There are an estimated 1,600 pandas left in the wild in China, and thanks to new legislation, that number may change very soon - for the worse.
The Chinese government is currently in the midst of introducing its "forest tenure reform" legislation in several provinces. Originally introduced in 2008, the new reforms were meant to stimulate local economic benefits reaped by people living in forest communities.
But in effect, the reforms could allow for the sale of some 694,884 square miles of critical old-growth forest for commercial logging, firewood collection and development. The area, currently owned collectively by villagers, represents 15 percent of China's panda forests, according to a new study published in the journal Conservation Letters.
The researchers say that this habitat could be totally wiped out under the new reforms - and the pandas that lived there would meet the same fate.
But there's still the possibility of "eco-compensation," a scheme that's been used before to protect wildlife and wild places in China. Under this system, communities living near panda-inhabited forests would sign long-term, binding forest preservation contracts agreeing to protect panda habitat. In exchange, these communities would be paid by the Chinese government.