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Zhang Lei1


Forestry in China has advanced considerably after 20 years of reform and development. A primary indicator of the impacts of the reform is the significant increase in total forest size and stock volume. On 18 January 2006, the 6th National Forest Resources Investigation revealed that national forest cover in 2003 amounted to 174.9 million hectares or 18.21 percent of the total land area. This represented an increase of 16 million hectares since 1998 or an average annual increase of 1.9 percent — double the figure for the period from 1949 to 1998. With an increase of 890 million m3, forest stock volume reached 12.5 billion m3, equivalent to 0.8 m3 per capita. Thus the persistent exploitation experienced during the 1990s has been overcome and the steady rise of forest quantity and quality marks a historic turning point in the development of the forest sector.

The second indicator of the impact of reform is containment of national ecological deterioration through long-term large-scale afforestation. Scientific data show that desertification has been diminishing in 19 of China’s provinces since 2002. Specifically, signs of receding sand cover and ecological rehabilitation are being seen in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Ningxia — all key desertification zones. Dust storm frequency is also declining. Moreover, the area affected by water and soil erosion has decreased by 11 000 km2 over recent years to 3 560 000 km2 and in 2003, sediment volume in 11 of the country’s main rivers declined sharply (by 50 percent in the Yangtze and Huai rivers). Wildlife species are also staging a recovery as a result of measures taken to protect biodiversity.

A third indicator of past efforts is the deepening extent of forestry reform. All domestic markets for timber and forest products have been liberalized. Although forest resources are limited, domestic production and forest products processing industries have developed rapidly as national economic growth has strengthened. In relation, China has become the world’s largest exporter of wooden furniture and there has also been a dramatic increase in the export of non-wood forest products.

One of the major current challenges to Chinese forestry is to continue the progress achieved by the six key forestry programmes, namely:


The Natural Forest Protection Program.


The Program for Conversion of Cropland into Forests.


The Sandification Control Program for the Vicinity of Beijing and Tianjin.


The Three-North Shelterbelt Development Program and the Shelterbelt Development Program along the Yangtze River Basin.


The Wildlife Conservation and Nature Reserves Development Program.


The Forest Industrial Base Development Program in Key Regions with a Focus on Fast-growing and High-yielding Timber Plantations.

Reform of forest tenure in both state-owned and collectively owned forest areas is to be accelerated in order to enhance the productivity of forest land. The forest sector will also participate in the construction of new socialist villages, based on the directives of China’s 11th Five-year Plan (2006–2010). Objectives include increasing farmers’ income, boosting agricultural productivity and enhancing the natural environment.


The Communist Party of China (CPC) and the state have attached importance to forestry since the establishment of New China in 1949. The protection and development of forests and wildlife resources have been addressed continuously by the government through the establishment of agencies with experienced senior management. Although the forest sector and its functions have been modified over time, the system has been comparatively independent and stable.

Changes in organizational structure of the forestry administration

Since 1949 central government has focused on organizational modification to address new requirements associated with economic reform and social development. Against a background of state government organizational reform, the internal structures of forest agencies have changed tremendously. The general setting has, however, been more related to needs for protection, development and exploitation of forests and wildlife resources. In the years mentioned below, changes in forest agencies coincided with reforms in state government organizations.

1949: The Ministry of Forestry and Land Reclamation

1951: The Ministry of Forestry

1956: Bifurcation into the Ministry of Forestry and Ministry of Forestry Industry

1958: Merged with the Ministry of Agriculture

1970: Incorporated within the Ministry of Agriculture as a department

1979: Ministry of Forestry

1982: Ministry of Forestry

1988: Ministry of Forestry

1998: State Forestry Administration

Organizational reform before 1982

During the period of national postwar economic reconstruction (1949–1958), the main goals in Chinese forestry development were to contribute capital for the initiation of industrialization and to provide timber for large-scale construction. Therefore the forestry sector at that time was focused on timber harvesting and exploitation. In Northeast, Southwest and South China, forests were logged on a large scale. However, from 1958 to 1978 attention turned towards vegetative rehabilitation and species protection. During the 1970s, problems associated with the increasing seriousness of forest degradation and the greater frequency of natural disasters were addressed by the state. Since then, vegetative cover has gradually improved through harvest management, regeneration of logged-over woodland and the establishment of state-owned forest plantations on barren mountainsides and land suitable for forests and nature reserves. Protected areas have also been established.

After October 1949, the following offices were created under the Central People’s Government: People’s Revolutionary Military Commission, the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorial Administration and the Government Administration Council. Under the latter, there were 35 commissions, ministries, administrative offices and councils, which were in charge of state administration. At that juncture, the Ministry of Forestry and Land Reclamation internally established the following branches: the Forestry Administration Department, Afforestation Department, Forestry Operation Department, Forestry Utilization Department and the General Office. Otherwise, the Bureau of Afforestation of Western Hebei Barren Sand Land addressed desertification in that area.

Agriculture and forestry ministries were established in the northeast, northwest, east, middle south and southwest administrative areas, respectively. Agriculture and forestry departments (Ting in Chinese) were components of each provincial government.

On 5 November 1951, the Ministry of Forestry and Land Reclamation was renamed the Ministry of Forestry as a result of administrative reclamation affairs being transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture. By 1953, the initial year of the first five-year plan in China, over 500 forestry-related agencies had been set up nationwide.

In 1954 a significant streamlining took place at different levels in central and local government. The State Council, however, subsequently began to add various agencies and offices and by 1956 there were 81 units — the greatest number of government agencies since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). On 12 May 1956, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress decided to set up the Ministry of Forest Industry, with its ten internal departments responsible for forest industry throughout the entire country. The Ministry of Forestry continued in administering nationwide afforestation, forest management and production of forest products through its ten departments and bureaus. It adopted the administrative system of the former Soviet Union but with little effort to integrate with China’s domestic situation. This resulted in an inevitable administrative dichotomy between forest harvesting and forest cultivation. On 11 February 1958, the 1st National People’s Congress decided to merge the Ministry of Forest Industry and the Ministry of Forestry, and to set up constituent departments and bureaus based on the responsibilities of the two former ministries.

Between 1960 and 1964, a third comparatively major reform of government agencies was carried out to effect national economic adjustment and by the end of 1965 there were 79 agencies under the State Council. During the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), government departments experienced radical changes. In 1970, the 79 agencies were either disestablished or incorporated among 32 new offices, of which 13 were led by the military. The number of central governmental agencies dropped to its lowest since liberation. In June of that year, the Ministry of Forestry was disbanded and incorporated with five other organizations including the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Agriculture Reclamation into the Revolutionary Committee of Agriculture and Forestry. In early 1975, it was renamed the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

When the Gang of Four was smashed in 1976, the administrative system and organizational set up of the late 1950s were adopted and developed to enhance governmental rehabilitation as the economy had almost collapsed.

The offices of the State Council increased in number to 100 in 1981, reaching their highest level since liberation. But over the course of gradually deepening reform, the overstaffed administrative organizations were handicapped by the demands of the open door policy, minor reforms and economic and social development. Thus there was an urgent need for re-invention.

After the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and during the initial stages of reform and introduction of the open door policy, forestry reconstruction became a major objective. The state re-enforced the forest sector according to working requirements and underscored the independence of forestry administration. The combined structure of the national agriculture and forestry administration system was, however, not changed fundamentally. In May 1978, it was decided to make the state forestry administration directly subordinate to the State Council. The new set up was administered by the Ministry of Agriculture on behalf of the State Council. In February 1979, the Central Committee of the CPC and the State Council decided to detach forestry functions from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and form the Ministry of Forestry as the ministry responsible for national forestry management and the forest industry.

Organizational reform in 1982

Reform of the state administrative system

From 1982, top-down organizational reforms at different levels were carried out by the State Council to harmonize with economic reforms and the open door policy launched after the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the CPC. Large-scale reform lasted for three years and was aimed at structuring and perfecting communist party and governmental organizations at various levels. The reform was based on enhancing human resources and simplifying administration and also aimed at reconstructing government to allow further development of economic reforms. Economic administrative departments were therefore disestablished or incorporated to provide optimum conditions for deepening economic reform. Consequently, some of the more mature departments were transformed into economic organizations.

Retirement systems were put in place and selection of younger staff with higher education and skill levels was encouraged. Mandatory age and educational requirements were stipulated for heads of department at different levels. Assistant positions were also reduced and, consequently, the quality of senior management improved considerably. To simplify administration, the number of ministries, subordinate offices and administrative bodies in the state council was reduced from 100 to 61. With respect to staffing, the total number of positions was reduced from 51 000 to 30 000 and the average age of senior officers fell from 64 to 60 at the ministry level and from 58 to 54 at the bureau level.

During the reform, efforts were aimed at reconstructing and optimizing the administrative system. A breakthrough was achieved by simplifying leading groups at different administrative levels, abandoning lifetime positions for senior staff and increasing the rate of influx of younger staff. An overall revolution in administration was not, however, called for as the economic reforms at the time focused primarily on rural areas. As a result, the highly concentrated administrative system supporting the planned economy remained intact and a full transformation of governmental functions could not be realized.

Forestry scenario before reform

Economic reform and a process of “opening doors to the outside world” were implemented in China in 1978. In rural areas households were given forestry-related responsibilities under contract according to defined outputs. In the south, the “Three Determinations” policy was initially started in collectively owned forest areas and authorization was given for land tenure in mountain and forest areas. Between 1981 and 1983, peasant households operated 71 percent of the collective forest land under contract. Timber markets in Northern China and the Central Plains were then liberalized and, at first, planned timber production was greatly reduced. There was, therefore, a good degree of flexibility in the system and the market economy was thus gradually introduced. Ultimately, however, the government structure, designed to operate as a planned economy, could not adapt to the demands of rapid economic development.

The reform course

The Ministry of Forestry (MoF) continued to improve and fine tune its structure and functions after its revival in 1979. During the first organizational reform in 1982, the MoF, as the administrative body for national forestry under the State Council, was given independent status. Its main work was to enact and enforce forestry principles, policies and acts of the Party and the state. It aimed to mobilize afforestation efforts for “greening the motherland”, to encourage protection and rational utilization of forest resources and finally to direct and guide forestry activities in provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions.

The forestry reform in 1982 involved three main thrusts: (1) Comprehensive responsibilities, such as the implementation of principles, policies and acts, as well as the management of planning and finance components; (2) vocational and professional functions, including administration of afforestation, production of forest products, forest protection and fire prevention, management of forest pests and diseases and the conservation of forest resources; (3) societal issues, including forestry science and technology, education, foreign affairs, awareness raising, cadre organization and the administration of enterprises and institutions directly subordinate to the ministry. The ministry had more functions after 1982 than during the nascent period of New China. The additional social functions meant that forestry administrative management was not only more complicated but also less manoeuvrable.

Figure 1. Forestry administrative structure in 1982

Organizational reform in 1988

Reform of the state administrative system

In 1988, the State Council decided to conduct organizational reform within the government to check the overexpansion that occurred after the 1982 reform. The main reasons for reform remained, however, the intensively focused economic reform plan and the fact that many governmental functions had not been transferred. The reform plan for the State Council administrative system was developed in early 1988 and on 9 April of that year, it was passed by the first session of the 7th National People’s Congress. For the first time the reform necessitated re-organization of government functions to increase macroregulatory power and to regulate trade, while the roles of distributing capital and materials and direct intervention in enterprise management were addressed by specialized economic entities.

Reforms aimed to rationally allocate functions, scientifically divide responsibilities and adjust organizational structure to strengthen macromanagement and weaken micromanagement. As such, direct management by the economic administrative bodies was to be exchanged for indirect management. In addition, roles would be altered and the working styles improved to raise administrative efficiency and enhance operational mechanisms. Lastly, legislation for governmental administration would be accelerated. The most important issue was reform of economic administrative bodies to maintain pace with reform of the economic system.

During the reform, the number of ministries and commissions under the State Council was reduced from 45 to 41; departments directly subordinate to the State Council were reduced from 22 to 19; non-standing organizations decreased from 75 to 44; 20 percent of departments and bureaus within the ministries and commissions were cut. Among the 66 ministries, commissions and bureaus of the State Council, over 15 000 staff in 32 agencies were redeployed. But in another 30 agencies, there was an increase of 5 300 staff members. Thus 9 700 staff were redeployed after structural reform.

Forestry situation before reform

The reform of the State Council system coincided with moves being made towards a market economy in China. During this period, the core state forestry policies focused on increasing timber production to satisfy the growing demand for forest products. Fast-growing and high-yielding plantations of the empress tree (Paulownia tomentosa) were established in Northern China and the Central Plains to meet the rapidly increasing requirements associated with residential house construction in the countryside. Reform in forest tenure in the south resulted in overharvesting of forestry resources in collectively owned forest areas and the associated ecological damage drew attention from the state government. Control measures to mitigate threats from soil and water erosion, desertification and wind in Northwest, North and Northeast China were initiated and the Three North Shelterbelt programme was initiated. Moreover the state began to re-enforce forest resources’ administration and in 1984, the first Forest Law was issued and enacted by the PRC. A policy on forest resource harvesting quotas became effective in the following year.

Forestry reform course

The highlight of the 1988 governmental re-organization was the reshaping of governmental duties, which subsequently became more precise and explicit. Based on the requirements stipulated by the State Council, the MoF reshuffled its departments and expanded their mandates to:

The societal functions of the ministry remained generally unchanged.

During the 1988 organizational reform, the MoF was an independent ministry under the State Council. The reform process followed a top-down sequence: first the central government then local governments in a step-by-step procedure. However local organizational reform did not transpire for legislative reasons. As a result, local forestry departments or bureaus retained their status as of 1983.

Figure 2. Forestry administrative structure in 1988

Organizational reform in 1998

The reform of state organizations

A new large-scale reform was initiated after The Decision on the Plan of Reform of the State Council Organisations had been debated by the First Session of the 9th National People’s Congress on 10 March 1998. The State Council’s vision for the new reform was a highly efficient, coherent governmental administrative system. In addition, the state civilian system was supposed to emulate the reform and a team of highly qualified and skilled administrators was put together to develop a governmental administrative system, adaptable to the socialist market economy system, but displaying inherently Chinese characteristics.

The principles of the reform included: (1) separating government agencies from enterprises in order to redirect governmental tasks, based on the requirements of the socialist market economy; (2) to establish less complex organizations by simplifying government organizational structure; (3) to re­adjust responsibilities and rights among governmental agencies and to fine tune administrative mechanisms by dividing defined duties between departments; (4) to consolidate legal institutions in the administrative system.

As a result of the reform, the number of the organizations in and under the State Council was reduced from 40 to 29, besides the General Office of the State Council. There were 12 new agencies for government administration, four for macrocontrol, eight for specialized economic administration and five for education, science and technology, culture, social security and natural resource management.

In addition, 200 offices were shifted from departments of the State Council to new venues. One-fourth of the departments and bureaus were eliminated within ministries and there was a 47.5 percent reduction in staff. After the reform, the proportion of middle-aged and young staff in the new State Council agencies increased from 53 to 59 percent. As part of these reforms, the MoF was renamed the State Forestry Administration at the beginning of the year.

Forestry situation before the reform

In 1998, severe natural disasters — floods and sandstorms — occurred in China. Financial input from the state reached unprecedented levels, with an annual investment of 40 billion yuan2 — equal to the sum total of investments over the previous 50 years. The Natural Forestry Protection Program, the Program for Conversion of Cropland into Forests and the Sandification Control Program for the Vicinity of Beijing and Tianjin were initiated. There were, at the same time, major reductions in staff levels in state-owned forestry enterprises and inputs for the protection of forests, wild animals and plants were increased. Households growing grain crops on land with slopes exceeding 25° were provided with grain and cash subsidies by the government to plant trees rather than crops. In seriously degraded areas, open grazing was prohibited and fence construction and rotational grazing were encouraged. Furthermore, marginalized people living in conditions in which survival was difficult received financial assistance from the government to move elsewhere. There was also tremendous expansion of nature reserves.

Process of forestry reform

In 1998 the MoF was re-organized as the State Forestry Administration (SFA) and was thus considered a body for specialized economic administration. The SFA was guided by The Plan of Reform of the State Council Organisations issued by the First Session of the 9th National People’s Congress in the same year. The document stipulated three governmental functions: macrocontrol, social administration and public service.

Environmental degradation was, however, still an issue in 1998 and forest management was badly needed for natural ecological and environmental recovery. Therefore, the mandate for forestry administrative management was further strengthened. For example, analysis and policy planning duties for “greening” activities were assigned to expand the scope of the national forestry sector. The terms of reference for the administrative management of forestry were explicitly defined, i.e. the prevention of water and soil erosion, control of sandification through biological measures such as afforestation and grass planting, organizing and directing the management of forest land and tenure and analysis of forest land expropriation. The organizational structure of the SFA is shown in Figure 3.

Despite the status of the SFA having been lowered, its workload increased. In the 1999 local organizational reform, 14 forestry departments — or Ting in Chinese — at the provincial level were re-assigned as forestry bureaus while keeping the full rank of Ting. At the same time, some provincial forestry administrative agencies were promoted to Ting status.

Figure 3. Forestry administrative structure in 1998



The Ministry of Forestry Reclamation, one of the primary group of 19 agencies of the Government Administration Council, had authoritative departments and straightforward mandates such that forestry development proceeded at a rapid pace. As early as 1954, the achievements of New China’s forestry initiative were acclaimed at the 4th World Forestry Conference. Between 1966 and 1978, however, the forestry sector was paralyzed by the Cultural Revolution during which there was considerable interference in forestry including heavy and persistent exploitation of forest resources. From 1970 to 1978, forestry organizations, at both central and local levels, were merged into agricultural and forestry units which greatly diminished their authority. Afforestation and greening stagnated and forest resources deteriorated grievously through lack of management. Consequently, forest cover decreased from 12.7 to 12 percent in less than ten years. Nevertheless, in February 1979 the Ministry of Forestry was established and the Forestry Law of the People’s Republic of China (for Trial) was issued. After this the state began to put more emphasis on forestry development.


Between 1982 and 1987 focus was directed towards timber price adjustment and forest policy analysis. Work also involved stabilizing tenure in mountain and forest lands, determining ownership in hilly lands and defining forest production responsibilities. From 1 January 1982, standards for withdrawing funds for forest cultivation and for state-owned and collectively owned forest areas were established. From 1985, the state’s monopoly over purchase of timber from collectively owned areas was abolished and timber markets were preliminarily opened to allow forest dwellers to negotiate sales and purchases. In addition, a nationwide afforestation campaign was initiated and the National Afforestation Committee was set up. The Forestry Law of the People’s Republic of China was enacted on 1 January 1985 and by 1988, the 3rd Nationwide Forest Resource Investigation revealed that forest cover had increased to 12.98 percent. Standing timber stock was, at the same time, estimated to equal 105 720 000 m3, forest stock, 9 141 000 000 m3 and forest area, 124 652 800 hectares (State Forestry Administration Net).


During this period forest administrative units were strengthened at all levels and a forestry administrative system was gradually developed. The enormous task of afforestation and regreening, and protecting and managing forests and wildlife resources resulted in a renaissance for forestry in China. In the early 1980s, significant achievements were made by the Three North Shelterbelt programme, including afforestation of 9 200 000 hectares and preservation of 7 333 300 hectares of forest (Forest Information Net). In May 1989, the MoF issued the Announcement on Strengthening the Administration of Forest Harvesting Licenses. As a result a coordinated nationwide licensing system for forest harvesting was enforced while in the Northeast and Inner Mongolia, timber felling quotas were issued to industrial forestry enterprises. Wildlife protection was also enforced and criminal activities such as poaching, smuggling and illegal wildlife trade were firmly checked and sternly punished. Together, these measures resulted in balance being achieved between forest growth and forest resource consumption in 1992.


During this period, central government was fully aware of the need for afforestation, regreening and forestry development in relation to the new open door policy and economic development. Environmental rehabilitation was therefore a major goal and, in relation, illegal activities were severely punished and regulations for forest fire prevention rigorously enforced. Efficient and modern fire-fighting techniques were also adopted which resulted in better forest fire management and reduced tree loss. Otherwise the National Center for Combating Desertification was created and the state became a party to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

After 1993, forest stocks had grown to exceed national consumption needs and the deficit in forest resources was eliminated. In the same year, the national forest estate reached 133 333 000 hectares, total standing timber stock 117 850 000 m3, forest stock 10 137 000 000 m3 and forest cover reached 13.92 percent. By 1998, forest cover had increased to 16.55 percent.

1998 — present

Public awareness of the status and functions of forestry underwent a radical change after the extraordinarily serious flooding in 1998. The public, Party committees and government departments at different levels realized the value of the services provided by forests. After the MoF was re­organized into the SFA in 1998, forestry development enjoyed its most productive years in history. For example, six major forestry programmes were initiated, investments by state and local governments increased considerably and a sense of optimism prevailed. To some extent, however, weakening of authority in some forestry departments had a negative influence.


Administrative overlaps within government

Overlaps with environmental protection: Environmental protection measures were emphasized by the forestry administration since reforms began and the open door policy was introduced. The Environment Protection Committee of the State Council was established in 1984 with the subordinate State Environment Protection Administration as its administrative body. It was elevated to full ministry status in 1998.

There are a number of administrative overlaps between forestry and environmental protection organizations. For example, forest resources are also included in the purview of environmental protection agencies because of the definition of the environment included in the Basic Law of Environmental Protection: “the ensemble of various natural elements produced in nature or reformed artificially that exerts influence on human survival and development. It consists of atmosphere, water, oceans, land, minerals, forests, grassland, wildlife, natural remains, human relics, natural preserves, scenic and historical sites, cities and villages, etc.”.

In 1994 the State Environment Protection Administration increased its responsibilities to include human welfare and ecosystem protection and enhancement. Its mandate was thus expanded into areas associated with forestry. Subsequently it was also made responsible for nationwide planning, establishing and monitoring protected areas, and design and supervision of natural preserves. In addition, the State Environment Protection Administration is responsible for monitoring biodiversity, control of natural resource exploitation activities that may have a negative impact on ecosystems and protection of rare and endangered species, including control of related trade. It also has the authority to investigate and penalize violations related to severe ecosystem damage.

Following the 1998 reform, state environmental agencies were authorized to address village ecosystem protection and to supervise the development of model ecosystem areas and ecofriendly agriculture. They were also authorized to direct and monitor wetland protection and desertification prevention, and to inspect and examine the protection of various types of natural preserves including scenic places, forestry parks and state natural reserves.

Overlaps with agriculture: Overlaps with agriculture are primarily in relation to tea, mulberry and fruit tree management. In the early days after the establishment of the PRC, forest agencies were responsible for afforestation and before 1979 there were no significant areas of overlap between forestry and agriculture administration. In relation, the provisional Forest Law of the PRC clearly stipulates (sic) “Economic Forest: the forest trees which are mainly aimed at producing fruits and nuts, eatable oil, industrial raw materials and medical herbs” and “the State Council sets up the Ministry of Forestry, which administers the forestry development in the country”.

In 1979, however, when the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry was divided into two ministries, the new MoF paid insufficient attention to the development of economic forests and ceded management of tea, mulberry and fruit trees to agricultural organizations. In 1987 the State Council resolved that on sloping lands the management of tea, mulberry and fruit trees should be conducted by the forestry organizations and elsewhere by agriculture organizations. Disputes over the administrative management of these trees, however, remain to this day.

Overlaps with water conservation: Since liberation, forests and forest agencies have played an important role in conserving water and soil through afforestation, buffer zone maintenance and other more general areas of forest management. Water conservation organizations, however, increasingly assumed this role after the reform and open door policy, particularly in relation to reclamation of small river basins.

In 1988, the Ministry of the Water Conservancy had a specific mandate for the management of water and soil conservation. In particular the Department of Irrigation and Water and Soil Conservation was responsible for water resources and water and soil conservation in rural areas nationwide. The 1991 Law of Water and Soil Conservation underscores activities to be carried out by water conservancy organizations. The law stipulates (sic) “The organisation of the State Council in Charge of Water is responsible for nationwide water and soil conservation”. Thus, water conservancy organizations have now become major law enforcement agencies with resulting overlap with areas of forestry administration.

During the 1994 and 1998 reforms, the Ministry of Water Conservancy held on to its mandate for administering and organizing water and soil conservation nationwide, as did the Department of Irrigation and Water and Soil Conservation. Although the 1998 reform clearly indicated that afforestation should be transferred to the SFA, this has not transpired in relation to either practical work or investment.

Overlaps in city landscaping and greening: Before 1992, the greening of towns, villages and minor city suburbs at the county level was conducted by forestry organizations. Landscaping and greening in larger cities was carried out by either forestry agencies or urban construction and landscaping organizations. In 1992, important changes took place upon issuance of the Measures of Implementation for City Greening Regulations. According to the regulations, forestry organizations can only administer rural areas while urban construction and landscaping organizations address city forestry.

Overlaps in administration of scenic and historic places and forest parks: Launch in 1985 of the Provisional Regulations of the Administration of Scenic and Historic Places had a significant impact on forest parks and state-owned forestry plantations administered by forestry organizations. The regulations stipulate that (sic) “All the places with appreciable, cultural or scientific value, with comparatively concentrated natural and human scenery, with certain scale and beautiful environment, and with the capacity for people to visit, relax or conduct scientific or cultural activities, should be defined as scenic and historic places”. The regulations also stipulate “The Ministry of Urban and Rural Construction and Environment Protection manage the work of nationwide scenic and historic places. While the urban and rural construction organisations of governments at various levels administer their local scenic and historic places respectively”. In addition, the regulations state that scenic damage, environmental destruction (including pollution) and poaching should be addressed by the organization concerned and that destructive activities should be stopped and the economic losses re-imbursed. According to the seriousness of the case, penalties should also be imposed.

Once an area is identified as a place of scenic or historical interest it is, therefore, automatically under either government jurisdiction or the jurisdiction of the relevant administrative organization. In forest parks and state-owned forest plantations designated as sites of scenic or historic interest, timber harvesting and utilization of forest resources are restrained. The forest park is, however, responsible for fire prevention, disease and pest control and forest resource protection. In some locations, the forest park is awarded a share of the profits from admission fees but generally only the administrative organizations for the scenic or historic place benefit from entrance fees. Forest parks therefore hold responsibility for protection and providing ecological services but have no right to the capital generated in relation to their duties.

Forestry administration and ecosystem management

Since the establishment of New China, more than 5 billion m3 of timber have been supplied to the country and state investment has been concentrated on timber production. After UNCED in 1992, environmental issues increased in prominence and demands grew for a more diverse range of services from the forestry sector. Therefore, a new administrative system for implementing adjustments and controlling activities was needed. Despite changes in the orientation of forestry — from natural forest harvesting to plantation production and from forest clearance to reforestation of farmland — a system to manage and coordinate higher and higher societal demands has failed to materialize. This has largely been a result of difficulties in enhancing administrative functions due to the institutional inertia of offices associated with ecodevelopment programmes.

The appropriateness of forestry administrative organizations in relation to current responsibilities

Powerful forestry administrative organizations are necessary for the revival and development of forestry in China. In the State Council reform of 1998, however, the Ministry of Forestry was downgraded and re-organized as the State Forestry Administration and although the state has constantly increased input into forestry to accelerate the pace of development, the SFA seems to lack authority. In addition, the re-organization and lowering of the forestry authority negatively influenced local forestry organizations. Some local governments abolished or incorporated their forestry organizations into other institutions and this resulted in numerous difficulties in forestry development (Xiong 2004).

Forestry administration and social issues

One of the problems currently facing the forestry administration is a lack of focus on social and human issues. Forestry has relationships with many offices at the central and local government level in the areas of management, finance, agriculture, transportation, food production and banking. For efficient and effective management of the sector,, cooperation, joint implementation and comprehensive control are necessary among the different organisations at different levels. Forests are also linked to issues concerning population, natural resources, the environment and sustainable development and, as such forestry development relies heavily on human resources and social inputs.

Forestry administration and macrolevel control

State-owned forests account for 40 percent of the total forest area in China and are thus of considerable national importance. There is, however, no administrative organization to manage these forests and in key state-owned forest areas, there are no administrative or management entities overseeing operations. Therefore, no professional advice or guidance is available. Similarly, tenants in collectively owned forest areas have received no professional instruction in relation to forestry development although they are the main labour force. In the Law of Contracting Country Land, it is explicitly stated that law enforcement is the responsibility of both agriculture and forestry administrative organizations. There is, however, no executive agency within the forestry sector to implement and enforce the law.

Insufficient governmental focus on forest industry development

To encourage forest industry development in a market economy, the government should focus on policy development, cultivating markets and macrolevel regulation. A coordinated and open marketing system should be formed to enhance forest industry management. There are, however, insufficient units within the main forestry administrative organizations to address forest industry development owing to the current transition period between the old and new administrative systems. As a result, forest industry development has been limited.


Enhancing the unification and integration of forest agencies

There is a need for coordination in the supervision and administration of forest and wildlife resources to streamline government planning and project implementation. Policies administered by different government organizations will otherwise be enforced in the same forest areas resulting in inefficiency, duplication and confusion.

Enhancing independence of forestry agencies

The forestry sector is extremely diverse in its characteristics and activities — possibly more so than counterpart sectors. Due to the multifunctionality of forests and the difficulty in separating out and commoditizing individual functions and products, the utilization and exploitation of forests cannot be simply divided into individual parts. The unique characteristics and functions of forestry require unique arrangements and policies for their governance. Therefore, the government’s forestry administrative authority should maintain comparative independence in supervising and managing forest activities.

Enhancing the authority of forest agencies

In a market economy, government agencies should address, inter alia, organization of production, protection of intellectual property rights, development of market regulation and the creation of a fair and competitive market environment. Forests have considerable value in their role as a primary component in environmental development. Environmental health has become a fundamental and vital issue in ensuring sustainable socio-economic development in China, especially as ecosystems have been extensively degraded. Ecosystem rehabilitation has therefore become a major national goal. The six key forestry programmes undertaken since 1998 are part of the state’s reconstruction activities for enhancing social wealth. However, without authoritative government agencies and corresponding administrative regulations, it will be difficult to efficiently utilize the huge state investments and achieve stated programme objectives.

There has always been a trend towards multiple use of forests and wildlife resources in China because of the comparatively small pool of natural resources, the large extent of areas that are economically underdeveloped and the vast population. Conflicts between protection, development and utilization activities have been acute over the past 50 years. In this regard a number of laws for environmental protection and enhancement have been issued including the first economic law made by the state after the reform and open-door policy — the Forestry Law of the People’s Republic of China. In addition, many governmental and departmental rules and regulations have been instituted to govern the relationship between state interests and individual action. More than 70 provisions and clauses have also been drawn up to stipulate the responsibilities of the forest administrative authorities. Nevertheless, due to conflicts between protection and utilization, approximately one million violations of forestry-related legislation occur every year. Without a competent forest authority, such legislation could not be enforced and, as a result, government objectives would not be met and control would be lost. Furthermore, the state would have difficulty in honouring the international agreements related to forests and biodiversity that are increasingly influential in global politics and economics.

Enhancing the long-term stability of forestry organizations

As it is very much easier to destroy forests and wildlife than to bring them back, effective governmental monitoring and administration is essential. However, as forest boundaries are frequently ambiguous and resources are often openly accessible, protection from exploitation is difficult to accomplish. At the same time, China is a developing country with a huge population and a low forest resource endowment per capita where forest resources are nonetheless vital to the national economy and to people’s livelihoods. Rising population and rapid economic development are making increasing demands on limited forest resources and therefore, the state has to ensure that forestry policies and regulations remain valid and are properly enforced.

Harmonizing rehabilitation, development, protection and utilization of forests and wildlife

Due to the involvement of many government sectors and sections of society in national forestry-related outcomes, participation and support from across economic sectors and also from people in cities, towns and villages is needed to manage forests effectively — the state cannot manage such tasks alone. Careful coordination and cooperation among governmental departments is, however, necessary. In particular, attention should be paid to analysis and planning for forestry development.

Consideration should also be given to public awareness raising, education, monitoring, international cooperation and communication and implementation of international agreements. The fundamentally important functions of forestry will, however, remain as desertification prevention, erosion control and wetland protection and management.


Forestry in China has made significant progress during the 20 years of forestry reform: overconsumption of forest resources has been controlled; forest area and stock have increased; the country has the largest area of plantation forest in the world; the six key forestry programmes have diminished ecosystem degradation and forest resources have multiplied.

Forestry has become more adaptable to the demands generated by development in China’s national economy and society during 20 years of forestry reform. Government strategy has shifted from a planned economy to a market economy, which has facilitated the development of forest-related public and environmental services. International exchange of information has also expanded and cooperation has increased.

The major problems faced by forestry organizations in China are: fragmentation of forestry functions and associated loss of responsibilities to other fields; insufficient authority and stability among forest agencies; and lack of supervisory capacity for ecological protection, rural forestry and the forest industry.

Forest sector reform should focus on coordination and integration of the administration and monitoring systems for forest and wildlife resources within the forest organizations. The independence and authority of the forestry organizations should also be addressed to strengthen interior departments in the context of ecological protection, industry development and village forestry development.


The functions of the Ministry of Forestry and Land Reclamation in early New China

The main functions of the forestry organizations according to the state’s Instructions on Nationwide Forestry Work (the Government Administration Council, 16 May 1950) and associated regulations, included:


Protection of forests as the primary task; all actions related to forest destruction were prohibited.


Planned afforestation.


Plans for timber harvesting and administering timber transportation.


Prevention of forest fires, and prevention and treatment of forest diseases and pests.


Prevention of forest destruction for land reclamation.


Development of wind-break forests and sand defense forests.


Afforestation with Vernicia fordii, Cinnamonum cumphora, tea, Toxicodendron verniciflum, Sapium sebiferum, Juglans regia, Castanea mollissima, pear, apricot, Zanthoxylum bungeanum, date species and Morus alba.


Unified administration of wildlife. In 1962 the State Council issued instructions on The Active Protection and Rational Utilization of Wildlife Resources.


Administration of the wood-processing industry.


Administration of mechanized forest industry.

These ten functions can be classified into three categories: the protection of forest resources, the administration of timber harvesting and utilization and the organization of planting and afforestation.

The functions of the MoF following the 1982 organizational reform

In 1979 the MoF resumed its identity and its agencies and their functions were gradually improved. After the 1982 organizational reform, the MoF became the administrative authority of the State Council in charge of national forestry. Its main tasks included enforcement of the CPC’s and the state’s forestry principles, policies and acts; nationwide mobilization of people for tree planting, afforestation and greening of the land; and the protection and rational utilization of forest resources. Its mandate also included professional and vocational supervision and direction of forestry work in the provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions. Specific duties included:


Developing and analysis of forest policies and principles and supervision and monitoring of their implementation and effectiveness.


Developing forestry administrative regulations and rules, strengthening legislation, and supervising and monitoring implementation and enforcement of forest laws, acts and regulations.


Developing and organizing implementation of annual, mid- and long-term forestry plans.


Guiding afforestation and management of seeds and seedlings for state, collective and individually owned plantations; and conducting relevant work assigned by the central Afforestation Committee.


Administration of national timber production, forest rehabilitation and the forest product industry


The management and administration of forestry enterprises and institutions directly under the ministry.


The unified management and administration of timber and submanufactured timber; organizing timber orders, allocations, transfer and transportation according to the state plan for timber distribution; mediation of trading channels for privately owned and irregular timber; coordination with relevant departments to manage timber markets.


Administration of forest capital; developing and enforcing forestry financial and accounting rules; analysing and pricing forest products with concerned departments.


Assessment and administration of national forest resources; mapping of forested areas, planning and designing afforestation and forest management and exploitation; controlling forest resource consumption; and monitoring forest environment.


Organizing and managing the production of specialized facilities, introduction of foreign technology, provision and management of materials and energy in the forestry system.


Forest protection and fire prevention, forest disease and pest prevention, treatment and quarantine; management of national nature reserves and wildlife.


Organizing academic forest research; promotion of technology and technical standards for forestry production; facilitating forestry technology transfer.


Overseeing educational curricula in forestry colleges and secondary and primary schools in forest areas; administration of secondary and higher forestry education in schools and colleges directly under the ministry; training forestry leaders and educating ordinary workers.


Administration of forestry foreign affairs and activities, international cooperation and forestry import and export business.


Raising awareness on relevant forest policies or measures, e.g. via publications.


Steering forestry development in provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions together with relevant organizations.

The functions of the MoF following the 1988 organizational reform

In 1988 the forestry organizations adjusted their approaches according to the principle of “changes in functions, transferring powers to lower levels, adjusting and simplifying the administrative structures, and reducing staff”. Therefore, the major functions of the forestry organizations consisted of:


Analysing, drafting and implementing forestry policies, principles and laws, rules and regulations; and enforcement following approval.


Development of strategic and operational plans for forestry development, and organizing implementation of plans.


Research and guidance on reform of the forestry economic system.


Organizing and guiding national afforestation and greening efforts, development of forestry programmes and afforestation sites for protection forests, timber forests and cash forests.


Organizing the national forestry administration and monitoring, auditing and supervising forest resources. Examining and supervising implementation of harvesting quotas.


Directing and supervising state-owned forest plantations, seedling nurseries, forest farms and forestry working stations.


Organizing, directing and coordinating forest fire prevention, forest disease and pest prevention, treatment and quarantine; administration of the Armed Forestry Police.


Direction and administration of forests, nature reserves and forest parks; endangered wild animals and woody plant species.


Directing and monitoring the work of the national forestry police; coordination and supervision of investigations into major cases of forest resource destruction.


Direction, coordination and administration of timber harvesting and transportation, the forest product industry, wood pulping and paper making, forestry machinery, basic forest construction, diversification in forest areas; designing supply plans for uniform distribution of materials for forestry production and development.


Organizing planned distribution of timber and other related products; coordination of timber allocation and transport; providing guidance for non-planned timber and other forest product allocation.


Direction and supervision of forestry financial and accounting systems; organizing and administering forestry funds; coordination with relevant organizations to develop policy for regulation of prices, taxes and credits for forest products.


Nationwide coordination of water and soil conservation; participation in directing rural energy resource development (fuelwood forests).


Organizing and coordinating national technology research and development and promoting new technology; directing reforms in relation to science and technology.


Overseeing education and training as well as raising public awareness; providing guidance in building a society with high cultural and ideological levels.


Administration of foreign affairs and economic cooperation and exchange.


Managing staff in the ministry and the senior leaders in organizations directly subordinate to the ministry according to stipulated regulations; directing labour, wages and salaries and, security in the field.

The functions of the SFA following the 1998 organizational reform

In 1998 the MoF was transformed into the State Forestry Administration. Although the status of the organization changed from government cabinet member to being directly subordinate to the State Council, the workload increased considerably. The SFA’s main responsibilities included:


Analysis and drafting of policies and principles for developing forest ecosystems, protection of forest resources and greening activities; organizing the drafting of relevant laws and regulations and supervising their enforcement.


Drafting state forestry development strategies and mid- and long-term development plans and organizing their implementation; administering forestry funds at the central level; supervising management and usage of national forestry funds.


Organizing tree planting and afforestation; organizing and directing tree and grass planting to prevent and control desertification; organizing and coordinating compliance with international agreements on prevention and control of desertification; directing the construction and administration of state-owned forest plantations (nurseries), forest parks and primary-level forestry units.


Organizing and directing the management of forest resources (including cash forests, fuelwood forests, tropical forest crops, mangrove forests and other special-use forests); administration of state-owned forest resources in key forest areas assigned by the State Council and accreditation of forest resource supervision organizations; organizing inventories, monitoring and collection of statistics for national forest resources; monitoring and supervising forest resource use; authorizing forest harvesting quotas and supervising implementation after approval by the State Council; supervising harvesting and transportation of wood and bamboo with appropriate documentation; organizing and directing the administration of forest land and tenure; preliminary analysis of forest land requisition and occupation, to be approved by the State Council under the law.


Organizing and directing the protection and rational exploitation of terrestrial wildlife resources; drafting and regulating the protected animal and plants lists and reporting to the State Council for approval; directing the development and management of forests and natural preserves of terrestrial wildlife under the principles for area division and planning of state natural preserves; organizing and coordinating the protection of wetlands; examination and approval of the import and export of endangered species, as well as other wildlife, rare trees and plants, and their products; organizing and coordinating compliance with international conventions.


Organizing, directing and supervising national fire prevention; directing the national forest police; organizing and directing national activities associated with the prevention and treatment of forest diseases and pests, and with quarantine if undertaking work associated with the armed forest police office.


Research on analysis in relation to economic regulations for forestry development; supervision of state-owned forestry assets; examination and approval of key forestry development programmes.


Guidance on the cultivation of various types of commercial forests (including timber forests, cash forests, fuelwood forests, forests for medical use and bamboo groves) and scenic forests.


Organizing and directing work related to forestry science and technology, education and foreign affairs; overseeing the national development of forestry staff.


Undertaking other work assigned by the State Council.


Chen Xingliang. 2003. The fundamental orientation of the state organisation reform and the establishment of forestry administrative system. Forestry Economics, 2003, No. 2.

Xiong Jingfeng. 2004. Study on the forestry administrative system in China. Beijing Forestry University. (MA thesis)

Zhang Meihua. 2002. Research on Chinese forestry administrative system. Southwest Agriculture University. (Ph.D. thesis)

Xinhua Net.

The Net of the State Forestry Administration.

The Net of the Forestry Information.

1 China National Forestry Economics and Development Research Center, State Forestry Administration.

2 US$1.00 = CNY7.89 (October 2006).

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