Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development in Southwest China

University of Wisconsin-Madison NSF IGERT China Program

Jamon Van Den Hoek


    In reaction to devastating floods on the Yangtze River in 1998, the Chinese Central Government enacted the Natural Forest Protection Project (NFPP), which introduced a ban on commercial logging across 17 Chinese provinces. The objective of the logging ban was to decrease soil erosion rates via forest regrowth and improved soil retention. One of the priority areas for forest regrowth was Yunnan Province because of the extreme soil erosion in the Three Parallel Rivers area. Since the banís introduction, there have been significant gains in Yunnan forest cover through active afforestation campaigns and natural regeneration, however these gains are not uniform across the province, with some regions still experiencing a net loss of forest cover.

    My research is focused on better understanding the reasons for the disparity of forest regrowth rates in northwest Yunnan Province. My hypothesis is that variation in forest regrowth rates is not only related to variations in topography, but also cultural variability. Different minority ethnic groups across Yunnan use their land in unique ways, which yield different spatio-temporal patterns of land cover change. For example, many northwest Yunnan groups, such as the Naxi, Bai, and Zang (Tibetans), have traditionally depended on forests for construction lumber and firewood, as well as for income. It is unknown, however, if the manner in which ethnic groupsí interactions with Yunnan forests have changed in light of, or in reaction to, logging restrictions, or if the cultural differences inherent in these interactions are manifest in varying forest regrowth rates.

    The results of my proposed research will provide a better understanding of the factors behind the spatial variability of forest regrowth by exposing the role that cultural differences have on forest regeneration. This research will also help to illustrate how effective the NFPP has been in promoting forest regrowth, and, further, the extent that cultural traditions have been resilient to conditions set forth by environmental policy in northwest Yunnan.

    To address my research questions, I will classify satellite images of the four Yunnan counties that comprise my study area into forested and non-forested areas. After classifying a collection of images taken before and after the logging banís introduction, I will develop forest cover change maps which will be analyzed to provide the rate, extent, and spatio-temporal pattern of forest cover regrowth. To better understand if different ethnic groupsí livelihoods and relationships with forest resources have shifted under the logging ban, I will consider census data and conduct village- and household-level interviews in ethnic minority villages. Finally, I will develop a geographic information system (GIS) analysis to help examine the relationship between varying forest regrowth rates and cultural variability.

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