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Seeing the wood for the trees: how conservation policies can place greater pressure on village forests in Southwest China

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In the last 6 years China has introduced a number of policies to try and conserve forests and protect watershed integrity; these include a ban on commercial logging reforestation projects restrictions on upland farming and burning and controls on livestock grazing. The blanket nature of these impositions when combined with rapid socio-economic changes have increased pressures on many small rural communities. In this paper we examine the case of Jisha Village in northwestern Yunnan China—a typical rural Tibetan community sustained by traditional agriculture and livestock management. The cessation of commercial logging has seen the community turn to towards other income streams such as non-timber forest products (NTFP) increased livestock and attempts to foster tourism. However timber quotas together with new road access have spurred the development of unofficial markets for village firewood and enhanced access to nearby forests. In addition the decline of bamboo—a traditional fencing material—has resulted in an estimated 35-fold increase in demand for pine wood. Wood demands in this community are swiftly exceeding the sustainable harvest levels. Forest loss does not merely represent the depletion or degradation of future village timber resources but also the loss of NTFP habitat. Moreover due to proscriptions on rangeland burning pasturelands are becoming degraded and grazing in forests is more intensive—reducing forest regeneration. These findings support calls to improve the flexibility and incorporate local needs into forest policy—the problems highlighted here seem indicative of the practical and philosophical challenges facing environmental planning and research in China.

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