A long-term campaign to protect China's forests will be carried out over the next 10 years with the support of a 96.2 billion yuan (US$11.6 billion) special fund.
The central government will provide 78.4 billion yuan (US$9.4 billion), or 81 percent of the total funding for the project.
It aims to protect virgin forests along the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River and in Inner Mongolia by 2010, a leading forestry official announced Wednesday.
The remaining funds will be paid by local governments, Zhou Shengxian, minister of the State Forestry Administration (SFA), told a national conference discussing the issue.
China launched a logging ban, the beginning of protection, in some areas in late 1998 soon after that year's summer floods along the Yangtze River, in the south, and the Songhua River in northeast China.
"Following the two-year pilot logging ban in parts of state-owned virgin forests, using investment of 10.1 billion yuan (US$1.2 billion), the full-scale project will mark a new stage of conservation,'' Zhou said.
The long-awaited scheme has been officially approved by the State Council.
Zhou said he is confident the project will help control flood-prone rivers, limit desertification, accelerate environmental improvements and promote sustainable development over the next 10 years.
Under the project, a strict logging ban will protect more than 61.1 million hectares of natural forests in the Yangtze and the Yellow rivers valleys, which are prone to floods and soil erosion.
While 12.4 million cubic meters of timber will still be cut down in the two areas each year, more than 8.6 million hectares of woodland will be planted, increasing the areas' forest coverage from the present 17.5 percent to more than 21 percent.
In north and northeast China's two largest state-owned forest zones, 33 million hectares of natural forests that used to be over logged are expected to be protected by reducing the amount of timber collected from the areas by more than 7.5 million cubic meters a year.
With the implementation of this project, more than 1 million people now employed by the forestry industry, including 741,000 lumberjacks, will lose their jobs, but will be resettled by the government.
Most of the unemployed will be given new jobs as tree planters, forest wardens and in related work.
(China Daily 12/07/2000)