher-colored topsoil that it annually transports to the ocean.

See Floods, See Desertification

Waterlogging and salinization affect 23 percent of the irrigated land in China and significantly reduce production on an estimated 15 percent of China's irrigated land. An estimated 6 million acres of land has been damaged by salt.

Image Sources: 1, 2) Nature Products; 3) ESWN, Environmental News; 4) IIASA; 5, 6) FAO; 7) Julie Chao ; 8) Landsberger Posters; 9) UNCCD

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2012

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