When most of Asia is cutting down its forests, China stands apart. In the last two decade the massive country has gained over 30 percent forest cover. However, a new opinion piece in Nature by Jianchu Xu, with the World Agroforestry Centre and the Kunming Institute of Botany, argues that China’s growing forest is not what it appears to be. The problem, according to Xu, is that the statistics of forest cover include monoculture plantations.
“Most of [the gain in forests] results from the increase in tree crops such as fruit trees, rubber and eucalyptus, not recovery of natural forest, yet Chinese data do not record this shift. The change threatens ecosystem services, particularly watershed protection and biodiversity conservation,” Xu writes.
A number of studies have shown that monoculture plantations are losers in terms of biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration over natural forests. In China, Xu says some landowners have taken to cutting down natural forests and replacing them with plantations, but such environmental degradation is not reflected in the data.
“Since 2008, forest tenure reform has encouraged the privatization of former collective forests, with more than 100 million hectares affected. Privatization can benefit local economies. But in the absence of any management framework, it has also promoted conversion of natural forests into plantations: smallholders often fell natural forests for immediate income, then plant monoculture tree crops for long-term investment,” Xu explains.
China’s reforestation project is not without positive results however. A study this year found that tree planting on the eroded banks of the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers had decreased erosion by up to 68 percent in some areas. Landslides linked to massive deforestation killed nearly 400 people in the region in 1998. Participants in this program received subsidies for foregoing farming on the land.
Still to safeguard ecosystem services, Xu recommends that China employ the best science possible in its tree-planting initiatives with a focus on payments for restoring natural forests, not planting artificial ones. In addition, he writes, the rural poor should be aided in planting industry trees within farmland.
Reforestation program in China preventing future disasters
(05/13/2011) China’s response to large-scale erosion with reforestation is paying off according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). The 10-year program, known as Sloping Land Conversion Program (SLCP), is working to turn some 37 million acres back into forest or grasslands after farming on steep slopes in the Yangtze and Yellow River basins had made them perilously susceptible to erosion and flooding.
(11/24/2010) As more nations adopt better laws and policies to save and restore forests at home, they may, in fact, be outsourcing deforestation to other parts of the world, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Looking at six developing nations where forests are recovering—instead of receding—the study found only one of them did not outsource deforestation to meet local demand for wood-products and food, a process known as ‘leakage’.
(10/06/2010) A new global assessment of forest stocks by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows continuing loss of primary forests since 2005 despite gains in the extent of protected areas. FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010 reveals some 13 million hectares of forest were cleared between 2000 and 2010, down from around 16 million hectares per year during the 1990s. Loss of primary forest—mostly a consequence of logging—averaged 4.2 million hectares per year, down from 4.7 million hectares per year in the 1990s.