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China's Reforestation and Unintended Green Deserts

China has invested $100 billion in a "grain-for-green" program where traditional farmers are paid to plant forests on lands that had been stripped of trees.  By some measures, the program has been a great success.   What's the problem?

Michael Holtz of the Christian Scientist Monitor writes:

Chairman Mao told us to make steel,” Mr. Zhang recalls, “so we cut down all the trees on the mountains.” Backyard kilns took their place.

He continues, 

A turning point came in 1998, when devastating floods along the Yangtze River in central China killed 4,150 people and caused an estimated $36 billion in property damage. The disaster was exacerbated by the shortage of trees along the river, which in the past had secured its banks and absorbed rainfall. From the 1950s into 1980s, the Yangtze River basin lost half of its forest coverage, causing severe soil erosion in 40 percent of the region.

The program has met its two chief objectives, soil retention and flood mitigation.   The tree cover in China has been growing as the tree cover in the rest of the world has declined.  China is an example of what to do right, and the alarming long-term damage that can occur by doing what is right in the wrong way.  Read more....