Forests in China are starting to make a comeback, following a long period of decline. However, a new report states that this growth may be coming at the expense of woodlands in other nations.

Decades of logging left many of the wooded areas of China stripped barren. The government in Beijing set about a massive program of reforestation. That effort is now being hailed, by some environmentalists, as a success worthy of emulation by other countries.

Michigan State University (MSU) researchers combined images from Google Earth with data from a NASA study, to record tree growth over China. The investigation revealed significant gains in tree coverage over 61,000 square miles or 1.6 percent of the wooded areas of the world's most-populous nation. Around 14,400 square miles, or 0.38 percent of forested regions, saw a loss of trees. That growth took place between the years 2000 and 2010.

"Our results are very positive for China. If you look at China in isolation, its program is working effectively and contributing to carbon sequestration in accordance to its agenda for climate change mitigation. But on the other hand, China is not in a vacuum," said Andrés Viña of MSU-CSIS.

Nations such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and Madagascar are currently chopping down vast portions of their forests in order to sell wood products to Chinese markets. Environmentalists taking part in the study worry that environmental problems related to deforestation, such as an increase in greenhouse gases, may have simply moved to other countries.

Consumers around the world purchases vast quantities of goods, including wood products, from Chinese manufacturers. Quantities of wood being imported and exported over the Chinese borders have not changed. Therefore, any gains for the environment seen in China likely resulted in degradation of woodlands elsewhere.

Further research will attempt to deduce how environmental policies enacted by the government in Beijing affected the return of the woodlands. Lessons learned from this study could be applied by leaders in other nations, seeking out their own efforts to preserve woodlands in their own home countries.

Analysis of how forest growth in China could be affected by changes elsewhere was detailed in the journal Science Advances.

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