Sun, Jan 23, 2005 - Page 17 News List

Holding back a mountain

Earthquakes and typhoons plague Taiwan. Stories of the lives and property they sweep away are staples of the local media. Less frequently reported is what happens after the tragedy: the Herculean projects that, over months and years, painstakingly put back what took only moments to be destroyed. For Taiwan's Forestry Bureau, it's a drama that builds sapling by sapling and stone by stone. The bureau recently showed the Taipei Times a trio of reforestation projects in Chiayi County. We saw fields of dirt and piles of rock, but we learned a key facet of Taiwan's ecology: It's easy to move a mountain. What's really difficult is holding one back

Words and Photos by David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

The solution was a good deal daintier than the threat it subdued. First, the debris from the landslide was cleared. Then, in the landslide area itself, small bamboo fences were staked into the soil in a zigzag pattern. The fences covered a full hectare of damaged area and, between them, the bureau planted hundreds of saplings. Additionally, 640m of stones were laid to form a drainage canal.

The idea was that when rains came, instead of washing increasing amounts of soil down the mountain, rainwater would accumulate behind the bamboo fences, terraces that are naturally more resistant to landslides and that force the water to drain properly.

The project was finished in December of 2002 at a cost of NT$3.9 million. Three years later, on the tour of their proudest projects in Chaiyi County, Forestry Bureau Director General Yen Jen-the (顏仁德) posed for photos in front of a new-growth mountain forest, already a few meters high and deeply rooted in the soil.

"We have recovered 48 of the 53 hectares in the Naoliao Creek basin that have been lost to earthquakes and heavy rains," Yen said. He's justifiably proud of the massive amount of work his bureau has put into holding back a mountain -- an effort that he hopes won't be wasted.

Asked if the bureau's reforestation efforts are enough, Yen offered a hopeful response: "We have prepared for the worst and done the best we know how, but nature is a lot more powerful than we are... It would be heartbreaking to see it all come sliding down the mountain, but we would start over again."

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