Why Tibetan Grasslands and Forests are in Rapid Decline

Authors: Tracy Allen*, SUNY-Oneonta
Topics: Environment, Land Use and Land Cover Change, China
Keywords: Tibet, Grasslands, Forest, Environmental Degradation, Land Cover Change
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Lincoln 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: Download


Grasslands cover most of the Tibetan Plateau. They are a bridge between forest and desert biomes. They shape the region’s identity and form the basis for most livelihoods. Traditionally, Tibetans are nomadic, because healthy grasslands require transhumance. However, these lands are fragile, and poor grazing practices proliferate invasive plants, increase erosion, and initiate desertification. The primary reasons for overgrazing and grassland degradation are increasing populace, rising demand for meat, greater crop production, and sedentarisation. Tibet’s grasslands have declined in size and condition, as well as in their capacity to sustain the lives of increasingly larger populations of humans and domestic livestock. Southeastern Tibetan forests are complex and rich in life, because they span an elevational gradient of extremes. Forests are being cut at an alarming rate by commercial loggers and, to a lesser degree, by pastoralists. Historically, forests were found further west in regions that are now arid grassland. The existence of relict forests found around monasteries in central Tibet suggests a larger distribution. It is easy to blame China for landscape-wide degradation of grasslands and forests, but the reality is that traditional practices play a role. Diminished seedstock and consistent grazing prohibit trees from becoming reestablished, and, over time, forests convert to grasslands. Clear-cuts afford Tibetans to have larger and healthier herds. Commercial deforestation benefits forest pastoralists, if physical conditions continue to support grasslands. Increased flooding, impaired water quality, and diminished biodiversity are less tangible than the immediate need to raise livestock.

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