In a bid to reverse decades of environmental damage caused by indiscriminate Chinese logging, Tibetan monks in Sichuan’s Dege county are planting thousands of trees on the hillsides surrounding their monastery.
The effort now under way at Dzogchen monastery in the Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture began on April 18 and has pulled in support from around the wider Tibetan community, a resident of the area told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“Tenzin Lungtok Rinpoche, the senior lama at Dzogchen, has begun a campaign of tree planting at local sites,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“This is a grass-roots-level initiative to combat global climate change and protect the environment,” RFA’s source said, adding that monks and staff from the monastery, together with members of the local Tibetan community, are now planting over 15,000 trees on the hills around Dzogchen.
The move comes after more than 30 years of Chinese logging in the once heavily-forested Tibetan region of Kham left mountainsides stripped bare and vulnerable to soil erosion and floods, Australia-based expert on Tibet’s environment Gabriel Lafitte told RFA.
China, on taking control of Tibetan areas in the 1950s, “saw the great forests of Kham as a free resource to be exploited, with not even the cost of cutting roads,” Lafitte said.
“The simpler alternative was to clearfell entire slopes from the bottom right up to the ridge line, simply rolling the tree trunks into the rivers below to be collected well downstream where they entered the lowlands of Sichuan.”
“For three decades, from the late 1960s to the late 1990s, logging continued uninterrupted, until the entire region was stripped,” Lafitte said.
Concerned over flooding, Chinese authorities banned further logging in 1998, and timber cutters were redeployed as planters, said Lafitte.
“[But] in practice, little was done in the slow and careful work needed for reforestation,” Lafitte said.
Though seeds were sometimes dropped from airplanes in an attempt to restore forest cover, this was “a method with very limited success, especially on steep slopes,” he said.
Reported by Lhuboom for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English with additional reporting by Richard Finney.