Scientific approach to desert control pays dividends in Zhangwu

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A Comparison of Oulishan Mountain in Zhangwu county, Liaoning province in 2018 and 2022. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

After more than 70 years of trying to hold back the desert by planting trees, afforestation is an important part of the lives of the people in Zhangwu county, Liaoning province.

Last month, over 1,000 people volunteered in a spring tree planting activity, planting more than 11,000 Mongolian Scotch pine seedlings, Zhangwu pine and other trees on more than 30 hectares of land.

Zhangwu county borders the Horqin Sandy Land, which is the largest sandy area in China and one of the major sources of sand and dust in Beijing.

When the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949, there were large areas of shifting sand dunes in Zhangwu, with 96 percent of the county basically desert.

In the 1950s, Zhangwu established a windbreak and sand control research station, and it was decided that tall pine trees should be introduced to fix the shifting sands.

“In traditional thinking, desert control should start with the planting of straw checkerboards, grasslands and shrubs. At that time, no one thought of planting tall trees on shifting sands. This scientific decision by our predecessors in desert control changed the fate of the sandy land in Zhangwu,” said Wu Xiugang, deputy director of the Institute of Sandy Land Management and Utilization in Liaoning.

For this reason, Zhangwu is known as the place where scientific desert control began in China.

Today, Zhangwu is covered with large pine forests, and Fuxin city that administers the county has built a forest belt with a length of more than 1,000 kilometers. This belt not only prevents the Horqin Sandy Land from spreading southward, but also compresses its southern edge northward by 13 km.

Liujia village in Sihe town was the main venue for the voluntary tree planting in Zhangwu last month.

“Mongolian Scotch pine has strong drought resistance and strong roots that can firmly take root in sandy soil, and Zhangwu pine grows rapidly and can quickly grow into tall forests. We even graft the two trees together to better serve as windbreaks and fix the sand,” said Jiang Shengwei, deputy director of the Forestry and Grassland Bureau of Liaoning province.

On grafted trees, the needles of the Zhangwu pine are more than twice as long as those of the Mongolian Scotch pines.

Wu explained that Zhangwu pine is a new species Zhangwu county, named after the county itself. It cannot reproduce sexually, so artificial seedlings are cultivated through grafting and then planted as protective forests.

“Grafted Zhangwu pines are also being promoted in to provinces such as Shaanxi and Heilongjiang, to playing a role as a windbreak in desert control there,” Wu said, adding that farmers in Zhangwu have also been able to increase their incomes by planting Zhangwu pine seedlings.