Fri, Jul 05, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Highways and Byways: Relics of the forest

Lowland sites in Hsinchu, Yilan and Chiayi are a window into the bygone days of Taiwan’s logging industry

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

Forestry managers and their families once lived in the manicured surroundings of Chiayi City’s Hinoki Village.

Photo: Steven Crook

Taiwan is one of the world’s most densely-populated countries, yet it has a remarkable amount of woodland. According to the government’s Third Survey of Forest Resources and Land Use, completed in 1995, 58.5 percent of Taiwan is covered by trees or bamboo. Hardwoods account for more than half of that total.

That official figure may actually be an underestimate. A paper co-authored by Academia Sinica scientists, published earlier this year in Scientific Reports, concludes that the current proportion of woodland is just over 65 percent.

Despite urban sprawl, the country’s forests have expanded since the 1980s, in part because the government outlawed all logging in natural forests in 1991. From time to time, however, valuable species are felled by illegal loggers known as “mountain rats” (山老鼠).

While the island’s commercial forests still produce timber, in recent years Taiwan has imported more than 95 percent of the wood it uses, much of it from Southeast Asia.

The logging ban means that “we are just exporting deforestation, often to countries with less sustainable forest management,” Taiwan Forestry Research Institute researcher Chang Li-wan (張勵婉) told the World Forestry Center in Oregon in 2013.

The logging prohibition also prevents the authorities from thinning weak trees or snags. These remain in place until they’re displaced by a typhoon and washed into a mountain creek or reservoir.

None of the lowland sites featured in this article focus on the challenges facing Taiwan’s forest managers. Instead, they offer insights into a now-defunct industry. In all cases, entry is free.

JHUDONG TIMBER INDUSTRY EXHIBITION HALL

Jhudong (竹東) is a nondescript town in Hsinchu County and a stop on the Neiwan Line (內灣線). That railroad, which now carries commuters on weekdays and tourists on weekends, was built more than 60 years ago to transport timber and coal extracted from the nearby hills.

Directions

Jhudong Timber Industry Exhibition Hall

If you arrive by train, follow Donglin Road (東林路) away from Jhudong Railway Sation. Walk 200m and you’ll find the hall on the corner of Daming Road (大明路). The hall is open from Wednesday to Sunday, 9am to 12 noon and 1pm to 5pm.

Luodong Forestry Culture Park

The park entrance is at 118 Zhongzheng N Rd (中正北路118號), about 1km north of Luodong Railway Station. The park is open from 8am to 5pm daily.

Hinoki Village

The village is a 20-minute walk from Chiayi Railway Station and a five-minute walk from Chiayi Municipal Museum (嘉義市立博物館). The pond near the museum was also once used for timber storage.


Lumber from logging outposts near the line’s terminus in Neiwan, such as Mount Siangshan (香杉山) and Luchang (鹿場), was sent to Jhudong for processing. In the early days, many of the trees cut down were red or yellow cypresses more than 3,000 years old.

At the industry’s peak in the 1960s, much of the land within 3km of Jhudong Railway Station was occupied by sawmills and related facilities. On a plot of land which still belongs to the Forestry Bureau, an elegant 76-year-old wooden building now serves as Jhudong Timber Industry Exhibition Hall (竹東林業展示).

Many of the items displayed inside, among them a spectacularly battered safe, are labeled in English as well as Chinese. Old photos make it clear that, until the widespread use of trucks after the mid-1960s, human muscle was key when shifting timber to the nearest railway line.

After World War II, Taiwan’s loggers began to use American equipment, and the hall displays a 1961 chart from a US supplier which explains the benefits of kiln-drying timber. Apparently, it increases strength; makes the wood more suitable to manufacture musical instruments; makes it much easier to attain the ideal moisture content; and, by reducing moisture and thus weight, makes wood easier to transport.

LUODONG FORESTRY CULTURE PARK

Just as the Neiwan Line carried lumber down from the hills of Hsinchu County, the narrow-gauge Luodong Forest Railway (羅東森林鐵路) in Yilan County once served logging operations around Taipingshan (太平山).

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