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Tree planting campaign deemed success

By ZHENG XIN | China Daily | Updated: 2013-03-12 02:19

Authorities have hit back at criticisms of Beijing's ambitious tree planting campaign, claiming the majority take root.

Over the past 32 years, 78 million people have planted 189 million trees throughout the capital, with a survival rate of 88 percent, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Landscape and Forestry said on Monday.

To further improve the survival rate and biological diversity, the bureau has been increasing the varieties of trees, according to Tong Haiming, deputy director of publicity for the bureau.

"We have more species of trees, including pagodas, poplars and pines," Tong said at a news conference.

Beijing has undertaken ambitious reforestation initiatives. According to the bureau, the forest coverage rate rose from 12.83 percent in 1980 to 38.6 percent by the end of 2012. The percentage of green coverage in urban areas rose from 20.08 percent to 46.2 percent in the same period.

However, environmental NGOs have raised doubts about the impact of the projects.

One of the concerns regards the planting of non-native trees, which experts say struggle to survive because of their high water demand, especially in arid regions such as Beijing, said Dong Yunlan, a researcher with the Henan Academy of Agriculture and Forestry Sciences.

Tree planting has also started to focus more on the planting itself rather than the benefits it brings to the ecological environment, said Yang Heng, a researcher with the Nature University, an NGO in Beijing.

"Many trees are pulled out or eradicated not long after they are planted, when the land falls into the hands of property developers," said Yang. "With poor maintenance, many trees simply die after a few days."

Instead of encouraging the public to plant more trees, the government should better preserve the existing ones and stop them from being pulled out, she said.

"Many of the trees are just planted for the sake of planting," said Feng Yongfeng, founder of the Green Beagle, an environmental protection NGO based in the capital.

"No one takes good care of the trees after they are planted and the survival rate is pretty poor because of the lack of later maintenance."

He said on National Tree Planting Day, March 12, a day dedicated to planting trees, people across the country, from college students to the elderly, are encouraged to plant trees, but no one really cares if the trees survive or if the ecological environment is improved.

He also said many old trees have been removed as "weeds" simply to make room for the planting of new trees.

"These are not scientific or correct ways of tree planting," he said.

Some residents said they felt the same way.

"We seem to plant millions of trees, but the environment does not seem to improve," said Shao Hui, a 27-year-old computer programmer. "It makes little sense if we plant millions of trees and see half of them perish later."

According to Feng, despite the fact the government has picked a single genus for tree planting — poplars and willows account for some 95 percent — the city has gradually increased the variety to increase the survival rate.

The government will further improve its maintenance to better protect the trees, he said.

Cities across China are boosting tree planting.

Hebei province will plant more than 100 million trees in areas surrounding the capital this year to help prevent sandstorms, the provincial forestry bureau said.

Planting has already begun for the new greenbelt, which will cover a total area of 280,000 hectares.

The province launched 10 green projects focused on environmental protection during the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-15), increasing the forest area by 1.4 million hectares in the province.

By 2015, Hebei province will have 5.8 million hectares of forest, giving it a coverage of 31 percent of the province's area.

According to the State Forestry Administration, last year the afforestation area nationwide was 6.01 million hectares.

Zheng Jinran and Yang Yao contributed to this story.

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