China's economic growth may be helping panda habitat recovery
June 11, 2008
Using remote sensing to detect change in forest cover and panda habitat over past 20 years, Xiaodong Chen of Michigan State University and colleagues found a 19 percent increase in total forest cover in and around Wolong Nature Reserve, and an 18 percent expansion of panda habitat. The improvement reversed a significant decline in forest cover both inside the reserve and the surrounding "zone of interaction" from the 1970s to the 1990s.
Because harvesting of timber and fuelwood were the primary drivers of forest degradation in the Wolong area during this time, Chen speculated that rapid economic growth and urbanization outside the reserve since 2001 may have reduced the pressure on forest resources. He cited the transition to electricity and non-wood building materials from fuelwood and timber as examples. Chen said that most food production occurs outside the area so urban growth has not increased demand for agricultural land in the zone immediately surrounding Wolong.
Chen said these trends have been augmented with strong government intervention in forest protection efforts, including payments for reforestation of hillside croplands (Grain-to-Green Program) and a forest conservation program (Natural Forest Conservation Program).
Chen concludes that long-term monitoring of land cover and human activities should be conducted both in Wolong and the surrounding "zone of interaction."
Wolong Nature Reserve is located about 120 kilometers northwest of Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan Province, China. Established in 1963, Wolong famous for its population of the critically endangered giant panda. About 10 percent (150 animals) of the world's wild population of panda are found in the 200,000 hectare reserve. Wolong is also home to more than 4,000 species of higher plants and over 100 types of mammals.
Chen presented his research at the annual meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC).