BEIJING, March 18 (Xinhua) -- China's forests and associated industries are the latest state-owned sector to be enlivened by reform, as China marches toward a better, greener future.
The state forestry sector, previously devoted almost exclusively to wood production, is to be turned on its head with restoration of the embattled environment moving to the top of the agenda.
It was announced on Tuesday evening that by 2020, commercial logging of state forests will be reduced by about 20 percent and total forests increased by more than 6.6 million hectares, an area more than twice the size of Belgium. Forest growing stock will increase by more than one billion cubic meters.
Forest zones will receive government grants when they stop logging to encourage green industries such as tourism and to create environmentally friendly jobs.
RECEDING TREE LINE
Along with advances in politics, economics, culture and society, the restoration and protection of the natural environment is vital to plans for China's future.
China has 4,855 state forests, about 40 percent of the total forest area, employing around 750,000 people directly. These figures mean very little when you take into account that China's per-capita forest area and growing stock are only 25 percent and 14 percent of world average levels.
Useable forest resources have been decreasing since the 1980s, due mainly to excessive logging, and today, many forest enterprises struggle to survive. The country now relies heavily on imports just to meet domestic demand.
Many important forests in northeast China and Inner Mongolia, the traditional heartland of China's forests, are young and their resources are gradually running out, said Wang Yuehua of the State Forestry Administration. Edges of forests in the Hinggan Mountains have retreated northward by more than 100 km, while wetlands have reduced by more than half, Wang said.
"Steps to reduce logging mark a new era in protection of state forests," he said.
THE FORESTERS' LAST STAND
On March 10, after cutting their last stand of trees, workers' team No. 803 in the Greater Hinggan Mountain forest in Inner Mongolia, laid down their saws and axes forever.
After more than 60 years, the Greater Hinggan Mountain forest zone in Inner Mongolia, the country's largest, is scheduled to stop commercial logging on April 1.
The process of ending logging completely began in Heilongjiang Province. According to Tuesday's forest reform plan, commercial logging of natural forests will also cease in Inner Mongolia and Jilin Province.
"Stopping production is an inflexible requirement for the sake of our offspring. Forest workers support the decision," said Han Changjun, Party chief of A'nan Forest in Inner Mongolia.
To help forest workers find new jobs, we will increase our edible fungus business and look for other means of exploiting our special resources, said Han.
Zhang Xueqin, chair of Inner Mongolia Forest Industry Group, said the end of logging means an end to 1.1 million cubic meters of wood production and affects about 10,000 workers. The area is developing new forest products and tourism projects to employ the workers who have been laid off, he added.
Pilot forest projects have been successful in other places. Forests in Huichang County, Jiangxi Province were seriously over-exploited in the
1990s, but things began to change in 2009. One forest began to focus on environmental restoration, one on cultivation and a third became a nature reserve. Growing stock in the county had risen to 1.3 million cubic meters by 2013 from 1.1 million cubic meters in 2009, when the reform began.
"When I walk in the mountains now, I often see bevies of pheasants suddenly erupt from brushwood, a wild boar with piglets in tow, and other wildlife seldom seen in the past," said Xiao Feng, a forest worker-turned nature warden.
Reform should improve the management and finances of state forests and solve the problems of surplus workers, said Jiang Xiangmei of the Jiangxi Academy of Forestry.
Natural forests in state plantations have the richest biodiversity and the strongest ecosystem, he added.
FROM THE TOP OF THE TREE
With the public more concerned about their water, soil and air than ever, President Xi Jinping has repeatedly stressed the importance of environmental protection, promising blue skies, green landscapes and clean water.
"We have inherited the forests from our ancestors and we should pass them on to our offspring," Xi told the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee in December last year.
Reporting to the annual legislative session on March 5, Premier Li Keqiang pledged to conserve energy, reduce emissions, and improve the environment.
This year, over 600,000 hectares of marginal farmland will be returned to forest or grassland, and a further 6 million hectares of new forest will be planted.