|In 2009, the local People’s Government of Sichuan decided on three projects to improve the livelihoods of the Tibetan Population. Among them, the Tibetan Herdsmen’s Settlement Plan with an investment of 18 billion yuan (US$2.8 billion) in the four years from 2009 to 2012. The plan aimed to provide fixed housing and community centres in the villages for 480,000 members of 100,000 nomadic and semi-nomadic herding families. |
According to an announcement of the provincial forestry bureau in accordance with the county’s village Party, six locations had been allocated where timber would be extracted and provided for settlement projects. But the bureau lacked to provide information on where these locations are and what quantities of timber would be extracted. This was considered as one of the drivers for the destruction of the forests, however, of the homes built or being built, very few are all-timber constructions. 
In early 2010, local villagers had noticed workers turning up in the valleys of Dege County, in Sichuan's Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Without any notice the workers started felling the trees with chainsaws and transport them out of the forest on trucks. Once the trees were removed, the mudslides of steep and unstable mountainsides would cause road blockings or result in flash floods. Under the impression, that the timber would be used to build houses for the poor in the region, the villagers had accepted the logging at first. It soon became apparent that this wasn’t the case. Only some of the timber was being used to provide housing for nomadic families. It seemed that local Chinese officials were using the construction of nomad settlements as an excuse to break the ban on logging in the region.  As a reaction, concerned residents from the villages Puma, Dama, and Yuba formed a grassroots movement to protect their forests from further arbitrary destruction. In June 2010, they stormed the camps of the loggers, sabotaging the chainsaws, chasing away the workers and occupying the camps. The villagers then installed simple timber checkpoints at the entrance to the forest and erected a crude roadblock. They self-organised shifts of guarding the checkpoints, by sending residents from their village to manage the checkpoint, with groups of three taking shifts and preventing logging. 
At the end of 2010, environmental activist Wang Wuzhi discovered that large areas of natural forest were being felled in Dege and Baiyu counties in Garze prefecture. Most of the trees chopped down were firs and spruce firs, with trunks measuring 40 to 80 centimetres in diameter. Some even reached a metre in diameter and were more than 20 metres tall, some of the felled trees were more than 100 years old. Because of their position on the thin soil of this high-altitude cold-temperate zone’s steep slopes, it will be difficult to replace them with new plantings. There are plenty of newly planted cedar saplings – but they were on level ground, not on the cleared slopes. According to Greenpeace, the natural forests in western Sichuan are the best preserved in China and are home to rare and endangered animals, including bears, leopards, white-lipped deer and white-eared pheasant. The felling destroys their habitat. Under the protection of local people, the numbers of white-eared pheasant has recovered in recent years, but their survival is now threatened again by the fragmentation of their habitat.  The lyrics of a local folk song say: “Without the forest there’s no grasslands, without the grasslands there’s no yaks, without the yaks, there’s no us.”
Followed by the bold action of the villagers and the unprecedented logging actions in the region, the co-founder of the Green Beagle Chinese environmental organisation published a report on the situation on the prominent environmental website chinadialogue.net.  On March 18, 2011, Greenpeace’s “forest crime unit” arrived on the scene and saw for themselves the ongoing destruction of forests at Babanggou and Maiqugou in Dege, and Dengqugou on the county border between Dege and Baiyu. “All along the road you see ‘Natural Forest Reserve’ signs. ”Through their Sina Weibo account (the Chinese pendant to twitter) Greenpeace China also reported on the situation and the rampant logging taking place in the Garze region .  Villagers had reported them that some 20 truck-loads of timber were being taken away each day, some of it out of the Garze region.
Greenpeace sent their report to the SFA (State Forestry Administration, later as part of National Forestry and Grassland Administration since March 2018), and a forestry official from Chengdu was sent to the scene to investigate. Meanwhile, the team also suggested to the SFA that before the results of that investigation were published, a moratorium should be called on logging in Baiyu and Dege, while the SFA examine the scale of felling in the area and determine how to ensure sustainable logging. In response to Greenpeace’s request for details on the timber used in the settlement project, Sichuan Forestry Bureau said that it did not have the information and suggested consulting with the local forestry officials. However, the Garze forestry authorities said the information was a “state secret” and could not be revealed. However, other documents rule that “felling is to be made public”, with the authorities to “make public the locations, area and methods of felling listed on the license, and accept social supervision.” 
The villagers managed to stop the logging for at least one year, however, it is unclear whether the logging was permanently halted. According to SFA, China has completely stopped commercial harvesting of natural forests in 2017.