V. Protection of the Ecological
Environment and Biodiversity
The Chinese government regards ecological environmental protection as the focal point of its environmental protection work. Through protracted efforts the country has made outstanding achievements in the protection and nurturing of the ecological environment.
-- Achievements have been made in afforestation. Since the 1950s the Chinese government has organized large-scale tree planting activities and stepped up efforts for the fostering, protection and management of forest resources and consequently has made great progress in rational utilization of forest resources. Since the reform and opening up the afforestation efforts have been quickened, with the quantity increased annually and the quality improved continuously, thus basically eliminating the deficit in forest reserves which had existed for a long period, while the growth of forests has begun to exceed consumption. As a result, the era of increase both in forest acreage and reserve has dawned on the country. Currently, China's forest area totals 134 million hectares, which brings the country's forest cover up to 13.92 percent. Artificial afforestation covers 33.79 million hectares. Volunteers have contributed a total of 4.4 billion person-times to planting 23 billion trees. Once-barren mountains suitable for tree planting in 12 provinces and autonomous regions are now clothed with greenery.
The government has paid special attention to the construction of forest ecological projects. Since 1978 China has established ten forest ecological projects, with a scheduled afforestation area of 120 million hectares -- aimed mainly at protecting and improving the natural eco-environment and realizing the sustainable use of natural resources. These projects are: the ``three norths'' shelterbelts (the western area of Northeast, and the northern parts of North and Northwest China), the shelterbelts along the upper and middle reaches of the Yangtze River, the coastal shelterbelts, the plain farmland shelterbelts, the Taihang Mountains afforestation project, the anti-desertification project, the shelterbelts for comprehensive control in the Huaihe River and Taihu Lake basins, the shelterbelts for comprehensive control in the Pearl River basin, the shelterbelts for comprehensive control in the Liaohe River basin, and the shelterbelts along the middle reaches of the Yellow River. Currently, the ``three norths'' shelterbelts project has finished its first and second phases, resulting in a newly afforested area of 18.51 million hectares and increasing the forest cover from 5.05 to 8.2 percent. This project has turned more than 40,000 sq km of barren land into green land and more than 1.3 million hectares of desert land into farmland, pastures and orchards. Twelve percent of the total desertified land has been worked on, and 10 percent of it has been brought under control, more than 11 million hectares of farmland have been protected by forest networks, while 8.93 million hectares of grassland have been restored, resulting in a 20-odd percent increase in grass output. The agricultural eco-environment in one third of the counties covered by the ``three norths'' project has entered a benign circle. The shelterbelts project along the upper and middle reaches of the Yangtze River has yielded a total of more than 5.46 million hectares of newly planted forest in seven years. A grand total of 1.6 million hectares of forest has appeared since coastal shelterbelts project was launched in an all-round way in 1991, which basically covers the 18,000-kilometer-long coastline. A total of 769 counties or cities covered by the plain farmland shelterbelts have reached their tree-planting goals, accounting for 84 percent of the total 918 counties in the plain areas. The Taihang Mountains afforestation project has already produced a total of 1.02 million hectares of afforested area since it was launched in 1994. The above large-scale eco-system construction projects have gradually improved the eco-environment in a considerable number of areas.
-- Grassland construction has made progress in the phasal sense. The protection and management of grassland resources is reinforced by governments at all levels in line with the Grassland Law, and activities such as unauthorized reclamation, excessive digging and overgrazing are forbidden. With the combined efforts of the state, the collective and individ"iuals, grassland construction and control over grassland desertification and deterioration have been strengthened. According to statistics, the total area of artificially sown grass and improved meadows has reached 11.757 million hectares, and that of fenced meadows, 8.333 million hectares. The 49 key comprehensive demonstration projects for grassland stockbreeding constructed by the state have made great achievements. By the end of 1994 a total of 5.638 million hectares of artificially sown grass had been completed, which has blazed a new trail for developing animal husbandry and ecological environmental protection in the areas with arid and desertified land and those with serious soil erosion.
-- Marine environmental protection has been strengthened. Marine environmental protection is a major component of China's environmental protection efforts, as the country has a vast maritime territory. A series of laws and regulations concerning marine environmental protection has been published, and a nationwide marine environment monitoring network has been set up. Coastal waters have been divided up into zones for administration and effective environmental management is practiced for offshore construction projects, offshore petroleum exploitation and wastes disposal so that marine pollution and resources destruction are taken well in hand, and efforts have been made to prevent ``red tide'' and protect offshore fishery resources. By the end of 1995 14 national-level marine nature reserves had been set up. The water quality in most of China's maritime zones and the surrounding ecological environment have been basically kept in good condition.
The Chinese government has for a long time made unremitting efforts for biodiversity conservation, formulating the China Program for Nature Conservation and China's Action Plan for the Conservation of Biodiversi"ity, containing the policy, strategy and key fields and priority projects for biodiversity conservation.
China has adopted the on-site conservation and off-site preservation methods to protect biodiversity. Currently, there are 612 national-level rare and endangered species of flora and fauna listed as key protection species, including 258 species of wild animals and 354 species of plants. Artificial reproduction has been successfully implemented for more than 60 species of rare and endangered wild animals, and through propagation, such species as David's deer, wild horse and saiga tatarica have been re-introduced.
Establishing nature reserves is the most effective method for the in situ conservation of wild plants and animals. By the end of 1995 799 nature reserves of rather diversified types, covering a total area of 71.85 million hectares (or 7.19 percent of China's territory) had been established in China. There are 99 national-level reserves, of which ten -- Jilin's Changbai Mountains, Sichuan's Wolong, Guizhou's Fanjing Mountains, Hubei's Shennongjia, Fujian's Wuyi Mountains, Xinjiang's Mt. Bogda, Guangdong's Dinghu Mountains, Inner Mongolia's Xilingol, Jiangsu's Yancheng and Yunnan's Xishuangbanna -- have been listed in the International Network of Men and Biosphere Reserves. Another six nature reserves -- Zhalong in Heilongjiang, Xianghai in Jilin, Boyang Lake in Jiangxi, East Dongting Lake in Hunan, Bird Island in Qinghai and Dongzhai Harbor in Hainan -- have been included in the list of the world's important wetlands. At present, a total of 512 historic and scenic sites has been designated, of which 119 are at the national level, 256 at the provincial level and 137 at the city or county level, covering a total area of 9.6 million hectares. Forest parks total 710, of which 248 are at the national level. Scenic spots at Huangshan Mountain, Wulingyuan, Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong are listed as parts of the world natural and cultural heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The establishment of nature reserves has put a number of representative and typical natural eco-systems with scientific research value as well as rare and endangered species under effective protection.
Establishing zoological gardens, botanical gardens and various artificial breeding centers is an effective method for off-site preservation of various species of wild animals and plants. By the end of 1995 China had set up 175 zoological gardens and zoological exhibition sites in public parks, 227 artificial breeding centers for wild animals, more than 60 large botanical gardens and 255 wild plant gene and cell banks to ensure the continuation of rare and endangered species of plants and animals, including the giant panda, Chinese alligator, Chinese sturgeon, white-flag dolphin, Manchurian tiger, crested ibis, Cathay silver fir, dovetree, Cycas revoluta and camellia chrysantha tuyama. In addition, China has established some dozen specimen centers, one gene bank and two cell banks for wild animals, which have helped genetic polymorphism research and preservation work. The medicinal use of and trade in rhinoceros horn and tigerbone are strictly prohibited by the government, and the illegal hunting of rare wild animals is severely punished by law.
The government has placed much stress on the preservation of the genetic materials from domestic animals and fowls, as well as germ plasma resources from crops. There are 596 species of livestock and poultry in China, of which over 70 percent are native species. The government has appropriated special funds for preservation of some endangered or sharply diminishing species of livestock and poultry and established a germ plasma gene bank for livestock forage grass. China had initially formed a preservation system for germ plasma resources from crops, including one national germ plasma bank for long-term preservation and a duplicate one, 23 local germ plasma banks for mid-term preservation, and 25 national germ plasma nurseries, of which two are for test-tube culture. The germ plasma resources of most agricultural plants in China are preserved, including 330,000 specimens of germ plasma for various species of crops, of which 300,000 have duplicates.
The government also attaches great importance to the environmental protection of the Tibet Autonomous Region. The environmental quality in Tibet today has been kept in an excellent condition. The atmospheric environment there has attained the state's first-level quality and the water quality of major rivers and lakes is also higher than the national standard for the surface waters environmental quality. Forests and grasslands are under effective preservation. The forest area in Tibet totals 7.17 million hectares and the stumpage, 2.084 billion cubic meters. The total grassland area amounts to 82.07 million hectares, of which 70.77 million hectares are usable. With an elevation of 4,700 meters, Namco Lake has become a natural habitat for rare water birds like swans, egrets and sand birds.
Viewed overall, however, many problems still exist -- the shortage of the forest area, grassland degradation, soil erosion, desertification and difficulties in the protection of rare and endangered species of wild animals and plants. Thus, the further strengthening of the preservation of the ecological environment and biodiversity remains an important task for the Chinese government to tackle.