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North Korea’s Landscape in State of Shock

by Keith Bowers

Ok, let’s put aside political differences and human rights issues (we will surely return to these) and focus on the landscape of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).  During the Korean War, much of the northern peninsula of Korea was ravaged, including its forest and watersheds.  Since the 1950s, a good portion of the forests on the hillsides and mountains returned to forest, while the valleys supported intensive agriculture.  In the 1990s, food shortages and famine struck the population of DPRK. The fall of communism in Russia and China’s quest to embrace capitalism led to a downward economic spiral for the nation, and resulted in increasing food shortages.  Then in the mid 1990s, devastating storms and floods ravaged much of the country, wiping out arable land, harvests and infrastructure.  Widespread malnutrition and fuel shortages forced people to turn to the forests for basic needs.

That was 15 years ago, and the landscape is still in a state of shock.  Much of the country is deforested, save for very few steep slopes and some protected areas. Riparian buffers are all but nonexistent for much of the countryside. Erosion, sedimentation and loss of habitat are pervasive, which has rendered many watersheds ecologically lifeless (we noted how few bird species we heard or saw; it was eerily quiet). So where to begin?


  1. vinny says:

    This has nothing to do with politics, but I think regime change is the first step. It can remain a communist country, but the current leadership is too repressive, too closed, and spend too much on the military. Vietnam might be a better model. With a new regime more countries will be able to send humanitarian and economic relief. Once the basic needs of the population are met then we can start doing something to heal the land.

  2. Sally Parker says:

    Did you visit North Korea? That is fascinating. I spent some time in South Korea and have long been interested in the relationship between the two Koreas. It is my understanding that the DMZ is serving as an unofficial conservation area as a direct result of the lack of development or human involvement and is diverse in wildlife and vegetation.

  3. Keith Bowers says:


    Yes, North Korea. I was one of 4 US Citizens and 8 other international delegates invited to participate in a Forest and Landscape Restoration Workshop for the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea. Yes, the DMZ is being looked at by the international community as an unintended trans-pennisula wildlife corridor. Unfortunately rapid development in South Korea and landscape degradation through deforestation, erosion and intensive agriculture in North Korea have given increased importance to the DMZ as a conservation area. It will be interesting to see whether the DMZ can be conserved when the North Korean regime falls.

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