Forest: fade out

  • 29/06/2001

Extending as far west as the Tarim and the mountains of the Tian Shan range, as far east as the forests of Heilongjiang province and as far south as the tropics of Hainan island, China's topography is vast and contains a broad range of biologically diverse species. The World Wide Fund for Nature ( wwf ) notes that China is home to more than 2,800 kinds of terrestrial and aquatic vertebrates, 500 mammals, 1,186 birds, 380 reptiles and 280 reptiles. China's growing population and economy threaten this biodiversity. Over the past several decades, forests on the Hainan Island have decreased by 65 per cent. Nearly 60 per cent of virgin forests in Yunnan have been cleared. In the past 40 years, the country's forest cover has halved, and covers only 14 per cent of the total land area.

Southern China, with the greatest percentage of the country's biodiversity, is at an especially high risk. Historically, forests have not been managed properly. During the Mao era, trees were felled in irreplaceable quantities to supply fuel to furnaces for smelting metals. Animals were over-hunted. In the post-Mao era, despite the increased attention paid to environmental conservation, forest areas and biodiversity have continued to suffer as a result of the dramatic economic growth. The country is struggling to supply enough timber to meet the current demands, having experienced an increase in annual consumption from 196 cubic metres between 1973-76 to 344 cubic metres in 1982-88. The 1998 floods along the Yangzi river brought the world's attention to the devastation wrought by excessive timber harvesting and inadequate afforestation planning. The widespread overfelling of trees resulted in damages that could potentially have been avoided. The Chinese government reacted quickly after the disaster to prevent similar catastrophes elsewhere, and banned upstream logging in Sichuan, Yunnan and Tibet.

Although China has established and ratified a series of laws relating to forestry and biodiversity

Related Content