China home to world’s largest monoculture forest area

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Following more than 60 years of work to repopulate forests across China, the country is now home to almost 70 million hectares of monoculture forest (often referred to as ‘artificial’ forest), the highest amount in the world.

According to the head of the State Forestry Administration, Zhang Jianlong, afforestation work to ensure China’s forest acreage has grown has taken the artificial forest tally to 69.3 million hectares. Overall, the total forest acreage in the country, which includes both artificial and natural forest cover, has increased from under 100 million hectares in the 1950s to 208 million hectares today. While forest land covered 8.6 per cent of the country in the 1950s, it now covers 21.66 per cent of the total land area, Mr Jianlong confirmed to delegates at a recent national event regarding the acceleration of afforestation work held in Hohhot.

China’s State Forestry Administration plans to plant even more trees in the coming years, concentrating on the areas along the Belt and Road Initiative region as well as the Yangtze River economic belt and the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region.

The beginning of the major tree planting initiative to in China was in 1979, when the country implemented a 70-year long programme to plant trees in its northern, northwestern, and northeastern regions in a bid to boost the overall eco environment. As a result of regular droughts, a lack of awareness about the importance of conservation and excessive lumbering, the country’s existing forest land was not in good health. The water quality had deteriorated rapidly as a result of these issues, as well as increased soil erosion and desertification in the country, none of which are conducive to strong forest growth.

China’s efforts towards increasing and maintaining healthy forest cover across the country have paid off, with desertification decreasing over the past ten years and the overall desert land area continuing to shrink. Indeed, the area of once productive land that has now fallen into desert has shrunk by an annual average of 2,424 square km for more than a decade now, Mr Jianlong confirmed in a statement.

China started to stop its deforestation in 1998, focusing more heavily on plans to stop the issue after former president Hu Jintao pledged to slash carbon emissions ahead of the 2009 Climate Change meeting held in Copenhagen, Denmark. In 2011, the country’s first wide-ranging logging ban was rolled out in the northern province of Heilongjiang, in a bid to slash global warming.

However, despite the logging ban being welcomed by many who say it was long overdue – just two per cent of China’s original forests were remaining thanks to years to deforestation – others argue that more needs to be done to protect the vital forest land.

The overwhelming majority of trees planted in China comprise the eucalyptus forest, Japanese cedar forest and bamboo forest monocultures. Studies show that planting monocultures does not encourage birdlife and wildlife to anywhere near the levels that planting native forest would do. Planting monocultures on this scale can even have a negative impact on biodiversity. Research led by Princeton University has found that overall the best environment for birds and bees in China is native forest as opposed to the forests reestablished under the nation’s Green-for-Grain Program.

Moreover, the Environmental Investigation Agency’s (EIA) Faith Doherty told The Telegraph: “With the amount of timber that China consumes globally, I doubt very much if this ban will have any major effect on global carbon emissions.

“Logging bans serve one purpose and that is to protect the domestic forests of said country. It does not address the fact that China still wants raw material in order for both domestic consumption as well as manufacturing for domestic and international markets.”

Mr Jianlong said that China had become the “world factory for wood”, providing the vast majority – up to 80 per cent of the globe’s wood furniture and 50 per cent of its wood products.

GWD Forestry spokesman, James Barrett, said: “The insatiable demand for timber and timber products means that China must strike a balance between meeting demand and protecting the precious forest land for environmental reasons as well as those who depend on it for their livelihoods.”

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