Climate change causes rising temperatures and extreme drought to become a serious challenge for mankind [1
]. Forests play a significant role in releasing oxygen, maintaining the ecological environment and protecting biodiversity [3
], which have been viewed as a key solution to environmental degradation in the context of tireless efforts to combat climate change [4
]. Natural forests are the main body of forest resources. Therefore, protecting natural forest resources is of special significance. Since the promulgation of the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992, the international community has paid attention to the protection of natural forests [5
]. Developed forestry countries have taken different measures to protect natural forests according to their own forest resources. For example, Germany develops close-to-nature management [6
]. Australia and New Zealand implement classified management [8
]. The United States and Canada establish national parks and nature reserves [9
]. Russia adopts the three-level management system [10
]. In a word, the protection policies of these developed countries focus on the combination of natural forest protection and management and utilization so as to promote the simultaneous improvement in ecological and economic benefits of natural forests. Similarly, China has introduced corresponding policies on the protection of natural forests. However, unlike those countries, China implemented the Comprehensive Commercial Logging Ban Policy (CCLBP) to prohibit commercial logging of natural forests so as to comprehensively and strictly protect natural forests.
The CCLBP is the further protection work of the Natural Forest Protection Program (NFPP). In the process of natural forest protection, China has experienced the first phase of the NFPP to the second phase of the NFPP and then the CCLBP. In different periods, due to the different status of China’s forest resources, its natural forest protection measures are different. Before the first phase of the NFPP, China’s high-speed economic growth intensified the demand for wood, and China’s forestry policy focused on expanding wood production, which led to excessive consumption of forest resources. Generally, most natural forests have been severely cut down and degraded [11
], resulting in serious environmental problems, such as floods, soil erosion, loss of wildlife habitat, etc. From the strategic perspective of social and economic sustainable development in China, the Chinese government made a major decision to implement the NFPP [12
]. The first phase of the NFPP was started in 2000. Through the government’s mandatory promotion of the NFPP, the excessive consumption of forest resources was effectively curbed in a short time [13
]. However, because of the lagging development of alternative industries, the limited absorption capacity of surplus workers belonged to the forest industry, and the insufficient support from local governments caused issues for the economic development in the region of the NFPP [14
]. When the first phase of the NFPP ended, the above problems still existed. Therefore, the Chinese government decided to continue to organize and implement the second phase of the NFPP. The second phase of the NFPP was started in 2011, which generally revolved around the national policy of “resource protection and economic construction”. With the development of Xi Jinping’s ideology of ecological civilization, the government attached importance to the ecological function of natural forests. During this stage, the government introduced the CCLBP and greatly increased various insurance subsidy standards of national forest areas, which aimed to speed up the improvement in natural forest resources and people’s livelihood [15
]. In 2014, in order to further restore forest resources, build a complete forest ecosystem and ensure the ecological security of the country, General Secretary Xi Jinping provided an important instruction to “study the expansion of the scope of the natural forest protection project to the whole country, and strive to protect all natural forests” [16
]. In April 2014, the government proposed a three-step strategy to completely stop commercial logging in natural forests. The first step is to expand pilot programs to stop commercial logging of natural forests in Northeast China and Inner Mongolia in the same month in 2014, which includes four provinces: Heilongjiang, Liaoning, Jilin and Inner Mongolia. Second, on the basis of experience gained from the pilot programs, stop commercial logging of natural forests in Northeast China and Inner Mongolia and other national forest areas from April 2015. The third step is to completely stop commercial logging in all natural forests from 2016 [18
]. Specifically, from the first phase of the NFPP to the present, commercial logging was completely banned in the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River and the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. Similarly, at the beginning of the first phase of the NFPP, timber production in Northeast China and Inner Mongolia was dramatically reduced, and commercial logging was completely banned until 2014. In 2017, the CCLBP was achieved nationwide, which aims to control the progress of human exploitation and claim on forest resources [19
]. In 2019, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China translated the decision on the comprehensive protection of natural forests into a legal system, providing a strict legal guarantee for the establishment of a long-term mechanism for the protection and restoration of natural forests. In a word, the implementation of the CCLBP also marked a new stage in the development of national forest areas from exploitation to comprehensive protection. Meanwhile, the development of national forest areas faced a series of new challenges [21
]. The CCLBP had a negative impact on timber enterprises and forestry farmers in the short term. The basic production and livelihood of national forest areas were affected by the negative externalities of increasing the cost of social reform [23
]. There is no denying that the natural forests have been fully protected by the CCLBP, in fact, which still had some problems, such as low quantity and poor quality [24
Thus far, the CCLBP has been carried out for more than eight years in Northeast China and Inner Mongolia and effects have gradually appeared. Life satisfaction of residents in national forest areas is one of the important indicators reflecting the effects of the CCLBP [25
]. Since forest residents rely on natural forest resources for their livelihood, the CCLBP of natural forests can protect and restore the ecological environment in national forest areas while inevitably having a serious impact on the livelihood of forest residents. Then, what is the life satisfaction status of residents in national forest areas with the background of the CCLBP? Few studies have evaluated the effects of the CCLBP from the perspective of life satisfaction of residents in national forest areas. The existing studies focused on the impact of the CCLBP on the forest industry groups, the wood processing enterprises, the livelihood of national forest areas, and the life satisfaction of rural farmers. In terms of the impact on the forest industry groups, the CCLBP caused the forest industry group to face a lack of sources and other problems as a result of the lack of funds [26
]. The production operation of forestry enterprises would be directly impacted. Meanwhile, the main business income would be significantly less, and fixed assets would face a significant amount of idleness [28
]. Then, in terms of the wood processing enterprises, the implementation of the CCLBP would cause forest processing enterprises to face development difficulties due to the lack of raw material sources [29
]. Forest industry groups should rely on existing resources to solve the employment and livelihood protection of workers, such as agroforestry management and tourism industry. For the study of the impact on the livelihood of national forest areas, most scholars [32
] believed that the CCLBP had a negative influence on forest zone workers. The CCLBP would have an impact on the fundamental productivity and livelihood in national forest areas within a certain period of time, mostly through job losses and an increase in excess labor. If surplus labor is not relocated quickly and safely, it would lead to issues such as population emigration and difficulty in one’s fundamental means of subsistence [36
]. Additionally, the life satisfaction of rural older adults and landless farmers in the process of urbanization was a major concern in the research of farmers’ life satisfaction [37
]. At present, these studies have provided important ideas for this paper. In light of the CCLBP, the goal of this paper is to examine how residents’ life satisfaction is affected by elements in national forest areas, which has a significant role in grasping the real situation of life satisfaction of residents and focusing on the subjective quality of residents. On the one hand, it is conducive to strengthening the natural forest protection, improving the ecological environment and realizing the sustainable development goal of natural forest. On the other hand, it is conducive to the construction of ecological civilization, the harmonious coexistence of humans and nature and the maintenance of social stability in the forest areas.
Due to the multiple constraints of management system, ecological status and economic development in national forest areas, safeguards and social equity affected the changes in life satisfaction of residents after implementing the CCLBP. However, existing studies focused on the measurement of material factors and neglected the measurement of non-material factors (equity and freedom) [42
]. In view of this, based on the survey data of life satisfaction of residents in national forest areas, this paper constructs a theoretical model with the framework of capability approach and carries out an empirical analysis. By studying the heterogeneity of the CCLBP on life satisfaction and evaluating its impact on life satisfaction of residents, this paper deepens the research on the effects of the CCLBP. It is of reference and guiding significance to the improvement in life satisfaction of other forest residents and even the life satisfaction of other public residents. At the same time, it is beneficial to coordinate the dual goals of ecological protection and economic development and promote the sustainable management of natural forest resources.
4.1. Determinants of Life Satisfaction of Residents in National Forest Areas of the CCLBP
The overall satisfaction of residents in national forest areas is not high, which is lower than the theoretical neutral value of policy satisfaction.
Following the CCLBP, the forestry industry chain reliant on timber output has significantly diminished, leading to a significant number of layoffs. Therefore, many workers were temporarily compelled to work outside the home. Second, national forest areas experienced economic difficulties as a result of the CCLBP since they lost their primary source of revenue based on the sale of timber. It was challenging to continue with business as usual with only national financial assistance. However, according to the research, since the implementation of the CCLBP, the government gradually increased financial subsidies and vigorously developed an under-forest economy to drive the development of the forest economy. The income of residents in national forest areas has steadily increased by a small amount every year. Thus far, the CCLBP has been implemented for eight years and most forest residents are gradually adjusting to it as the CCLBP is steadily promoted and the ecological environment has been greatly improved. Although the overall evaluation of life satisfaction of residents is not optimistic, it was higher than expected. Through the life satisfaction of residents in national forest areas, it is visible that the analysis of satisfaction only at the economic level cannot fully reflect the overall situation of micro subjects. Among these, the impact of a good as well as ecological environment on micro subjects in national forest areas is also significant. Zou Y. [45
] also came to a similar conclusion in his investigation of the subjective wellbeing of national forest areas. In a word, the implementation of the CCLBP had an adverse effect on the income and employment of residents in national forest areas. However, with improvement in the ecological environment and employment situation, the overall satisfaction of residents gradually increased.
Life satisfaction was higher in the high-income group than in the low-income group.
The CCLBP affects the life satisfaction of residents in national forest areas [31
]. Life satisfaction was higher in the high-income group than in the low-income group. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory, people always satisfy their lower-level needs before pursuing higher-level needs. For the low-income group, their lower-level needs (physiological needs, security needs) are not yet well satisfied, so they do not pay attention to higher-level needs temporarily, while, for the high-income group, the lower-level needs have been satisfied, so they could pay attention to the impact of external policy changes on their quality of life. Further, married male residents have lower life satisfaction and female residents have higher life satisfaction [67
]. The main reason is that married men have to bear a heavier life burden and social costs, such as children’s education, old people’s support and interpersonal communication (e.g., weddings and funerals). Moreover, occupation had a negative impact on the low-income group’s life satisfaction, showing that farmers in the low-income group had lower life satisfaction. The reason is that the low-income group of farmers are mostly laid-off workers. Before the CCLBP, their salary income was very considerable. After the CCLBP, income basically relies on the state financial subsidies, so it is difficult to maintain daily expenses. For the workers in the low-income group, they were generally lower than the local average. The satisfaction of workers in the low-income group is higher than farmers in the low-income group. The main reason is that workers have a fixed source of income every month to meet the basic needs of life. For the farmers in the high-income group, according to the survey, they obtain a higher income basically through breeding or planting under the forest, so the implementation of the CCLBP has little impact on their economy. As the ecological environment improves, they are more receptive to the CCLBP. For the high-income group of workers, most of them are in management positions and are the main implementers of the CCLBP. They are familiar with the effect of the CCLBP, so they have higher satisfaction. Additionally, there is a positive correlation between changes in the ecological environment, ecological service, employment and policy fairness among various income groups, indicating that both high-income and low-income groups are satisfied with the favorable policy environment.
The satisfaction of the worker group was significantly higher than the forest farmer group.
Workers are the participants in the implementation of the CCLBP; they are fully aware of the responsibility of the existing natural forest resources for ecological security and the necessity of the CCLBP. Most workers in national forest areas are engaged in forest tending, management and protection, and their jobs are stable and their salaries are higher than those of farmers. However, the implementation of the CCLBP has had a major impact on farmers’ incomes. Since the majority of them were loggers, they faced unemployment or migration following the CCLBP. Therefore, the satisfaction of the worker group was significantly higher than the forest farmer group. Income and age were negatively correlated in the farmers group, mainly because most of the older farmers were laid off due to the implementation of the CCLBP, resulting in a large income gap before and after. Then, income inequality made farmers feel a strong sense of “relative exploitation”, which affected the final state of their income satisfaction. However, although younger farmers have lost their jobs as a result of the CCLBP, they have more chances to work outside and generally make more money than those who work in national forests. As a result, their satisfaction levels would be higher than older farmers. In addition, when the external supportive policy environment is favorable, the income satisfaction of workers in national forest areas is higher, and, as the supportive subsidies increase, the income satisfaction of workers will be better. This paper contends that workers are primarily more aware of the advantages of the policy as a result of their employment, extensive publicity and comprehension of the CCLBP. Therefore, the government should attach importance to the institutional supply of external support policies, such as providing information access channels, employment guidelines and other services for forest residents so that they can obtain comprehensive development opportunities and equal development space.
The satisfaction of the Yichun Forest Industry Group was significantly higher than the Inner Mongolia Forest Group.
Although the existing management system and regional location of national forest areas are similar, this paper found that the CCLBP on the life satisfaction of residents in different forest industry groups is discrepant, which is consistent with the conclusions of many scholars. It suggests that the Yichun Forest Industry Group has been implementing the CCLBP since the end of 2013, while the Inner Mongolia Forest Industry Group has been implementing the CCLBP since 2015. Therefore, the residents in the Yichun Forest Industry Group had a reasonable expectation of the CCLBP in their minds and actively developed the under-forest economy to gain income. Second, the low annual average temperature in the Inner Mongolia Forest Industry Group has limited the development of the forest industry. Due to the loss of the support of the original timber industry, forest residents have not been able to fully adapt to the CCLBP. This reflects the regional variability in the impact of the CCLBP on the life satisfaction of residents. In addition, among the residents of both forest industry groups, the satisfaction of older residents was lower. As a result of the CCLBP, older residents have fewer job opportunities. Young people can obtain a stable income by going out for work, while it is difficult for older people to find a suitable job outside. Most of the older people rely on picking and part-time jobs to obtain income in national forest areas. Their income is not stable, so they have low satisfaction.
The impact of the CCLBP on the life satisfaction of residents of different occupations varies. First, in order to solve the low life satisfaction of low-income groups, the income of residents in national forest areas should be increased to improve their life quality and life satisfaction. On one hand, we can rely on the support of policy funds. On the other hand, we can rely on increasing employment opportunities to solve the problem of transferring surplus employees, seeking special funds and vigorously developing the forest economy. Second, the impact of the CCLBP on life satisfaction of residents in national forest areas has regional differences. The policy of national forest areas should not be applied uniformly throughout the entire Northeast and Inner Mongolia with the deployment of the follow-up system. Each forest industry group should be reasonably equipped with relevant forestry resources according to the resource endowment to improve people’s livelihood so as to improve the satisfaction of residents. Additionally, we can even create a new social security system specifically for national forests to cater to the additional security requirements of residents under the CCLBP. As the elderly population in national forest areas increases, the government can focus on the living conditions of the elderly and provide them with living security, such as increasing subsidies for the elderly. Finally, we must focus on the institutional supply of external support policies in order to provide them access to information, employment advice and other services. In this way, they can benefit from comprehensive development opportunities and raise the wellbeing index of national forest areas.
There are still some shortcomings in this paper. Although the existing data have academic research value, the degree of data mining still needs to be improved. Moreover, due to the long development cycle of forestry, the research on the changes in the life satisfaction of residents still requires dynamic tracking and observation. Additionally, because of lacking the production information data of residents and having the difficulty of converting relevant indexes, the index system for measuring the satisfaction of residents still requires further improvement. Therefore, analyzing the changes in life satisfaction of residents under the CCLBP is an important observation perspective, which has significant academic value regarding continuous observation.