The ecological consequences of the large quantities of trees planted in Northwest China by the Government of China

  • Yang Xiao
  • Qiang XiaoEmail author
Research Article


Rapid economic and population growth exacerbates water resource shortages and various associative ecological factors. Additionally, climate change makes it difficult to predict potential eco-environmental risks. The Government of China enacted a large-scale forestation campaign in the northwest to cope with the region’s increasingly severe eco-environmental problems. This study applied GIS software to analyze areas where water resource changes have occurred and the reasons behind water shortages. Notwithstanding fluctuations, there was a general increase in water resource trends between 1980 and 2015. On a regional scale, we observed an increasing trend for provinces with large water resources, including Xinjiang, Qinghai, and Xizang, which accounted for 84.58% of the total increases observed between 1980 and 2015. The water resource trend for the region as a whole increased exponentially with increasing rainfall and decreasing evapotranspiration. Furthermore, water consumed by artificial forests in Northwest China reached 14 billion cubic meters, which is equivalent to 5.22% of its total annual water resources. In contrast, this study determined that under natural vegetation conservation practices, water consumed would have decreased to 10.13 billion cubic meters in 2015. Accordingly, this study concluded that the Government of China should change its policy from planting more trees to protecting natural vegetation.


Vegetation cover Afforestation Arid and semi-arid areas Northwest China Environmental restoration 



We would like to thank Denise Rennis for his help in writing this paper as well as journal editors and anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

Funding information

This study was supported by National Foundation of Natural Sciences of China (No. 41571419).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Biology and Environmental SciencesJishou UniversityJishouChina
  2. 2.Intangible Cultural Heritage CenterChongqing university of Arts and ScienceChongqingChina

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