China Makes Strides to Control Deforestation

Efforts to modernize and develop China's infrastructure have led to fears that the nation would go to far in razing forests and shaping landscapes to help its businesses grow. But Karen Baragona, head of the Yangtse Basin Conservation program at the World Wildlife Fund, says there has been a great deal of accomplishment in fighting deforestation and other environmental problems in rural China.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Ground pollution isn't the only environmental issue in rural China. There are problems with water pollution and indoor air pollution, but Karen Baragona of the World Wildlife Fund says there's one bright spot, deforestation.

KAREN BARAGONA, reporting:

From about the mid-‘70s until the '90s we saw Sichuan Province alone lose about half of its forest cover. Sichuan is where the largest percentage of giant pandas are found in China. In 1998, the Chinese government put in place a logging ban, and for the first time ever, we're really seeing the balance tip more in the direction of forest restoration and away from deforestation.

When I was in China in September, I visited one of our pilot projects for bio-gas stoves. It's just a really interesting project because it involves a very small - several very small local villages and they're living right up against the, sort of the back door of habitat for giant pandas and other wildlife. When they need to cook their meals or heat their homes, they really have no choice but to use wood, which they cut from the forest.

And they're keeping pigs anyway. What we do is we reconfigure the pig sties so that the manure is, falls underground into a reactor. The reactor turns the pig waste into methane. The methane goes into the home through a hose in the stove and it has no odor, but it provides all of the energy they need to cook all three meals a day and heat their homes for at least 10 months out of every year.

It saves them the time, the energy, the trouble, of going off into the forest and cutting down trees.

This is a really special place in China. This is the place where you find the most diverse, richest forests of their kind. So, these are the places that giant pandas live, and not just pandas, but about 100 other species of mammals, more than 200 species of birds, and more than half of all the plants that are known to exist in China.

BLOCK: Karen Baragona heads up the Yangtse Basin Conservation program at the World Wildlife Fund. Go to our website for more from our series on rural China, including observations of the reporters. You'll find that at NPR.org.

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