Researchers headed by UBC professor respond to deforestation concerns, encourage sustainability
One of the largest forestry projects in the world, China's $90-billion forestry reform program, is dramatically changing that country's forest management, a joint University of B.C.- Chinese research team reports in this week's edition of Science magazine.
The joint team, headed by UBC forestry professor John Innes, has been working for three years evaluating China's six key forestry programs, introduced in 2000 in response to concerns over deforestation. The aim of the reform program is to encourage sustainability in balance with land-use, economic growth and the growing Chinese demand for wood products.
The sweeping scope of the Chinese reforms not only provides a window into the new direction of Chinese forest policies but also offers lessons for B.C., undergoing its own policy reforms, one of the UBC researchers, Guangyu Wang, said in an interview.
China has been targeted as a market for B.C. forest products but current strategies have had limited success, Wang said. B.C.'s $110 million worth of wood products exports to China in 2005 represented less than one per cent of that country's $15 billion in wood imports that year. B.C. has been focusing on introducing two-by-four construction technologies in China.
Wang said many of the new plantation forests being developed in China produce lower-quality fibre while B.C. produces higher-quality fibre. He said one key to developing a more successful export economy here could be integrating the two qualities into product lines.
The Canadian members of the team are all part of UBC's sustainable forest management laboratory at the faculty of forestry.
A csapat kanadai tagjai, valamennyien az UBC erdészeti karán működő, fenntartható erdőgazdálkodási laboratórium tagjai.
During three-year study, they have assessed progress on the reforms, pointing out successes, such as bringing 98 million hectares of forestland into protection. They also report on obstacles: a booming economy that has yet to balance growth in wood demand with environmental needs and social justice, they say.
The Science article, a summary of the research, notes that the reforms are in response to growing pressure on the environment and natural resources.
"Past government policies have favoured economic growth over the environment but the central government has now proposed a science-based approach to development designed to realize balanced sustainable development," the team states in the article.
"However, in practice, local governments continue to put economic growth ahead of any concern for the environment, which has led some critics to call for stronger central government control."
The first of the six key reforms -- forest protection -- was introduced in response to devastating floods caused by deforestation. Logging was banned in the headwaters of the largest rivers. The program had the ambitious target of planting trees where none grew before on 76 million hectares of land -- an area three-quarters the size of B.C.
The five other programs are:
Converting fragile farmland to forests by compensating peasants who switch from farm crops to trees.
Creating massive forest plantations in the South, where fast-growing species such as eucalyptus and hybrid poplar are being grown in quick-rotation forests.
Slowing the advance of desertification through a forest shelterbelt program.
Planting trees in the Beijing-Tianjin region to cut down on sandstorms and desertification.
Protecting bio-diversity through a program that has created 1,800 wildlife reserves.
Some of the practical reforms introduced include removing or reducing forestry taxes to encourage tree planting and the development of a forest products industry, one of the authors, Guangyu Wang, said in an interview.
He said land reform has been a critical factor in injecting new life into the forestry sector. In the south, land that was owned by the state has been returned to peasant households and newly developed forest corporations are working with the new land owners to develop annual harvest targets. There is also a movement towards consolidating the individual parcels, he said. Free market mechanisms are also being introduced.
"The forest land market in China is booming," said Wang, a PhD candidate and researcher at UBC's sustainable forest management lab.