“Active opening up, simplified management” is the mainstream view in mountaineering communities around the world. Unfortunately, past governments in Taiwan were too cautious, and mountaineering activities were associated with martial law: There were even cases of hikers that were investigated under the National Security Act (國家安全法) for going into the mountains without permission.
It is now 32 years since martial law was lifted, but hiking has continued to be controlled and restricted in the same way it was during the Martial Law era.
Officials in charge of mountain areas ignored the fact that times have changed while they continued to cling to outdated measures, and as a result, hiking and mountaineering were not able to develop normally, to the great regret of people who enjoy these activities.
Premier Su Tseng-chang’s (蘇貞昌) groundbreaking announcement on Oct. 21, which provided clear guidelines for government officials and hikers, was therefore very welcome.
The move will have far-reaching effects: It will eliminate excessive government controls, as officials will no longer have to be responsible for accidents in mountain areas, and hikers will have to learn the need and importance of taking responsibility for the risks they take.
As the government removes these restrictions, hikers will hopefully be able to improve their understanding of how to behave in the mountains.
From now on, with the exception of real national security and ecological conservation needs, all mountain areas are to be completely deregulated. The ideas of transparency, service, education and responsibility should replace the outdated policy of closing off and banning entry to mountains.
Su’s announcement was simply a policy guideline, and needs to be followed by detailed regulations, so here are a few suggestions:
As authorities will no longer use “danger” as a reason for limiting access, and restrictions and controls are to be replaced with service, it would be appropriate to merge the management offices of the three high-mountain national parks, so that each no longer arbitrarily sets its own rules.
One example is the planned one-stop Web site for applying for hiking permission.
There should also be only one set of regulations for managing the mountain areas, so hiking regulations that vary between counties and cities should be abolished, while the responsibilities of officials should be legally redefined, so that the old mindset of “if you do not do anything, you cannot do anything wrong” is eliminated.
There are already many commercial hiking services and their businesses might be affected by the new order. They should look for ways of transforming to be able to minimize the effect of these changes on their business.
Hikers and mountaineers should remember that the mountain areas are not a place where you can do whatever you want.
The government will no longer offer compensation for hiking accidents, so hikers will be responsible for their own safety. This means that they must first make sure that they understand the situation in the area where they want to go, and determine if they have the required abilities and skills.
It is easy to overestimate one’s own abilities, but doing so would counteract the government’s good intentions in removing the restrictions.
On Jan. 16, 2016, then-Democratic Progressive Party candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said: “Taiwan is a free and democratic country. What makes this nation great is that we all have the right to do what we want to do. This country protects all citizens and their right to free choice.”
Hikers finally enjoy the right to free choice. Hopefully they will respond by working to build a friendly, pleasant and safe hiking environment.
It will hopefully also bring even more people into our mountains and forests, to exercise and to build a sound and healthy body and mind.
Perhaps the beauty of Taiwan’s mountains and forests could even be used to promote this nation to the world and to develop hiking tourism.
Tsai Winda is a nationally certified mountaineering guide.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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