Ranger de­votes a life­time to pro­tect­ing his trees

China Daily (USA) - - DINING | LIFE - By LIU XIANGRUI andDONGXIANWU Con­tact the writ­ers through li­ux­i­an­grui@chi­nadaily.com.cn

While­walkingis­apop­u­larex­er­cise for many peo­ple nowa­days, it can be a real chal­lenge for for­est ranger Zhang Youguang, who has con­sis­tently walked 6 kilo­me­ters on moun­tain­ous roads daily for 43 years.

As a young man, Zhang took over the job from his fa­ther, who was once a hunter and later ac­cepted the job of pro­tect­ing the for­est, as many peo­ple at­tempted to cut down trees il­le­gally in the 1970s.

The for­est in his charge is a vir­gin for­est cov­er­ing 2,700 mu (180 hectares), lo­cated in Ping­shang town, in Pud­ing county of Guizhou prov­ince in South­west China.

Zhang has made his home in the for­est, which is 28 km away from the town. Un­der his pro­tec­tion, the one-time saplings have since grown into tow­er­ing trees.

Zhang wakes up early ev­ery day, and he sets out on pa­trol af­ter break­fast along the rugged and nar­row moun­tain paths.

Tak­ing along with him a bot­tle of water and some dry food, and tools in­clud­ing a sickle and a wooden stick, he spends hours in the for­est. Dur­ing fire-risk sea­sons, the pa­trolling time is longer than usual.

Dan­gers can be lurk­ing, as the road turns slip­pery on snowy or rainy days, ac­cord­ing to Zhang.

Once he was bit­ten by a poi­sonous snake, and­he­hadto stay inbed af­ter his foot swelled up.

Dur­ing that time, his wife took over his re­spon­si­bil­ity and pa­trolled the moun­tains for two months.

“I was un­easy fid­gets when I couldn’t go pa­trolling. I was wor­ried that some­thing might hap­pen to the for­est,” he re­calls, not­ing that he also urged his wife to take care of her­self.

Zhang has stopped il­le­gal lum­ber­ing and poach­ing of wild an­i­mals in the re­gion many times.

For ex­am­ple, he ran upon a group of il­le­gal tree-cut­ters sev­eral years ago and man­aged to take away their tools. How­ever, the group later went to his home and threat­ened to hurt him.

They only de­cided to give up out of fear af­ter Zhang told them that he al­ready had sub­mit­ted the tools to the lo­cal for­est sta­tion.

“I was of course scared too,” Zhang ex­plains. “But I will not com­pro­mise if any­one dares to dam­age the for­est.”

In re­cent years, such il­le­gal con­duct in the for­est has di­min­ished as peo­ple’s liveli­hoods have im­proved a lot, Zhang says.

Dur­ing his ten­ure, not a sin­gle emer­gency case of fire has taken place in the for­est.

As eco­log­i­cal dam­age has been re­duced sig­nif­i­cantly, more and more wildlife — mon­keys, pheas­ants and hares — are seen in the area, Zhang says with de­light.

The pass­ing years have trans­formed Zhang from a young lad into a 65-year-old. It takes Zhang, who needs to take rests reg­u­larly, about 10 hours to fin­ish his daily pa­trol now, com­pared with only four hours when he was young.

How­ever, Zhang says he’ll carry on with his re­spon­si­bil­ity un­til the day he can­not walk any­more.

Zhang is happy that his younger brother Zhang Youquan was hired by the Fenglin vil­lage com­mit­tee as a for­est ranger too in 2014. That has re­lieved some of his work pres­sure, though he still fol­lows his brother through ev­ery pa­trol and shares the knowl­edge he’s ac­cu­mu­lated over more than 40 years.

It is es­ti­mated that there are about 37,000 for­est rangers like Zhang in Guizhou prov­ince. With the ef­forts of these green guardians, il­le­gal lum­ber­ing and for­est fires have been ef­fec­tively re­duced in the prov­ince in re­cent years.

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DONG XIANWU / CHINA DAILY

Zhang Youguang, 65, has taken care of an area of moun­tain forests in Pud­ing county in Guizhou prov­ince for 43 years.

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