After the Korean War, human access to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) was highly restricted. However, limited agricultural activity was allowed in the Civilian Control Zone (CCZ) surrounding the DMZ. In this study, land cover and vegetation changes in the western DMZ and CCZ from 1919 to 2017 were investigated. Coniferous forests were nearly completely destroyed during the war and were then converted to deciduous forests by ecological succession. Plains in the DMZ and CCZ areas showed different patterns of land cover changes. In the DMZ, pre-war rice paddies were gradually transformed into grasslands. These grasslands have not returned to forest, and this may be explained by wildfires set for military purposes or hydrological fluctuations in floodplains. Grasslands near the floodplains in the DMZ are highly valued for conservation as a rare land type. Most grasslands in the CCZ were converted back to rice paddies, consistent with their previous use. After the 1990s, ginseng cultivation in the CCZ increased. In addition, the landscape changes in the Korean DMZ and CCZ were affected by political circumstances between South and North Korea. Our results provide baseline information for the development of ecosystem management and conservation plans for the Korean DMZ and CCZ. Given the high biodiversity and ecological integrity of the Korean DMZ region, transboundary governance for conservation should be designed.
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