Retired teachers have organized a group of volunteers to protect trees at the Chiang-Tsui Junior High School in New Taipei City (新北市), which a contractor, hired to build a swimming pool and a parking lot, wants to cut down. To protect the trees, activists have climbed an old banyan tree and launched a marathon protest, insisting that they are prepared to stay until the city government agrees not to cut down or move the trees.
When the school administration organized a vote on the issue, 90 percent of the teachers did not want the 30 or 40 trees to be cut down for the pool and parking lot, but the school went ahead with the construction plans anyway. If protesters had not climbed the trees, they might have already have been cut down by now.
The incident has attracted media interest and the concern of the New Taipei City Government. It has also attracted like-minded groups, such as an alliance monitoring the Greater Taichung Government and the Tree Conservation Society of Taiwan, an alliance of tree protection groups in Taiwan.
The protection and conservation of trees is becoming a new social movement in Taiwan. Old trees are considered a precious ecological resource and many trees that are several hundred years old are revered as sacred and are believed to have a spirit. Such trees are respected and worshiped by local residents. The trees not only provide scenic spots and places to rest, but are also at the center of community life. Many people like to cool off in the shade of the trees, where they play, talk, drink tea and sing and dance.
Trees have also become a focus of a community’s memory. Removing them would be like stripping away part of community life, which is why people are so determined to protect them.
In Greater Taichung’s West District (西區), there are plans to build a 28-story building next to a 1,000-year old Javanese bishopwood. This will put the tree at risk and the city government is trying to persuade the developer to protect the tree. It has even offered to allocate NT$250 million (US$8.36 million) to buy a plot of land to protect the tree.
This action by the city government has caused public debate, but the city’s willingness to protect the tree is a sign that urban development priorities are changing.
In the past, ecology, culture, history and scenery were all sacrificed for development, but now the Greater Taichung Government is reflecting changing values.
Greater Taichung insists that “the future value of a an old tree will not be inferior to that of a tall building, and this is a sign of a society’s advancement.”
This decision values ecological coexistence and the integration of the past with the future, and that is praiseworthy.
In 1989, the-then Taiwan Provincial Government announced a plan to strengthen the protection of old trees and trees growing along roadsides. It made a list of trees that should be protected, but its powers were limited, and many people and private organizations, maybe out of ignorance, maybe driven by their own interests, cut down many of the trees, damaging both the environment and the landscape.
The protest to protect the trees at Chiang-Tsui Junior High School could impact environmental education for decades to come and could result in many more trees being saved in the future.