A sheep grazes on the edges of a forest in Inner Mongolia, in northern China. Large scale tree planting programmes have been lauded as the key to long-term forest recovery, however in dry regions in the north, limited water supply and inefficient forest management has led to many forests dying out.
Natural forests cover about 10 percent of China, however few of these forests remain in a primary or pristine condition.
China’s forests are threatened primarily by timber collection, mining, unregulated harvesting of flora for traditional Chinese medicine and excessive development related to increased tourism. Reforestation efforts by authorities have also caused the proliferation of mono-culture forests, which have hampered forest recovery and negatively affected biodiversity.
Traditional Chinese medicine is collected from the forests by locals, often unregulated and unchecked. Unsustainable harvesting is still a problem throughout Sichuan as demand for the medicine increases each year.
A giant panda rolls around in an enclosure at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, home to over 80 animals. Only 1600 individuals are estimated to be left in the wild ,as their habitat has shrunk drastically as a result of deforestation.
A young boy in a cowboy hat looks out onto one of the many lakes that make up the Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve in northern Sichuan. Giant Pandas used to be found in the forested mountains of the region up until 10 years ago. Increasing visitor numbers since being awarded World Heritage status has since caused all remaining pandas to flee the region.
A factory worker stands in front of shredded pieces of bamboo. Bamboo removal in China has grown from 260 million tons in 1990 to 1.2 billion tons in 2005.
Off-cuts lie discarded in a factory which produces furniture and chopsticks, all of which is made from bamboo.
The turquoise lakes of the Jiuzhaigou park get their color from sediment run-off from the local mountains. The crystal clear water within the park is well protected and this small area is arguably the best protected collection of small bodies of water in the country. Outside the park nearby, the water is less protected and as a result is notably affected by pollution from developments related to tourism in the region.
School children stand in the the snow in Inner Mongolia. The relationship between the people and the forests of the region is a fragile one. Small-scale education initiatives are trying to reach out to schoolchildren as a way to educate them about the importance of protecting the country’s forests.
A farmer stands in his corn fields near one of southern Sichuan’s bamboo forests.
A young boy passes through a forest in the Jiuzhaigou National Park. All of the pathways within the park are boarded so that little to no trampling occurs and damage to the forests is limited.
In 2011, the UN’s official “International Year of Forests,” the forests of the southwest of China were classified by Conservation International as one of the world’s top ten most threatened forest regions.
This is the third chapter in a long-term body of work focusing on China’s environmental crises in the early 21st Century. The previous two chapters have focused on increasing desertification and on disappearing wetlands.
This work was funded by a travel grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
Excessive deforestation in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River was blamed for severe landslides and floods in the 1990’s, which caused the death of thousands of people in the region. This brought the issue of deforestation and the country’s forests to the forefront of people’s attention in China.
A Tibetan man adjusts prayer flags outside his home, located on the eastern fringes of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Traditionally, Tibetan people of the region have sustainably used the forests, however increased developments in the region have seen more and more forests felled for use in local industry.
A Tibetan monk on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Many of the forests of the region have been felled and as a result are detrimentally affecting many of the ecosystems on the “roof of the world”.
A worker in a factory that produces chopsticks made from bamboo. “China produces 57 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks every year, which requires over 1.18 million square meters of forest,” according to Greenpeace East Asia.
A woman holds tea leaves collected from a plantation nestled in the remote mountain valleys of northern Sichuan. Tea plantations are some of the projects being targeted by the EU-China Biodiversity Program to promote sustainable harvesting in the region.
A member of the park management overseas visitors entering the Jiuzhaigou park in Sichuan Province. At peak times, the park will welcome up to 10,000 people a day and 2 million each year. These numbers place huge demands on the the environment around the national park as infrastructure developments increase to cope with the visitor numbers.
A tourist walks past trees in the Jiuzhaigou National Park. All of the pathways within the park are boarded so that little to no trampling occurs and damage to the forests is limited.
A man jumps into a lake in the Jiuzhaigou National Park in Sichuan Province.
The relationship between the people of the region and the forests is a fragile one as the west of China continues rapid development trying to catch up with the progress of the east.
Sean Gallagher is a British photojournalist, currently based in Beijing, China. Graduating in Zoology from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England, his work now focuses on environmental issues in Asia, with specific emphasis on China.
He was the first recipient of the Emerging Photographers Fund in 2008 and is a 4-time recipient of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting Travel Grant. His work has appeared with news outlets including Newsweek, the New York Times, Der Spiegel and National Geographic. His work on environmental issues in China was acknowledged as “some of the most striking images on display at the Copenhagen climate change conference”, by the BBC World Service in 2009.