Beijing, China — China could face worse forest fires and be more severely affected by wood-destroying pests this year because of global warning, a senior forestry official said on Wednesday.
The government would buy dedicated fire-fighting helicopters for the first time to deal with the increased threat, said State Forestry Administration spokesman Cao Qingyao, adding that some officials still did not take the problem seriously enough.
“International weather experts predict that because of the double effect of global warning and El Nino, 2007 will be the warmest year ever and the forest fire prevention situation will be extremely serious,” Cao told a news conference.
El Nino, which occurs about every two to seven years, is caused by the warming of Pacific waters off South America and can disrupt normal weather patterns around the world, leading to drought in some areas and heavy rain in others.
China had a successful year fighting forest fires in 2006, with a drop of more than a third in damaged woodlands, though 41 people died, Cao said.
Still, parts of southwestern China endured their worst drought in half a century last year and one fire in Yunnan province raged for 10 days.
With average temperatures rising and rainfall dropping, the problem of protecting China’s 175 million hectares (676,000 sq miles) of forests — an area the size of Libya — is a large one.
“The weather is getting hotter, the area of forested land is expanding and people are traveling around China more and more, so it’s getting that much harder to prevent forest fires,” Cao said.
“We hope that improving early detection can help us.”
Yet that was being hindered by an attitude problem among some government official at the grassroots, Cao said, particularly as most forest fires in China were caused by humans.
“Some local governments do not have enough awareness of how to prevent forest fires, and do not have a proper system of responsibility,” he said, without elaborating. “Their leadership does not think this issue is important enough.”
Another problem facing China’s vast forests — which cover huge tracks of land in the frigid northeast near Russia and the tropical southwest — is the spread of disease and pests such as the American white moth and the pinewood nematode.
Infestation rates rose almost a quarter last year, to affect 10.7 million hectares of woods.
“2006 was a fairly serious year for the timber industry for the incidence of harmful organisms,” Cao said, blaming the rise on “environmental imbalances.”
“The rise in disease is also related to global warming,” he added.