Forestry authorities in China have stopped commercial logging in the nation's largest forest area, marking an end to more than a half-century of intensive deforestation that removed an estimated 600 million cubic meters (21 billion cubic feet) of timber. The logging shutdown was enacted in large part to protect soil and water quality of greater China, which are significantly affected by forest loss in the mountainous region.
The area is in the extreme northeast portion of China, and comprises a huge swath of dense, temperate forest that stretches into Russia. The landscape is dominated by the Hinggan (Khingan) mountain range that spans more than 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) south towards China's interior, and supports a diverse array of wildlife. The Hinggan Mountains also form an important climatic divide, taking precipitation from southeasterly winds and fueling watersheds that provide water to a tenth of China's arable land.
Large-scale commercial logging of the area first began in the 1950s to meet growing economic demands. By the 1980s, the landscape of the region had changed dramatically due to the loss of forest cover, and large trees had all but disappeared. From 2000 to 2013 alone, more than half a million hectares of land were deforested in the region, according to data from Global Forest Watch. Logging activity was focused primarily in the northern periphery of the range, where around 20 percent of the land was deforested.