19 march 2016

China's forest conservation program shows proof of success

China's forest conservation programs show a decade of improvement in tree cover. Globally, deforestation continues, but at a slowing pace.

By Eva Botkin-Kowacki, Staff writer Christian Science Monitor March 19, 2016

China appears to have turned the corner on deforestation.

Beijing implemented a forest conservation program in 1998. And we now have proof that it's working.

Logging and clear cutting shrank China's forests for decades, but from 2000 to 2010, the nation saw a net gain in tree cover, according to new data.

A team of scientists studied the nation's forests using satellite images, eyeing where tree cover expanded and decreased. Over the decade they saw significant recovery in about 1.6 percent of China's territory, while 0.38 percent continued to lose tree cover. Their findings are reported in a paper published Friday in the journal Science Advances.

"Before there was widespread deforestation," study author Andrés Viña of Michigan State University's Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability tells The Christian Science Monitor in an interview. "Now that has stopped and there is a net gain in forest cover."

Forests harbor immense biodiversity, prevent soil erosion, and act as carbon sinks – scrubbing the atmosphere of carbon dioxide.

Trees grow by taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locking it away in their roots, trunks, limbs and leaves until they die and decompose, when the carbon is released back into the atmosphere. Currently, elevated carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are heating up the planet. Forests are key, natural tools in mitigating climate change.

But forests have lost some 319 million acres, an area just larger than South Africa, over the past quarter century. Conservation programs like the one in China are starting to turn those trends around.


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