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UPDATED: April 3, 2010 NO. 14 APRIL 8, 2010
Building a Great Green Wall
China's forests are being expanded by tree-planting volunteers and national forestry programs


MINISTERIAL VOLUNTEERS: Ma Wen (front right), Minister of Supervision, plants trees in Changyang Town, Fangshan District of Beijing on March 27 (ZHANG DUO) 

Under red flags fluttering in the early spring breeze, 260 volunteers planted more than 500 trees in suburban Beijing on March 23.

On March 27, a warm Saturday in Beijing, 168 minister-level government officials volunteered leisure time to plant trees in Beijing's Fangshan District.

The volunteers planted trees to mark China's 32nd Tree Planting Day, or Arbor Day, which falls on March 12 each year. Because of cold weather this March, large-scale tree-planting activities in Beijing have been postponed to late March and early April, said the General Office of Capital Forestation Commission.

Wang Xiaofeng, head of the volunteers, said planting trees and protecting ecological systems were especially important in the wake of sandstorms that recently assaulted Beijing and many other places in China.

During the storms, Beijing was twice enveloped in choking sands and dust. Desertification caused by overgrazing and deforestation was blamed as one of the causes, and sandstorms remind people how nature can strike back if it is abused, said Chen Guangwei, a research fellow with the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

In warmer places such as Fujian Province in southeast China, large-scale tree planting activities have already started. On March 23, 100,000 people planted about 1 million trees. The activities were led by officials at various levels of the province's government, and taken part in by people from different walks of life.

Since Tree Planting Day was set in China in 1979, a total of 56.33 billion trees had been planted, said a national report on China's afforestation effort released on March 12. Last year alone, 410 million people voluntarily planted a total of 1.81 billion trees, while 180 million people indirectly participated in tree planting by donating money to sponsor tree-planting activities.

Forestry programs

In addition to citizens' voluntary green efforts on Tree Planting Day, many government programs have been launched to green China.

Currently, six major forestry programs are being implemented, namely the natural forest protection program, the land conversion from farmlands back to forestlands program, the program of sand source control in Beijing-Tianjin region, the program of shelter belt forests in the northwest, the north and the northeast region, Yangtze River basin and other regions, the wildlife protection and nature reserve development program, and the fast-growing and high-yielding timber plantation development program.

These national afforestation programs are spectacular in scale. For instance, the shelter belt forest program covers 13 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities in northwest, north and northeast China—nearly half of China's total land area. The program, says the State Forestry Administration, is to control sand storms and soil erosion, and improve ecological conditions and farmers' living conditions.

Voluntary tree planting by citizens and national forestry programs increased both the forest area and volume in China, said Jia Zhibang, head of the State Forestry Administration.

The newly published seventh national forest inventory, taken from 2004 to 2009, shows that China had a total forest area of 195 million hectares, 21 million hectares more than recorded in the sixth inventory, taken from 1999 to 2003. Forest coverage rate was 20.36 percent, up 2.15 percentage points from the sixth inventory, and much higher than the 8.6 percent of 1949. Areas of artificial forest totaled 62 million hectares, the greatest spread in the world.

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