For­est’s de­cay boosts risk of sand­storms

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - NATION - By ZHENG JINRAN in Zhangji­akou, He­bei zhengjin­ran@chi­

A for­est planted decades ago to pre­vent sand­storms from hit­ting north­ern China is in a se­vere state of de­cay.

The tree line cov­ers more than 102,000 hectares of north­ern Zhangji­akou, a city in He­bei prov­ince about 200 kilo­me­ters from the cap­i­tal.

Ac­cord­ing to forestry of­fi­cials, 92 per­cent of the poplars last year were “hy­per­ma­ture”, mean­ing they have been de­cay­ing for a decade. A third of the for­est is dead or dy­ing and 48,800 hectares are grow­ing poorly.

Many trees are bare and weak, said Zhang Shaoyun at Zhang­bei county’s Cen­tral For­est Farm.

“The bark can eas­ily be torn off, and a man could even push one over,” said the ranger of 32 years. “The de­cay­ing trees have spread quickly, and tens of thou­sands of trees are with­er­ing ev­ery year, leav­ing few left.”

The vast for­est was first planted in the city’s Bashang area in 1967, with the aim of shel­ter­ing Bei­jing from sands blown from the north and west.

In Zhang­bei, the num­ber of days of heavy wind dropped from more than 90 in 2002 to about 30 last year. Sand­storms hit on only four to six days, com­pared with 26 a decade ear­lier.

How­ever, the with­er­ing for­est — part of north­ern China’s net­work of shel­ter­belts — is prov­ing less ef­fec­tive, mean­ing cities face an in­creased risk of sand­storms.

The de­cay “will def­i­nitely im­pact the cities down­wind, in­clud­ing Bei­jing”, pre­dicted Wang Jin­huan, deputy di­rec­tor of Zhangji­akou forestry bureau.

Ac­cord­ing to na­tional stan­dards, the poplars that have stood in north­ern China for more than 30 years are hy­per­ma­ture.

“Fre­quent drought and bar­ren soil have also ac­cel­er­ated the process,” Wang said.

A re­port on the city’s wa­ter sec­tor also showed that the pro­tec­tive for­est has wit­nessed a con­tin­u­ous de­cline in un­der­ground wa­ter lev­els, drop­ping at least 1 me­ter a year be­tween 2000 and 2010.

“Another im­por­tant rea­son for the de­cay­ing green belts is that the tend­ing op­er­a­tion has fallen be­hind,” Wang said.

The farm, as well as the county and city gov­ern­ments, at­trib­uted the in­suf­fi­cient main­te­nance to a lack of al­lo­ca­tion.

Pub­lic forests are for­bid­den by law from tree felling to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment.

In ad­di­tion, the bar­ren soil cut the ways of mak­ing money from plant­ing com­mer­cial plants like fun­gus, and the dried trees made the trunk worth­less.

“We have to sell saplings and rent houses sur­round­ing our farms,” said Liu Zhisheng, di­rec­tor of the Cen­tral For­est Farm.

The farm’s to­tal an­nual in­come is about 700,000 yuan ($115,000).

“It barely cov­ers salaries for our 25 work­ers, who pa­trol the farms ev­ery day to guard of the poplars planted decades ago to pre­vent

More than half of the trees are dead, mak­ing the wood­land lose the abil­ity of self-re­newal, thus other meth­ods in­volv­ing plant­ing new trees from the liv­ing branches are not ap­pli­ca­ble.” DEPUTY DI­REC­TOR IN CHARGE OF


against felling and fires,” he said.

“There is lit­tle money from the farm to build ditches to wa­ter the for­est or other nec­es­sary con­struc­tion, so the trees live at the mercy of the el­e­ments.”

There are four ways of re­for­esta­tion, of which clear cut­ting is the first choice for the pro­tec­tive for­est in Zhangji­akou.

“More than half of the trees are dead, mak­ing the wood­land lose the abil­ity of self-re­newal, thus other meth­ods in­volv­ing plant­ing new trees from the liv­ing branches are not ap­pli­ca­ble,” said Zhao Shun­wang, deputy di­rec­tor in charge of up­dat­ing pro­grams.

About 667 hectares of dead for­est had been re­planted by May in Man­touy­ing town­ship, and th­ese saplings can grow into trees to catch blow­ing sand in four to five years.

“But it’s not fast enough to re­for­est all the de­cay­ing and pro­tect the down­wind cities,” he said. “More im­por­tant, we can­not af­ford the large in­vest­ment into this pro­gram.”

The av­er­age in­vest­ment was 19,950 yuan per hectare in the pi­lot pro­gram of Man­touy­ing.

The four coun­ties of Bashang, in­clud­ing Zhang­bei, are not well- off and lack the means to al­lo­cate mil­lions of yuan to re­for­esta­tion.

Au­thor­i­ties in He­bei and Zhangji­akou have jointly handed in a fea­si­bil­ity study on up­dat­ing the hy­per­ma­ture for­est in Bashang, say­ing 558 mil­lion yuan will be al­lo­cated to up­date the dead poplars of the 33,800 hectares.

They have ap­plied for ap­proval from the cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

“The lack of al­lo­ca­tion in tend­ing for­est ex­ists in many shel­ter­belt pro­grams in He­bei,” said Zhao Yan­bin, an ex­pert with the forestry bureau in nearby Shi­ji­azhuang.

He said his re­search had shown many pro­grams in other cities faced sim­i­lar dif­fi­cul­ties.

“For the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing air qual­ity, it’s ur­gent to guar­an­tee the for­est works well, and to that goal the coun­try needs to file poli­cies to en­cour­age the pub­lic to par­tic­i­pate into the pro­tec­tion,” he added.

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