Deforestation - Sichuan's Mountains, Mountains, Mountains

Sichuan, China
March-April 2013

Merlion Wayfarer was recently on a trip to the mountainous regions in Sichuan, China.

Before going there, she didn't know much about Sichuan, other than there are "a lot of mountains" there. It was only during the bus journeys that she grew to appreciate the skills of the drivers there. (Her harrowing experiences are detailed in "Treacherous Mountain Roads - Is Your Life Worth 100 RMB?")

The true nature of Sichuan mountains:
  • Surfaces with vertical drops...
  • Mountain roads with wire meshes holding the loose stones on the cliffs together to protect vehicles travelling on the roads...
  • A lot of evidence of landslides - not just pebbles, but rocks too...
  • Loose shale, a lot of it on the roads...
  • Roads which crumble away into the valleys below...
  • Valleys with fallen rocks and boulders, some changing the path of the flow of rivers...

Imagine the resulting devastation from an earthquake in such an area...

(Source : Boston University)

Plate tectonics formed the Longmen Shan Fault, which runs north-easterly under the Sichuan mountains. It is a thrust fault which runs along the base of the Longmen Mountains in Sichuan province in southwestern China. Motion on this fault is responsible for the uplift of the mountains relative to the lowlands of the Sichuan Basin to the east. Both the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake and the 2013 Ya'an earthquake occurred along this fault.

Other than the mountainous terrain and the geological nature of the surface, another reason for the resulting devastation from earthquakes here is due to massive deforestation.  

In many parts of Sichuan, mountains are bare - Clumps of tree stumps dot rocky hills, sticking out like patchy stubble on an otherwise denuded landscape. Deforestation has taken a toll here, leaving local people and an abundance of wildlife increasingly pressed for the resources they need to survive. 

This is a stark contrast to protected regions like the UNESCO sites ("The Fairyland Of Lakes Made From Wind And Clouds") within the region.

Her tour guide explains why...

China is one of the world’s biggest timber producers, importers and exporters.  One result of China's rapid economic growth has been the massive expansion of the timber trade, which has been growing by over 110% annually for the past few years.

Deforestation was sparked by the rush to industrialize in the 1950s and 60s. Because of its central location, Sichuan became a prime wood source for the furnaces that sparked China’s meteoric development. Through the 1980s and 90s, state-run forestry agencies were designed not to preserve trees but rather profit from their harvesting. 

Deforestation has many negative effects on the environment. 

  • The most dramatic impact is a loss of habitat for millions of species. Seventy percent of Earth’s land animals and plants live in forests, and many cannot survive the deforestation that destroys their homes.

  • Deforestation also drives climate change. Forest soils are moist, but without protection from sun-blocking tree cover they quickly dry out. Trees also help perpetuate the water cycle by returning water vapor back into the atmosphere. Without trees to fill these roles, many former forest lands can quickly become barren deserts.
  • Removing trees deprives the forest of portions of its canopy, which blocks the sun’s rays during the day and holds in heat at night. This disruption leads to more extreme temperatures swings that can be harmful to plants and animals.
  • Trees also play a critical role in absorbing the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming. Fewer forests means larger amounts of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere - and increased speed and severity of global warming.

Do not await a natural calamity before taking action.
Protect the greens today.

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