Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

China's old-growth forests vanishing despite government policies, Dartmouth research shows

13.11.2014

China's anti-logging, conservation and ecotourism policies are accelerating the loss of old-growth forests in one of the world's most ecologically fragile places, according to studies led by a Dartmouth College scientist.

The findings shed new light on the complex interactions between China's development and conservation policies and their impact on the most diverse temperate forests in the world, in "Shangri-La" in northwest Yunnan Province. Shangri-La, until recently an isolated Himalayan hinterland, is now the epicenter of China's struggle to wed sustainable economic development with environmental protection.


Dartmouth research shows China's anti-logging, conservation and ecotourism policies are accelerating the loss of old-growth forests in the Himalayas.

Credit: Jodi Brandt


A logger removes a tree from China's old-growth Himalaya forests, which are rapidly disappearing despite government policies.

Credit: Jodi Brandt

The province is known for its scenic, ecological and ethnic diversity, but it also is one of the poorest regions in China, populated by indigenous subsistence cultures that rely on forests for their livelihoods. The province was largely undisturbed until the 1950s when state logging companies started clear-cutting old-growth forests to fuel China's national economic boom.

But catastrophic flooding along the Yangtze River in the 1990s prompted the Chinese government to implement multiple forest protection policies, including nature reserves, a commercial logging ban, reforestation programs and ecotourism, as a sustainable development strategy. The logging ban prohibits commercial timber harvesting, but allows logging by local people on a quota basis.

In a new study in the journal Biological Conservation, researchers used satellite imagery and statistical analysis to evaluate three overlapping forest conservation strategies -- protected areas, a commercial logging ban and Tibetan sacred forests - in northwest Yunnan Province.

The results show that protected-area status conserved old-growth forests, while the logging ban increased total forest cover but accelerated old-growth logging in sacred forests. The sacred forests have effectively protected old-growth trees from clear-cutting for centuries despite major upheavals in the region's history, including the logging era and the Cultural Revolution.

But recent official environmental protection policies have displaced these ancient community-managed protections. In a related 2012 study in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment, researchers used three decades of satellite imagery to measure rates and patterns of old-growth deforestation in response to the environmental protection and sustainable development policies.

The results, surprisingly, showed that old-growth logging accelerated: old-growth forests covered 26 percent of the area in 1990 but only 20 percent in 2009. And, paradoxically, old-growth forest loss occurred most rapidly where ecotourism was most prominent. "Our results show that the negative impacts of ecotourism-based economic development on the environment outweighed conservation efforts," says lead author Jodi Brandt, a postdoctoral researcher at Dartmouth and formerly at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Michigan.

Taken together, the two studies suggest the burgeoning tourism industry has increased demand for old-growth timber, and that official conservation policies displaced logging to sacred areas. "Tourism development continues to expand into remote regions in northwest Yunnan and the negative impacts observed near Shangri-La City in the last decade may soon follow," Brandt says.

As for displacing deforestation pressure to sacred areas: "China's policy currently favors strong environmental protection in this region, but it's hard to say whether the government protections will still be in place in 10, 20, or 50 years. The fact that potentially temporary government policies are displacing centuries-old community-based forms of environmental management has worrisome consequences. Our research highlights a need for increased understanding of interactions among government policies and local forms of land management. One unique aspect of these studies is the emphasis on using satellite imagery to measure change in different forest types.

The analysis discriminated old-growth forests from pine and scrub forests, and when all forest types were lumped together, results indicated that total forest cover increased. However, new forests were primarily scrub and secondary forests, which typically regenerate after old-growth logging but have much lower biodiversity value. The results highlight that even though most satellite-based studies consider total forest cover as the sole indicator of success, lumping all forests together can lead to misleading conclusions about the effectiveness of biodiversity conservation strategy."

In a related 2013 study in the journal Biological Conservation, Brandt and her colleagues reported that northwest Yunnan's old-growth sacred forests are critical for forest birds in the Himalayas, where more threatened bird species live than anywhere else in the world.

The province is a major migratory flyway for many bird species, including some that live nowhere else, but its bird population is one of the least understood on the planet and little is known about the role of sacred forests in bird and biodiversity conservation. Several ethnic minority groups maintain hundreds of sacred forests, which range from a few acres to thousands of square miles, as part of their religion.

The researchers observed 81 bird species across 62 plots within and outside six Tibetan sacred forests. They found that sacred forests support a richer collection of bird species and more total birds than the surrounding areas. The plots with the largest-diameter trees and native bamboo groves have the highest bird diversity. More birds used the sacred forests and their edges during 2010, a severe drought year in Yunnan, suggesting sacred forests serve as refuges during extreme weather years.

"Our results strongly indicate that protecting old-growth forest ecosystems is important for Himalayan forest birds and that sacred forests protect a variety of habitat niches and increase bird diversity," says Brandt. The results also suggested the remaining patches of native old-growth sacred forests could be incorporated into official conservation strategies and form the backbone of an expanded natural protected area system.

Environmentalists have suggested such a strategy in China and other nations where sacred natural areas function as de facto protected natural areas. China's national protected area system has expanded greatly in recent years, but the areas are typically remote, at higher elevations and ineffectively managed, while sacred forests are closer to centers of human land use, at lower-elevations and managed effectively at the community level.

But Brandt's 2014 follow-up study with Tibetan villagers in northwest Yunnan suggest such a strategy wouldn't work because they value the sacred forests primarily for religious reasons rather than conservation.

PDFs of the studies are available on request.

Jodi Brandt, a postdoctoral researcher at Dartmouth, is available to comment at Jodi.Brandt@dartmouth.edu

Broadcast studios: Dartmouth has TV and radio studios available for interviews. For more information, visit: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~opa/radio-tv-studios/ 

John Cramer | EurekAlert!

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Silicon solar cell of ISFH yields 25% efficiency with passivating POLO contacts

08.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

NTU scientists build new ultrasound device using 3-D printing technology

07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

The balancing act: An enzyme that links endocytosis to membrane recycling

07.12.2016 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>