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Logging Policies in the Chosŏn Dynasty

Reactionary Policies to Logging in Chosŏn Forestry was one of the most important industries in Chosŏn Korea. Timber was used for fuel, coffin building, and ship building Unfortunately the lack of thoughtful, and sustainable habits damaged forestry and the Korean forests. What is very crucial to forestry is the transport of logs. This can be done over land, but logs may also be taken on boats, or floated down the river. I will be discussing how river proximity affected forestry in Chosŏn Korea. Many of the damaging effects of this were unknown, but slowly as the downsides of this type of river-based forestry became apparent, improvements had to be made in order to protect the environment from collapse.

Forestry was one of the most important industries in Chosŏn Korea. Timber was used for fuel, coffin building, and ship building Unfortunately the lack of thoughtful, and sustainable habits damaged forestry and the Korean forests. What is very crucial to forestry is the transport of logs. This can be done over land, but logs may also be taken on boats, or floated down the river. I will be discussing how river proximity affected forestry in Chosŏn Korea. Many of the damaging effects of this were unknown, but slowly as the downsides of this type of river-based forestry became apparent, improvements had to be made in order to protect the environment from collapse.

Swidden agriculture was often practiced by the rivers. It was very effective as the land can quickly be cleared through various means, especially fire, in order to allow the land to be replenished over the next few years, while other swidden agriculture locations were being harvested. The problem that arose with this is that tree cover was essential to the health of the river, and so removing the tree cover could cause rivers to dry up, or at least greatly reduce flow. This observation was made by King Sŏngjong in 1493 when he banned forestry around protected areas, because as the trees were becoming stripped bare, there were these noticed effects on the river systems. It is clear that the damage of the unmanaged forestry was extremely severe by the point that action was taken.

As the damage caused by forestry became more obvious, logging assessors were dispatched by the Chosŏn government to check on the current states of forestry. Logging assessors were usually high ranked officials whose main purpose was to check on the status of illegal logging throughout the nation (149). In 1607 logging assessors were sent out to check the status of forestry after the Imjin War (1592--1597) , and to check for any evidence of logging in the protected forests. The assessors would communicate with people in forestry, nearby city officials, and come up with a plan of action, and a report on the status of the forests (149).

The most prevalent river for the transport of logs was the Han River. Floating logs entirely by hand is an extremely dangerous job and could have required over one hundred people in order to float a single log down the river. Due to the changing water heights between the seasons there was a very high risk of drowning, especially at times when the river was high, and the flow was great. Due to this danger, and the toll that logging was taking on the people in 1607, the official Kim Kwangp’il recommended the courts requisitions of lumber to be lessened in order to lessen the toll that this high demand of the court caused by the reconstruction of palaces after the Imjin War (151).

Still this new era caused much higher lumber demands overall, causing the Han River became increasingly damaged by erosion. In turn new laws were made to prevent hillside erosion, and downriver sediment deposits from further damaging the environment. It would not be until over a century later that effective forest regeneration would take full effect on the forests, and start a positive net of trees growing against trees being cut down. In 1678, The government recommended that pine seedlings from Pyŏnsan be used to replant pines in other state forests, then in 1728 ta report recorded that there were 5,281 “small, middle, and large” pines in this section of forest which showed a healthy, regenerating and managed population again (151).

The longtime unmanaged, and largely unregulated forests of Choson Korea took a lot of damage for a long period of time, due to the lack of knowledge about the importance of forestry managementand greed among the ruling class. However once these problems were reocgnized, action was finally taken to regenerate these forests, which finally came back to a manageable state after over a century of planting and management efforts.

Images

Screencap of “Protect the Pines, Punish the People: Forests and the State in Pre-Industrial Korea, 918–1897.” PhD Dissertation, Harvard University, 2017. Source: https://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/39987984 Creator: Lee, John S. Date: 2017

Metadata

Ben Sandstrom, “Logging Policies in the Chosŏn Dynasty,” UCLA Korean History and Culture Digital Museum, accessed July 18, 2024, https://koreanhistory.humspace.ucla.edu/items/show/21.