Life amongst the trees: a ranger's 40-year dedication to forest protection

by Chen Ziqi China Plus Published: 2018-06-26 11:39:29
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Written by Chen Ziqi; narrated by Ken Smith

[Photo: from VCG]

[Photo: from IC]

Deep in the forest of Cangnan County in Zhejiang province, a 60-year-old forest ranger Liu Rifu has been tirelessly working to help the forest grow and protect it from wild and manmade fire. His 40-year vocation hasn't been easy, indeed, it's meant long separations from his family, but Liu cherishes it so much that he refuses to do anything else. 

Cangnan State Forest was planted in 1955, over an area of nearly 2400 hectares. It is situated in a mountainous area and has more than 20 types of rare trees that are on China's list of endangered and protected species. The rich forest resource is playing a significant role in preventing extreme weather, like flooding and strong wind, and it is also a magnificent natural water reservoir.

Every year, fire poses a huge risk to the forest and can cause devastating and irreparable damage to ecosystems, in some cases threatening residential areas. To prevent fires from breaking out, China has various professionals who protect this vulnerable resource. Forest rangers, fire lookout operators and forest fire fighters are just a few of them.

Liu Rifu is one of these specialists. He's a full-time forest ranger in the Cangnan State Forest. He and his team members live in this mountainous region, hardly going home throughout the year, except for days with particularly bad weather or on occasional days off. 

Liu Rifu's daily duty is to patrol the entire forest area and make sure there are no potential fire risks in the district. In the morning, dressed in a Camouflage uniform and carrying his axe, Liu is ready for work.

"Every day, I leave the forest ranger station at 7:30 and don't finish the day's work until all the tourists have left the forest area. On average, I patrol the forest three to four times a day, and each trip takes four to five hours,” Liu Rifu says, “If I notice any tourists lighting fires to cook or anything, I ask them to stop immediately. This behavior is very dangerous, because it is likely to cause forest fires as grass and trees are flammable."

In 1978, when Liu Rifu was just 19 years old, he took over the job from his father. At the time, his responsibility was mainly to grow trees, along with the country's policy to combat desertification. 

After several decades of persistence and hard work by these forest rangers, forest coverage in the Cangnan State Forest has increased by up to 98 percent, from just 30 percent at the beginning. Hence, Liu has seen many trees grow from little saplings, and he feels he is bound to all the trees in the district. 

While patrolling the forest, forest rangers have to be careful about their surroundings in case they disturb wild animals, like boars. But Liu Rifu says the rangers are not afraid of wildlife, they are more concerned about illegal loggers, since they damage the forest. Liu Jinan is a retired forest ranger, and he recalls staying up all night sometimes to protect the forest from illegal loggers.

"In the day time, we went out to feed and water the trees and wouldn't finish a day's work until mid-night. Sometimes, we couldn't sleep at all. We needed to watch and see if someone sneaked into the forest to cut down our trees," according to Liu Jinan. 

Forest rangers are also required to patrol the forest at several fixed times during the day and night in the forest fire season, which lasts from November to May. During this time, all Liu Rifu would have for lunch would be one or two steam buns, and he'd have to drink water from streams. 

Liu Rifu's wife is afraid that an unhealthy diet and irregular lunch times might cause stomach illness, and because Liu isn't as strong as the youngsters, she delivers food to him every day. Liu also keeps a small piece of land for growing vegetables on, just in case the weather is not suitable for his wife to go outside.

"Today I have salted fish and porridge for lunch. It is much better than before. Years ago, we only took two steam buns and sometimes did not have dinner."

Liu Miaolong is head of the management team of the Cangnan State Forest, and he echoes that living on this mountain is quite tough.

"State-owned forests are all situated on the highest mountains in Cangnan County. The forest rangers live in the wooden house at the bottom of the mountain. Before 1997, they didn't have access to electricity, transport and telecommunications. You could say they were cut off from the outside world. "

Liu Rifu's persistence has not disappointed him. Since 2016, working conditions and welfare have considerably improved, along with a forest ranger station that has been built. Because of Liu's age and health, the management team offered him a desk job. 

But Liu refused again. He says only the forests are worth his attention and efforts. So it was hardly a surprise when Liu's outstanding performance won him the honorary title of model worker in Zhejiang province.

From being a young man to a senior one with grey hair, Liu Rifu and other like-minded rangers have spent almost their whole lives on protecting this important and vulnerable resource for the country and its people.

They hope to see more young blood with the same ideas being injected into the field, all contributing to a sustainable development and conservation of the forest.

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