The worst winter weather in five decades damaged 340 million mu (22.7 million hectares), or nearly 13 percent of China's forests, as of February 25, a senior forestry official said on Thursday.
"The severe damage has resulted in an obvious decline in biodiversity and may lead to frequent floods," said Lei Jiafu, deputy director of the State Forestry Administration (SFA).
The damage would also increase the possibility of forest fires as well as forest and wildlife disease outbreaks, he said, adding that recent forest fires had confirmed these concerns.
The storms left large areas of forests strewn with flammable debris, such as dead branches.
Experts estimated that the damage would also cause forests to absorb 45 million tons less carbon dioxide each year, Lei said in an interview posted on the central government's Web site (www.gov.cn).
The disaster had also caused losses of 101.4 billion yuan (US$14.3 billion) to the forestry sector, he said.
The official noted that forest farmers in south China suffered heavy losses as they ran most of the collectively-owned cash forests under contract. These areas were hardest-hit by the snow and ice.
"The side effects [of the storms] will be prolonged and recovery will take at least five to twenty years," Lei said.
He pledged that the SFA would promote government-subsidized forestry insurance to hedge against future disasters and would raise relief funds for the recovery of forestry production.
(Xinhua News Agency March 14, 2008)