Artificial forests 'root of eco-crisis'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 March, 2007, 12:00am

Massive tree-planting campaigns on the mainland are doing more harm than good to the nation's already fragile ecosystem, says a leading environmental NGO.

In its 2006 Environment Green Book released on Monday, Friends of Nature said artificial woodlands, pushed by political and economic interests, were squeezing out natural forests at an unprecedented rate.

This was lowering the quality of the nation's forests and triggering severe environmental disasters.

'The cake of green space has grown in size, but it grows only in terms of superficial prosperity and only deepens the ecological crisis,' the report said.

More than 550 million people, or about half the population, helped plant more than 2 billion trees last year, the State Forestry Administration says.

In the past 25 years, 50 billion trees have been planted.

The mainland boasts the most extensive artificial woodlands in the world, covering 53 million hectares and accounting for about half the nation's entire forested area.

But more than two-thirds of the vegetation planted is coniferous and is the only flora in these woodlands. In some provinces, the single-species coniferous forests account for as much as 95 per cent of the trees planted.

Compared with natural forests, artificial woodlands do little to improve soil or absorb water. In some Hubei counties where rapidly increasing forest cover has been reported, soil erosion rates have risen dramatically, the report said.

The document said that when trees are planted in high densities, they are more vulnerable to pests and other natural threats.

More than 400 million trees, most of which were planted by hand, have died annually in recent years due to pests and disease, causing about 90 billion yuan in direct economic losses.

The environmental group also said a rising proportion of artificial forests heralded a gloomy future for the nation's 160 endangered species, and many other animals whose existence was under threat from the ecological shift, habitation fragmentation, hunting and the spread of genetically engineered plant species.

The mainland has planted more than 1 million genetically modified poplar trees in seven provinces.

Despite the consequences, government and business have given no hint of slowing down the pace of growth. The report predicts artificial forests will more than double in size to cover around 100 million hectares by 2010.

The central government launched a forest rights reform last year that privatised 57 per cent, or 168 million hectares of forest, a move that may significantly speed up the extinction of natural forests.