China's forests recovering after years of efforts

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China's forests are now recovering after decades of destruction leveled by illegal logging and conversion to farmland, a study conducted by the U.S. Michigan State University (MSU) researchers said Friday.

This was made possible after China's implementation of the Natural Forest Conservation Program (NFCP), the largest forest conservation and restoration programs in the world, since the beginning of the 21st century.

The NFCP bans logging in many natural forests, and even compensates residents for monitoring activities preventing illegal timber harvesting in some forested areas.

"It is encouraging that China's forest has been recovering in the midst of its daunting environmental challenges such as severe air pollution and water shortages," said study author Jianguo Liu, director of MSU's Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS).

The study, published in the U.S. journal Science Advances, used a unique combination of data, including forest cover data acquired by the U.S. space agency NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, along with high spatial resolution imagery available in Google Earth.

It showed the the NFCP is working and forests are recovering, with about 1.6 percent, or about 157,300 square kilometers, of China's territory seeing a significant gain in tree cover, between 2000 and 2010.

During this same time, 0.38 percent, or 37,200 square kilometers, of China's territory experienced a significant loss in forest cover.

Many Chinese regions that exhibited big gains in forest cover were areas that were previously heavily logged, the study found, suggesting that the NFCP may be particularly beneficial in those locations.

For instance, an area exhibiting prominent gains in forest cover in central China was the locus of major timber extraction activities prior to the year 2000.

"The NFCP is one of the most successful conservation programs in China and the world," Liu told Xinhua. "We hope this program can continue for a long time."

Liu also claimed that the NFCP caused China to increase its imports of wood, which could be negatively influencing forest cover in other countries.

But the study noted this is not just China's issue because a lot of wood products made by China have then been exported to developed countries.

"Such negative effects (brought by China's wood imports) need to be further analyzed," he added.

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