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Province cuts fewer trees to save forests
By Li Fangchao (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-12-14 21:51

Nearly 1 million tall trees were spared the axe this year in Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, said the Heilongjiang Forest Industry Bureau.

The rare save was the result of the province's efforts to preserve its forests, which have shrunk sharply due to years of excessive exploitation.

The province is one of the country's major forest reserves.

The province's timber output over the last year declined by almost 320,000 cubic metres from a year earlier.

Heilongjiang is among the few provinces in China with rich forestry resources and plays an important role in the country's timber industry, supplying millions of cubic metres throughout the country each year.

It takes three trees with a diameter of about 30 centimetres to create one cubic metre of timber.Thus the 320,000 cubic metres of timber saved equals about 1 million trees.

The smaller supply has naturally led to fewer sales.

Statistics from the sales department of the bureau show that it had sold 265,000 cubic metres less than last year.

"But the ecological value of the saved trees is incalculable," said Qin Xianshun, who heads the sales department.

"It usually takes several decades for the trees to grow that big. And once they are gone, they are perhaps gone forever," he said.

The move is part of a decade-long countrywide programme launched in 2000 to protect forests.

The main goal of the national programme is to stop commercial logging of natural forests in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River and the Yellow River and gradually cut quotas for Inner Mongolia and Northeast provinces.

According to the national forestry industry quotas, the province's timber output this year should be no more than 4 million cubic metres.

The quota remains very high though it has seen a gradual decline.

However, the province has taken the reduction a little further. The 320,000 cubic metres of timber it did not log were included in the quota and could have been legally felled.

"But we tightened our belts and managed to save them," Qin said.

Statistics also show that though less trees were felled, actual income was no less than that of last year.

This is the result of the adoption of a "bidding system" adopted last year.

"The bidding system means those who pay the highest price will get the timber, not the large customers who once monopolized timber with low prices," he said.

The price of timber used to be decided by top forestry officials and some large customers would buy up all the timber in one fell swoop.

"That usually led to a very low price and caused huge losses to the State," he said.

In order to eliminate these loopholes, the bureau strengthened its surveillance and demanded transparency in sales.

The bureau set up a special timber inspection team in August and sacked four people, who were heads of local forest centres, after they were found selling timber to fatten their own pockets.

Each local bureau has set up a surveillance telephone number and the floating price of timber has to be displayed to let everybody see it.

As a result, the average price of each cubic metre saw a year-on-year rise of 59 yuan (US$7) this year. That has led to a revenue increase of more than 30 million yuan (US$3.6 million).

"Although we sold less, we earned more," he said.

The bureau will stick to the same measures the next year to save more trees, he said.

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