BEIJING (Reuters) - Unseasonably cold weather across large swathes of southern China killed trees which could worsen forest fires later in the year and lead to landslides and pest outbreaks, officials warned on Tuesday.
The country’s forestry industry incurred direct economic losses of 57.3 billion yuan ($8.01 billion) from the snow and ice storms, which impacted millions of people who depend on the sector for their livelihood, said deputy State Forestry Administration head Zhu Lieke.
“The disaster situation is at present still continuing for the forestry sector, and the losses will get ever bigger,” he told a news conference.
“Areas affected by this disaster were those where the industry was growing the fastest and was the most vibrant, and also had the most abundant resources, covering one tenth of the country’s forestry cover,” Zhu said.
“It will seriously affect the environment and our ability to reach the goal of covering 20 percent of the nation with forests by 2010,” he added.
The large number of trees toppled in the storms would create ideal conditions for devastating fires, Zhu said.
“Often after heavy snows what follows are dry conditions,” he added.
Forest cover in some parts of China had dramatically fallen following the cold snap, said Xiao Xingwei, head of the forestry administration’s resources department.
“This will lead to a sharp decrease in biodiversity, increase in water run-off and landslides, and induce forest fires and pests,” Xiao said.
The snow had killed or maimed an estimated 30,000 creatures classified as belonging to a protected species.
Yet Xiao said China’s timber output would not be seriously affected overall.
“Timber supplies should generally be able to remain steady,” he said. “But in areas hard hit by the disaster, output could be impacted for the next three to five years.”
“Some factories may have to close,” Zhu said.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by David Fox
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