Forest cover has grown from 8.6% of the land base in 1949 to over 17.5% in 2000. Mature stands are decreasing, however, while the share of plantation and commercial forests continues to rise in response to government policies. Most of the forests are in remote regions, however, and lack of transportation limits exploitation. China has three major forest areas: the northeast (Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Inner Mongolia); the southwest (Sichuan and Yunnan); and the southeast (Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian, Jiangxi, and Hainan). Fujian, Zhejiang, Anhui, and Guangdong together account for about 30% of the total value of the forestry sector. Coniferous stands, which yield the most valuable commercial timber, are found mainly in the northeast and adjoining parts of Inner Mongolia. Deciduous trees are felled in Sichuan and Yunnan. Between 1990 and 1995, however, the northeast's share of production fell to from 38% to 30%, as production shifted from state-owned forests in the north to plantation forests in the south. While China is a major producer of softwood logs and lumber, virtually all of its production is domestically consumed. Paper production, which has benefited from the substitution of rice-straw and other nonwood materials for wood pulp, nearly tripled during the 1980s. Special forestry products originating in southwestern China include tung oil, cassia oil, and aniseed oil. Wood imports can vary widely from year to year. China is the largest timber importer in the world— imports of timber and related products reached $9.87 billion in 2001, with $3.47 billion in timber products and $6.38 billion in pulp and paper. Production amounts for 2000 (in 1,000 cu m) were roundwood, 287,472; sawnwood, 7,702, wood-based panels, 18,647; wood pulp, 3,700; and paper and paperboard, 35,529.
Deforestation has been a persistent and serious problem in China, leading to massive erosion and desertification. The government has, from the start of its first five-year plan in 1953, given high priority to campaigns for afforestation. By 1980, 26 million ha (64 million acres) of new forests had been planted, and during the 1980s, afforestation proceeded at the rate of 4.55 million ha (11.24 million acres) per year. However, cutting of trees for fuel continued in rural areas, and many of the trees planted as part of afforestation efforts were lost because of neglect after planting. In its ninth five-year plan commencing in January 1996, the Ministry of Forestry had the following goals: operating 10 major forest conservation projects by 2000; increasing the variety of wood species in state-owned forest plantations; developing the paper making industry; exploring and developing growing trees in marginal land (such as hilly, mountainous, or sandy terrain); and classifying forests as either industrial (for environmental protection) or economic (for commercial production). During 1990–2000, the forested area grew by an annual average of 1.2%.