More on the DPRK’s deforestation

Peter Hayes writes an interesting article in Global Asia in which he discusses the DPRK’s deforestation.  I have posted some excerpts below and converted the article into a PDF for download. Here are some excerpts:

One of the most acute environmental problems in North Korea is deforestation. This problem has a long history, stretching back to over-cutting by Japanese colonialists, the impact of the Korean War and poor reforestation practices by North Korean agencies. The reforestation effort relied on mobilized adult and youth mass labor units working with simple tools. Specialized nurseries and well-trained foresters grew seedlings, but without good fertilizer and seed stock, the success rate was small, especially on steep, north-facing slopes.

These basic problems were made worse by land-use decisions in the early and mid-1990s when food shortages led authorities to direct farmers to cultivate steep slopes, to convert forested areas into agriculture, and in some cases, to actually re-engineer landscapes. When unprecedented floods hit North Korea, much of the topsoil in these areas was washed downstream (also thereby silting up many of the run-of-the-river hydro-electric dams in North Korea).

Is it possible to estimate the scale of the reduction in North Korea’s forest resources? In 1990 North Korea reported that it had about 9 million hectares of forest out of about 12 million hectares in national territory. In 1994, the GEF forester who I sent to North Korea estimated that the nominal North Korean forest in 1993 actually was about 9 million hectares, but that only 7.8 million hectares were “in practice” forested. Overall, North Korea itself says that its forests are about 42 percent coniferous, 35 percent deciduous/hardwood species, and 23 percent mixed conifer and deciduous forests. Pine species dominate the coniferous forests, and oaks dominate the deciduous species. However, the conversion and usage described below may have shifted these ratios far from the official figures.

Luckily, these days we don’t have to rely on official North Korean data to estimate the country’s forest cover. Both international and South Korean remote sensing techniques using satellite imaging have been used to evaluate the status of North Korea’s forests. Using these sources, Professor Lee Seung-ho from the Korea Forestry Research Institute in Seoul has estimated North Korea’s total forest cover as follows: 9.77 million hectares (Mha) in 1970 (North Korean source), 8.97 Mha in 1987 (FAO source), 8.45 Mha in 1994 (KFRI Satellite Image Analysis), 7.53 Mha in 1997 (North Korea from UNDP Round Table Meeting) and 7.53 Mha in 1999 (KFRI Satellite Image Analysis). An additional time-series of North Korea’s forest area from the UN FAO 2005 Global Forest Resource Assessment shows a trend from 8.20 to 6.82 to 6.19 Mha in 1990, 2000, and 2005, respectively.

Download a PDF version of the full article here.

Here are previous posts related forestry, lumber, and the Ministry of Forests.


3 Responses to “More on the DPRK’s deforestation”

  1. Frank Kim says:

    I was hoping that North Korea’s failed economy would at least mean the land was being spared from environmental ruin. Apparently that hope has been vanquished too.

  2. NKeconWatch says:

    The “tragedy of the commons” can be exacerbated by falling incomes. This year’s nobel prize winner in economics, Elinor Ostrom, has written extensively about how this can be avoided.