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12. Korea, The Republic of

Country data

Total land area 1996 (thousand ha)


Total forest area 1995 (thousand ha)/% of total area


Natural forest 1995 (thousand ha)


Total change in forest cover 1990-95 (thousand ha)/Annual change (%)


Population total 1997 (million)/Annual rate of change 1995-2000(%)


Rural population 1997 in %


GNP per person total 1995 in US$


Source of data: FAO - State of the World's Forest 1999

General information

By late 1961, the Republic of Korea was suffering from many difficulties commonly faced by developing countries. The population was growing by 3% annually, the nation had no notable exports, and it depended on imports for both raw materials and important manufactured goods. The economic planners found it necessary to adopt an export-oriented industrialisation strategy. In its five-year economic development plans, the Government has focused on specific key industries by providing incentives in the form of tax subsidies, low interest loans, and manpower training.

Since 1962, under the new economic development plan, and with the positive investment mood by the private sector, plus the implementation of tax-reform, the country's economy has grown substantially, and the GNP has grown by an average of more than 8% per year.

However, the forests were completely devastated at the end of the Korean War in 1953. Until the 1970s, barren and brown coloured mountains could be seen. People would walk for days to get woody fuel. Rivers were muddy carrying away the wealth of the land. According to ownership, the forest area can be divided into three categories: national forests (22%), public forests (8%), and private forests (70%). The demand for timber products has been constantly increasing in line with continued population and economic growth. In 1994, the domestic timber supply was about 1 million m3, representing about 13% of the total demand, while imports were increasing, amounting to 8.9 million m3.

Korea has been a member of ITTO since 1986, in the consumers' group. Korea has also been supporting other developing countries by facilitating training and despatching experts. By 1996, 25 Korean companies had participated and invested in overseas forestry development in 15 countries, including forest concessionaires in seven countries; development of plywood, sawn wood, and wood chip industries; and nurseries and plantations.

In 1995, forest product imports amounted to US$ 2.779 billion, or 2.1% of the country's total import. These products included logs, sawn timber, plywood, and non-wood forest products such as oak mushroom. The share of conifers in total log imports has increased and is expected to continue to increase in the future. Imports of wood chips, sawn timber, wood pulp, plywood, paper and paperboard have also increased. The total export value of forest products was US$ 505 million, or 0.4% of the country's total exports.

The major forest products exports were chestnut, pine mushroom, oak mushroom, and plywood.

However, since August 1997, the regional financial and economic turmoil has affected the financial and economic situation in Korea, including the forestry sector. The rate of construction works has been declining, which has affected the domestic demand for timber and related products. Thus, the imports of timber and timber products from the countries in the Region have been declining. The Ministry of Finance and Economy expects that the economic growth will be around 8%, although its growth was 11.6%in the first half of 2000.

After completing greening operations all over the country, the Korea Forest Service switched its policy from reforestation to management of forest and initiated the Fourth 10-year Forest Plan in 1998. Its ultimate goal is to build the foundation and groundwork for sustainable forest management.

Since 1998, although the country has faced significant economic and social difficulties, including a high foreign exchange rate and high unemployment, the Korea Forest Service has continued implementing several important forest and forestry development projects and activities, including the following: making substantial progress in the implementation of a public works project for tending the forest (1998-2002); completed the construction of Forest Information System using GIS; establishment of several forest related NGOs; and putting in place a Green Lottery in 1999.

Several reports show that the area of national forest has been slowly increased as the result of several efforts launched by the country, including the Korea Forest Service by implementing the National Forest Extension Policy. The long term goal of this policy is to increase the size of national forests to up to 40% of the forest land in Korea.

Planning, policy and legislation

Before the 20th century, the country owned the majority of forests and village communities and individuals owned the rest. After 1910, according to the forest survey carried out by Japan to exploit Korean's forest, forest ownership was classified into national, public and private forests.

In the early 20th century, Japanese harvested about 500 million m3 of timber in the Korean Peninsula, far above the forest capacity. As a result, the average volume of timber per hectare decreased to 14 m3 in 1945 from 45 m3 in 1910. Old growth forests were deforested by over cutting and illegal harvesting throughout the colonial period of 1910-45 and during the Korean War of 1950-53. In order to establish and manage the forest resources efficiently, the Forest Law of 1961 required the Government to produce a national forest plan every ten years.

In 1973, the government embarked on an ambitious “first ten-year's forestry development plan”. The plan was part of the “Saemaul Undong” or “New Community Movement”, which aimed to enhance the quality of life. The plan was directed at building up a sound, broad-based community forestry programme at the village level for the whole country. A turning point in forestry was witnessed in 1973 with the initiation of the first ten year Forest Development Plan, during which 1.0 million ha of denuded land were to be replanted within 10 years.

The massive reforestation project can be accomplished through traditional culture of the village community, called “Sanrimgae”, that has been practised in Korea for several hundred years. This involves the participation of forest owners, village residents and the government and other public organisations in community forest development.

In addition, one million ha of fuel wood forest plantations were established through the IBRD-assisted project in the 1970s by planting black lotus (Robinia pseudoaccacia L.). However, due to less demand for fuel wood, the black lotus plantations are now used in construction timber production and the bee keeping industry. Loans for a period of 35 years had also been provided for planting conifer, for which the Internal Rate of Return (IRR) has dropped to about 1-2% due to the rapid increase in labour costs recently.

The objectives, targets, and accomplishments of each plan are as follows:

1. The first ten year forest development plan (1973-78)


· To implement the national tree planting movement through people's participation in various reforestation projects;

· To develop new economic zones of forest lands in harmony with the goals of land conservation and income generation by reforestation and forest production;

· To achieve rapid reforestation of denuded forest land through the planting of fast growing species; and

· To accomplish the stabilisation of shifting cultivation, which uses fire as a tool for agricultural practises.

The Government chose April as the “National Tree Planting Period” for its tree planting campaign as this period is the best time to plant trees. The Government encouraged various groups such as farmers, families, and students to participate in the reforestation programme. Development of rural fuel wood forests and prohibiting access to the mountains substantially reduced the damage to forests. The reforestation target of 1.08 million originally planned in the First Ten-year Plan (to be completed in 1982), was accomplished in 1978, so the second Plan began in 1979. In addition, 120,000 ha of devastated forestland were rehabilitated by a comprehensive erosion control project for soil conservation.

2. The second ten year forest development plan (1979-89)

The basic objective of the plan was to build large scale commercial forest zones for timber production. To achieve this objective, several forest policies were crafted including:

· Strengthening the national reforestation plan;

· Expansion of forest protection activities;

· Enlargement of the forest development funds to support private forest management;

· Grouping and enlarging national forests; and

· Implementing forest conservation projects to improve public benefits from forests.

Major accomplishments in the Second Plan include: reforestation of 966 thousand ha and development of 80 large scale group commercial forest zones; forest fire prevention and aerial control of diseases through a helicopter purchasing project; establishment of a Forest Works Training Centre to train forest technicians.

3. The third forest development plan (1988-97)

The main objective of the Third Plan, which is also called “the Forest Resources Enhancement Plan”, is to harmonise the economic development of the forest and the public benefits. The Plan's target is to improve log production to meet 51% of the country's log demand by the year 2030. To meet the objective, priority has been given to the following:

· Government investment will be concentrated on forestry development promotion zones of 1.52 million ha in private forests;

· Harmonisation between timber production and other functions of forests by introducing a new concept of multiple use management; and

· Enlarge urban forests in cities and recreation forests in urban areas to provide clean air, water, and recreation spaces.

4. The fourth forest development plan (1998-2007)

The ultimate objective of the Plan is to lay the foundation for sustainable forest management through the accomplishment of major programmes based on major strategies as follows:

· To accomplish the policy goal, target areas were established including establishment of more valuable forests resources, fostering of competitive forest industries, and maintenance of healthy and sound forest environment; and

· To achieve these targets, several critical strategies will be devised and in each strategy will include more specific programmes encompassing various subjects.

At present, the country's most important forest policy is reforestation. However, it should be noted that it has not merely targeted industrial timber production, but emphasis has also been given to reforesting the devastated mountain areas. The objectives of the policy are: harmonisation of management between conservation and development, fostering competitiveness by improving the management and organisation structure, improving the living conditions of the local people, and preserving beautiful landscapes.

The Law on Wildlife and Hunting was enacted in 1967. At the end of 1997, 541 areas had been designated as wildlife protection areas, and 486 species of wildlife were under protection. To preserve the natural scenery and to provide a better environment for recreation, the Park Law was enacted in 1967, and revised again in February 1997. Parks are classified into three categories: national, provincial, and city parks. The number of national parks increased from 17 in 1985 to 20 in 1996.

The natural recreation forest project has been operated as part of a major forestry initiative to implement multiple use management of forests since 1988. As of 1996, 197.4 thousand ha had been designated as protection forests, out of which 157 thousand ha, or 80% was for water conservation, 30.0 thousand ha, or 15% for scenic beauty, and 5% for other functions.

Forestry associations are among the active institutions that carry out the forestry activities in Korea. They traditionally deal with forest protection, and are based on the rural people's self regulated organisation, called “Sanrimgae”. The Sanrimgae was reorganised into a modern form in the 20th century, and has been reoriented toward the members' welfare. In 1993, they were converted into “Forestry Co-operatives”. The goal of the Forestry Co-operatives is to manage their forests by enlarging the management scale to include: forest land, labour, capital, and improving the socio-economic position of the members. Simultaneously, the Forest Association Law was replaced by the Forestry Co-operatives Law.

Nowadays, Forestry Co-operatives are also involved in planning of reforestation, management and harvesting, storage, marketing and trade of forest products, and loans. Forestry co-operatives are also considering becoming involved in supplying drinking water produced in the mountain areas.

The Government is fully committed to implementing the Forest Principles and related forestry matters of Agenda 21. The government supports the Montreal process for sustainable forest management. In compliance with international agreements and the new global initiatives on forest and forestry, the Forest Law was revised in 1994.

The Government has actively expanded international co-operation on forestry matters. During the last ten years, about 100 junior foresters from tropical countries have been invited to visit Korea to share their experiences in silviculture and soil erosion control. The Korea International Co-operation Agency (KOICA) was established in 1990 to expand the co-operation and to improve the relationship with developing countries. Bilateral co-operation with Germany, Japan, and Indonesia has also been strengthened.

In regard to sustainable forest management, the Government has been actively involved in the Helsinki and Montreal processes to determine the criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. In implementing sustainable forest management, several problems will have to be faced, including:

· Inefficient forest resources management for the present and future generations;

· Unbalanced forest ownership between public and private forest, which might hinder efficient forest land use;

· Not enough private forest owners participation, due to unattractive investment environment conditions such as low profits and long-term investment; and

· Land use conflicts due to the increasing demand for land by other sectors.

Important achievements in the last two years (1998-2000)

a. Implementation of public works Project for Tending the Forests

The forestry sector has been playing substantial role in promoting employment opportunities during the economic crisis. A Forest for Life Project which is called “Soop Kakoogi” in Korea, was launched in 1998 and will continue till 2002 to hire unemployed workers for silvicultural activities, including weeding, pruning, thinning and under-storey cutting. This project has had a positive impact, i.e. the perception and public awareness towards the importance of sustainable forest management has been significantly improved. In 1998, the Korea Forest Service (KFS) hired 2.8 million people with a total expenditure of US$ 45 million. This increased to 4.83 million people and US$ 147 million in 1989. This project was one of the most efficient projects among the 20 unemployed labour hiring projects.

b. Establishment of the 21st century forestry vision

In the late 20th century the socio-economic situation in the country was changing rapidly. Therefore, the 21st century forestry vision was crafted in 1999 to enable forest development in harmony with the socio-economic conditions and the environment.

c. Construction of a forest information system

A forest site survey project was started in 1995 and will be completed in 2000. A Forest Geographic Information System that will provide the basic information for scientific forest management will be completed in 2002. A National Arboretum Institute and a National Plants Resource Information Network for endemic plant management has been established.

d. Strengthening of forest fire prevention

Forests are under great risk from fire caused by careless human beings, which is increasing in proportion with the increasing number of people visiting forests for recreational activities. In 1998, it was reported that 265 forest fires occurred, destroying 1,014 ha of forests, 50% of which were caused by careless people. In collaboration with local governments, KFS established and maintained several ground and airborne fire squads and supporting teams. In 1999, KFS organised 656 ground forest fire squads and airborne fires squads involving about 19 thousand people and 40 people respectively.

e. Establishment of forest related NGOs

Three important NGOs have been established, i.e. Forest for Peace (FFP); Forest for Life (FFL); and Northeast Asian Forest Forum (NAFF). The main activity of FFL, which was established in 1988, is to lead people to plant trees around suburbs and in educational activities. While the main activity of FFP, which was established in March 1999, is to help the Government of Korea Democratic People's Republic to reforest lands that were destroyed by floods and drought.

The objectives of establishing NAFF are to promote the environmentally sound and sustainable management of the forest ecosystem in the Northeast Asian Region by strengthening the relevant networks. The main purpose of NAFF includes reforestation and afforestation, strengthening dialogues and environmental education for sustainable forest development, exchange of information on forest conservation and sustainable forestry management, and co-operation with FFP to solve food problems and to prevent natural disaster caused by deforestation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

f. International co-operation

KFS invited and trained 19 forestry officials from 11 developing countries in 1999. KFS organised the Korea-Indonesia Forestry Commission and signed the Forestry Co-operation Agreement with Vietnam and Myanmar in 1999.

g. Green lottery

KFS invented a new lottery programme called the “green lottery”. The funds collected will be used for the enhancement of forest environmental functions. The programme advocates that to purchase a green lottery is the same as planting a tree. Indirectly, it will strengthen the people's awareness of the important role of forests and trees and understanding the importance of public participation in this matter.

h. Reformation of forestry co-operatives

To improve the benefits of the forest owners and to promote sustainable forest management, the co-operative system was changed into an association system. Simultaneously, the Forestry Association Law was accepted by the National Assembly in 1999 to replace the Forestry Co-operative Law.


· Structural deterioration in competitiveness caused by the growing inefficiency of the government-guided economic system, the dwindling supply of low cost skilled labour, restriction of log exports by tropical countries, increased prices of imported logs, and development of substitutes for timber.

· Problems of forest fires are gradually becoming larger with an increase in favourable conditions for fires such as the recovery of forest stands, the accumulation of ground surface material susceptible to forest fires, and the rapid increase in the number of outdoor recreations.

· Due to the rapid increase in demand for leisure activities in the forest and a large number of mountain climbers, there is a growing problem of accumulated waste and trash in the forests.

Focal point
Park Jung-Sik
Director General
Forestry Policy Bureau
Forestry Administration
207 Chongnyangni-dong
Seoul, 130-012
Tel: 82-2-961-2349
Fax: 82-2-961-2345


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