After long periods of deforestation, forest transition has occurred globally, but the causes of forest transition in different countries are highly variable. Conservation policies may play important roles in facilitating forest transition around the world, including China. To restore forests and protect the remaining natural forests, the Chinese government initiated two nationwide conservation policies in the late 1990s -- the Natural Forest Conservation Program (NFCP) and the Grain-To-Green Program (GTGP). While some studies have discussed the environmental and socioeconomic effects of each of these policies independently and others have attributed forest recovery to both policies without rigorous and quantitative analysis, it is necessary to rigorously quantify the outcomes of these two conservation policies simultaneously because the two policies have been implemented at the same time. To fill the knowledge gap, this study quantitatively evaluated the effects of the two conservation policies on forest cover change between 2001 and 2008 in 108 townships located in two important giant panda habitat regions -- the Qinling Mountains region in Shaanxi Province and the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuary in Sichuan Province. Forest cover change was evaluated using a land-cover product (MCD12Q1) derived from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). This product proved to be highly accurate in the study region (overall accuracy was ca. 87%, using 425 ground truth points collected in the field), thus suitable for the forest change analysis performed. Results showed that within the timeframe evaluated, most townships in both regions exhibited either increases or no changes in forest cover. After accounting for a variety of socioeconomic and biophysical attributes, an Ordinary Least Square (OLS) regression model suggests that the two policies had statistically significant positive effects on forest cover change after seven years of implementation, while population density, percent agricultural population, road density, and initial forest cover (i.e. in 2001) had significant negative effects. The methods and results from this study will be useful for continuing the implementation of these conservation policies, for the development of future giant panda habitat conservation projects, and for achieving forest sustainability in China and elsewhere.
Keywords: China; Conservation Policy; Forest Cover Change; Panda Habitat Region.