China's Plantation Forests for Sustainable Wood Supply and Development

Prof. Zehui JIANG 1, Dr. S.Y. Zhang 2


With the implementation of the Natural Forests Protection Program, the wood resource in China is shifting from natural forests to plantations. This paper reviews: 1) the evolution of China's decade-long reforestation program and its contribution to sustainable wood supply and development and 2) impacts of "China Natural Forest Protection Program and "China Fast-Growing and High-Yield Plantation Program" on China's wood supply and sustainability. In addition, this paper highlights China's national research on the integrated intensive management and utilization of the plantation resource.


China has one of the lowest forestland per capita in the world. The natural forest resource is severely deficient and not evenly distributed with poor quality. Rapid population growth and unprecedented economic development over the last two decades have led to a dramatic increase in wood consumption, and thus to the overlogging of the natural forests in many regions including the middle and upper reaches of the Yangtze River and Yellow River. This fact is largely responsible for several well-known ecological disasters in recent years (e.g., flooding, soil erosion) which result in hundreds of billion dollar losses and un-measurable long-term environmental, social and economic impacts. To protect environment and to ensure the sustainable development of those affected regions, the Central Government of China has taken dramatic measures by initiating an ambitious "China Natural Forest Protection Program" that essentially ban any logging in 18 provinces in Western China, Northeast China and Southwest China. To sustain the long-term wood supply, the central government in the meantime has also initiated a gigantic "China Fast-Growing and High-Yield Plantation Program" to intensify the world's largest reforestation program in China.

The evolution of China's decade-long reforestation program and its contribution to sustainable wood supply and development

With a total area of 933 million hectares and a population of 1,300 million people, China is one of the largest and most populous countries in the world. It is also a country with extensive areas of natural and planted forests -- some 164 million hectares or about 17 percent of land use. These forests are in huge demand by a population that continues to grow in size and affluence. China annually consumes over 190 million cubic meters of fuelled, 21 million cubic meters of sawn wood, 18 million cubic metros of wood panels, and nearly 40 million tons of paper and paperboard (Wang and Lin 1996).

In order to meet industrial needs for wood materials, the government has to spend large amount of money to import wood and wood products. The official statistical data show that China imported 1.12 billion US dollars of wood and wood products in 1981. However, this number has been dramatically increased to 2.695 in 1992, 4.519 in 1995, 5.314 in 1996, 6.034 in 1997 and 6.3 billion US dollars in 1998 (Lin 1998). As the world population and consumption of wood products increase, it becomes more and more difficult worldwide rely on natural forests for wood supply. At the same time, the environment of one area cannot be isolated from the global environment. With the rising concern about the global environment, each country will face the pressure on the protection of its natural forests (The Critical Issues Committee Task Group 1997). Therefore, it is clear that the decision to import substantial timber and wood products from other countries is not a permanent solution.

Considering the facts outlined above, the only solution to the imbalance between wood supply and demand in China is to intensify the reforestation program and to utilize the existing forest resource more efficiently. Therefore, protecting natural forests while expanding the plantation forests and pursuing more efficient utilization of the plantations resource has become a national priority in China (Bao and Lu 1998). It is apparent that with the implementation of this national policy, plantation timber will become more and more important in meeting the national needs for wood materials. China's reforestation program formally started in the 1960's. Hundreds of thousand hectares of plantations are established each year. Today, China has the world's largest plantation resource. The National Forest Resources Survey shows that the plantation area in China has reached 46.67 million hectare in 1999, which accounts for about 20% of the plantations in the world. The areas and stocks of China's plantation forests are shown in Table 1 and Figs.1 and 2. The data indicate that China's plantations have been developed rapidly in the last two decades. It is estimated that China's plantation forests can provide 130 million m3 wood every year by 2015, which can meet the domestic needs. Thus, the imbalance between the demand and supply in this country could be resolved.

Table 1. The areas and stocks of China's plantation forests


Area (106 hectare)

Stock (106 m3)










Major softwood species for China's reforestation program include: Masson pine (Pinus massoniana), China-Fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata), slash pine (Pinus elliottii), Yunnan pine (Pinus yunnansis), loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), spruce (Picea spp.), Mongolian Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris var. Mongolica), Dahurian larch (Larix spp.), Korean pine (Pinus koraiensis); The major hardwood species include: eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.), Acacia (Acacia spp.), Paulownia (Paulownia spp.), locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), poplar (Populus spp.), and birch (Betula spp.) (Bao and Jiang 1998).

Impacts of "China Natural Forests Protection Program" and "China Fast-Growing and High-Yield Plantation Program" on China's wood supply and sustainability

Nowadays, China is facing the serious environmental problems such as soil erosion, desertification, shortage of water resources, and decrease of biological species. More and More citizens have recognized the importance of natural forests to the ecological environment. To protect the environment, the Government announced an unprecedented policy in 1998 to ban timber logging in natural forests in 18 provinces, or so-called "China Natural Forest Production Program". The program has a profound impact on the domestic wood production in years to come. It is obvious that this policy will accelerate the imbalance between the wood demand and supply in China. In order to resolve the imbalance for the most populous country, the Chinese Government has launched another major program called "China Fast-Growing and High-Yield Plantation Program". This project will invest 71.8 billion Yuan to establish 13.33 million hectare plantation forests in China. It is estimated that by 2015 the plantation resource in China will provide 140-150 million m3 of timber, which will meet much of the wood demand in China.

China's National Research On the Intensive Management and Utilization of the Plantation Resource.

With the implementation of the Natural Forests Protection Program, the wood resource in China is shifting from natural forests to plantation forests, and the rational management and efficient utilization of the plantation resource have become one of central issues in China's forestry sector. With the move to fast-growing and shorter-rotation, plantation-grown woods will differ considerably in wood characteristics from natural forests. The changed wood characteristics of China's plantations, in turn, will affect wood processing and wood utilization significantly (Cheng et al. 1992). In the past, the impact of intensive silviculture on wood quality was ignored, and the fast-growing plantations were not established according to specific end uses. As a result, the harvested plantation timber often can not meet the market needs. In addition, lack of knowledge of the wood properties and end uses of the plantations has led to inappropriate and inefficient utilization of the plantation resource (Bao and Lu 1998). Therefore, more research is needed to better understand the wood properties and end uses of the plantation-grown woods, and the impacts of intensive silviculture. A better understanding of the impacts of intensive silviculture on wood properties and end use would help foresters to establish high-quality wood resource required by wood users (Zobel and van Buijtenen 1989). Integration of wood quality attributes and end uses into forest management will help foresters to maximize the value of the forest resource (Zhang et al. 1997). A better understanding of the wood properties and end-use potential of the plantation-grown woods will help the forest industry to utilize the wood resource more efficiently (Dadswell et al. 1961; Zobel and van Buijtenen 1989; Jozsa and Middleton 1995; Zhang et al. 1997).

In recent years, a number of important national research projects on China's plantations have been undertaken under the leadership of the Chinese Academy of Forestry. The research ranges from integrated forest management to the characterization and utilization of the plantation resource. Some of the earlier research results on the wood properties and utilization of China's plantation resource are being published in books (e.g., Bao and Jiang 1994; 1998) and journal papers (e.g., Bao et al. 2001).

These research contributes significantly to the rational management and efficient utilization of China's plantation resource. In 1984, the Chinese Government, in recognizing the need for the sustainable development of its forest sector to respond to the economic and environmental challenges, embarked on a major project entitled "Integrated Intensive Forest Management (IIFM) Project" with Canadian partners. This project was designed to help China introduce modern forest management methods. The Langxiang Forest Bureau (LxFB) in Heilongjiang Province was chosen as the project site because of its typical forest community in the region. The landscape of the project area is comparable to the Canadian Shield and the forests are very similar to those of Canada's boreal region. In addition, the China-Japan technology cooperative program on "Research on China's Plantation Woods" has also been launched. This program includes three sub-projects, and will enhance China's national research on the intensive management and utilization of the plantation resource.


With the implementation of the natural forests protection program, the increasing population, and the increasing concern about energy resources and environmental problems, the wood resource in China is changing considerably in terms of both quantity and quality. On the one hand, China's domestic wood supply will continue to decline in years to come, and as a result, this country has to import a significant amount of wood and wood products each year to meet the increasing demand fueled by rapid economic development. As the reforestation program in China is intensified, however, China's largest plantation resource will contribute significantly to the sustainable wood supply and sustainability.

Literature cited

Bao, Fucheng and Jiang, Zehui 1994. Studies on the properties of wood from fast-growing forest plantations. World Forestry Research Vol. 7, Ministry of Forestry, Beijing, 340 pp.

Bao, Fucheng and Jiang, Zehui. 1998. Wood properties of main tree species from plantation in China (in Chinese with English abstract). China Forestry Publishing House, Beijing, 170 pp.

Bao, Fucheng and Lu, Jianxiong. 1998. The change in wood resources structure and the strategies for wood science research in China. In: Forestry towards the 21st century, edited by Chinese Academy of Forestry. China Agricultural Science and Technology Press, 503-509.

Bao, F.C., Jiang, Z.H., Jiang, X.M., Lu, X.X., Lu, X. Q., and Zhang, S.Y. 2001. Differences in wood properties between juvenile wood and mature wood in 10 species grown in China. Wood Science and Technology 35: 363-375.

Cheng, Junqing, Yang, Jiaju and Liu, Peng. 1992. Records of Chinese woods. China Forestry Publishing House, Beijing.

Dadswell, H E, Fielding, J. M., Nicholls J. W. P. and Brown, A. G. 1961. Tree to tree variations and the gross heritability of wood characteristics of Pinus radiata. TAPPI. 44(3): 174-179.

Jozsa, L. A, and Middleton, G. R. 1995. A discussion of wood quality attributes and their practical implications. Special Publication, Forintek Canada Corp., Vancouver, Canada. 42pp.

Lin, Fengming. 1998. The status quo of production, consumption and trade of timber and major forest products in China and their tendencies to the year 2010. Proceedings of the changing market of global tropical forest products and its trends to the year 2010, Beijing: Chinese Academy of Forestry, 75-92.

Lu, Jianxiong. 2002. Study on the china's plantation forests, surrounding the national targets. China Wood-Based Panels 11:3-5.

The Critical Issues Committee Task Group. 1997. Environmental implications of the use of wood-based products. Society of Wood and Science Technology, Madison, Wisconsin, .

Wang, Kai and Lin, Fengming. 1996. Face to 21st century and build up sustainable wood based panels industry system with China features. Wood Industry 10(1): 1-5.

Zhang, S.Y., Gosselin, R. and Chauret, G. 1997. Timber management toward wood quality and end-product value. Forintek Canada Corp., Sainte-Foy, Quebec. 500pp.

Zobel, B. J. and van Buijtenen, 1989. Wood, its variation and control. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

1 President
Chinese Academy of Forestry
Beijing, 10091, China
Tel: 86-10-62889001; Fax: 86-10-62872548

2 Senior Scientist & Group Leader
Forintek Canada Corp.
319, rue Franquet, Sainte-Foy, Quebec G1P 4R4, Canada
Tel: 1-418-659 2647; Fax: 1-418-659 2922
E-mail: [email protected]