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BEIJING, August 21, Xinhua -- China has made great achievements in natural forest conservation over the past 20 years, with the area increasing about 28.53 million hectares and the forest reserves gaining 3.78 billion cubic meters, a forestry official said Wednesday.

Natural forests, representing the lion's share of the overall forest area, contributed significantly to the increase in the overall forest coverage ratio, which almost doubled from 12 percent in 1980 to 22.96 percent as of the end of last year, said Li Shuming, the deputy director of the National Forestry and Grassland Administration (NFGA), at a press conference.

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Thanks to natural forests' enhanced capacity for water and soil retention, the soil erosion area in Sichuan Province shrank 100,300 square kilometers from 2003 to 2013, almost equivalent to the area of Zhejiang Province, according to Li.

Meanwhile, the sediment concentration of the Yellow River monitored at a hydrometric station in Henan Province has plunged 90 percent from 2000 to 2016, revealing the significant importance of restoring natural forests in conserving water resources, Li added.

Noting that the natural forests have been heavily consumed, the country's forestry authority has stepped up its efforts in natural forest preservation.

Commercial logging will be comprehensively banned for the forests to recuperate while scientific measures are adopted to curb degradation and boost the quality of the forests.

To supplement the timber shortage in the wake of natural forest protection, Li said wood substitutes will be used in construction for buildings and railways, while artificial forests and timber imports will also be promoted.

China implemented a forest conservation program in several pilot areas in 1998. The first phase of the program was from 2000 to 2010, and the second phase runs from 2011 to 2020.

"Our goals are to put all natural forests under protection and establish related systems of restoring natural forests by 2020," said Jin Min, a senior official with the NFGA.

By 2035, the area of China's natural forests will remain stable at about 200 million hectares, to fulfill the objective of building a "beautiful China," according to Jin.

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