Has the reforestation effort done little to abate China’s great yellow dust storms ?

China’s Reforestation Programs:
Big Success or Just an Illusion?

China has undertaken ambitious reforestation initiatives that have increased its forest cover dramatically in the last decade. But scientists are now raising questions about just how effective these grand projects will turn out to be.

 Jon R. Luoma, a contributing editor at Audubon, has written about environmental and science topics for The New York Times, and for such magazines as National Geographic and Discover - http://e360.yale.edu/images/features/jon_luoma_yale_e360.jpg

Jon R. Luoma, a contributing editor at Audubon, has written about environmental and science topics for The New York Times, and for such magazines as National Geographic and Discover – http://e360.yale.edu/images/features/jon_luoma_yale_e360.jpg

by jon r. luoma

EXCERPT

In China, major environmental degradation caused by deforestation was apparent even 2,000 years ago, when the great waterway once simply called “The River” was visibly transformed. Tree-felling all along the river’s banks wiped out root systems that held erosion in check, allowing tons of sediments to spread their stains into what has been known ever since as the Yellow River.

In the years after World War II, with its population booming and a massive drive to industrialize in full swing, China became an epicenter of world deforestation, clearing land wholesale for purposes that ranged from growing more food to fueling furnaces for smelting steel. More recently, however, the nation appeared to be reversing that trend, largely with massive campaigns to plant trees. In the first decade of the new millennium, China annually increased its forest cover by 11,500 square miles, an area the size of Massachusetts, according to a 2011 report from the United Nations.

But scientists and conservation groups are beginning to voice concerns about the long-term viability of significant aspects of China’s reforestation push. Of greatest concern is the planting of large swaths of non-native tree species, many of which perish because their water needs are too great for the arid regions in which they are planted. China also is cultivating large monoculture plantations that harbor little biodiversity.

Some international conservation groups, working with Chinese partners, have launched small-scale reforestation and grassland projects using native species, but it remains to be seen whether these ventures can help usher in a new era of more ecologically sound reforestation in China.

Read the full article: Environment 360

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.