Fri, Jul 12, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Highways & Byways: From plantation to eco-corridor

How the rise and fall of the sugar industry helped shape Hualien’s Guangfu

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

For much of the factory’s history, the owners provided employees and their dependents with health care and entertainment. The old clinic building is still standing, as is the meeting hall where movies were often shown. Several years ago, a number of the wooden bungalows that were once assigned to senior staff were thoroughly renovated and converted into a 28-room guesthouse.

When the sugar industry was at its peak, cane plantations covered much of the flat and semi-flat land south of the factory. An afforestation program was launched at the start of the 21st century, and an area of 1,250 hectares between the Hualien-Taitung Railway Line and Road 193 has been designated Danong Dafu Forest Park.

Trees, well over a million of them, have been planted here, as have around 20 native shrub and flower species. What’s being done in the forest park isn’t quite “rewilding,” but I can’t think of another large-scale project in Taiwan that comes closer to restoring land to its natural, uncultivated state.

An article by Chen Yi-ming (陳一銘), published last year in the Council of Agiculture’s Forestry Research Newsletter (林業研究專訊) adds wild boar, Chinese hares and small-toothed ferret badgers to the list of animals detected inside the forest park. However, three species found in the nearby Coastal Mountain Range (海岸山脈) have yet to be recorded: the Formosan rock macaque (Taiwan’s only monkey); the goat-like Formosan serow and the Chinese pangolin.

Chen called for coordination between different government agencies and local stakeholders to further develop the park’s role as an ecological corridor, while acknowledging that this is complicated by the widening of Highway 9 and the flood-control infrastructure that criss-crosses the landscape. However, culverts can be designed to be accessible to wildlife, and a local environmental group has worked to create ecological space beneath one of the new bridges on Highway 9.

“In May [2018], a yellow-throated marten was found in the [forest park], and this helps us see more clearly the park’s potential as an ecological corridor. The yellow-throated marten is a major forest predator, but long ago went extinct in the Coastal Mountain Range,” Chen reported.

He then asked: “Can the yellow-throated marten return to the coastal mountains through [the park]? What impact will it have on the entire ecosystem?”

Admission to the park is free, and the information center is open from 8am to 5pm daily. The multiple entrances seem to be open around the clock, so there’s nothing to stop ecotourists from visiting at first light or at dusk, when the odds of seeing animals are less remote. They should bring binoculars, and leave no trace.

Steven Crook has been writing about travel, culture, and business in Taiwan since 1996. He is the co-author of A Culinary History of Taipei: Beyond Pork and Ponlai, and author of Taiwan: The Bradt Travel Guide, the third edition of which has just been published.

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