Mon, Aug 23, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Forestry officials say driftwood was natural

ILLEGAL LOGGING Although aboriginal groups have alleged that the trees were felled before the storm, authorities showed photos and said that 99% fell on their own

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Most of the driftwood washed downstream in the Tachia and Taan rivers by torrential rains in early July was from trees naturally uprooted rather than those felled intentionally before Tropical Storm Mindulle, forestry officials said yesterday.

The Council of Agriculture's Forestry Bureau said that about 5,900 cubic meters of driftwood in the two rivers had been collected by the government for further sale. Pictures of the driftwood accumulations in the rivers were displayed at a press conference yesterday.

"The length and type of collected trunks vary. We estimate that more than 99 percent of the driftwood was washed down naturally," said Yen Jen-teh (顏仁德), who is the Forestry Bureau's director general.

Showing aerial photos taken before and after the July 2 flood, Yen said that heavy rains brought by Mindulle washed away vegetation and trees in many places, further expanding the total area of collapsed land in central Taiwan. After the 921 earthquake in 1999, the area of collapsed mountain land was about 1,700 hectares, but the July flooding expanded this area to 1,800 hectares.

The flooding washed a huge volume of wood from the mountains into rivers. High-altitude tree species including Taiwan Yellow Cypress (台灣扁柏), Taiwan Red Cypress (台灣紅檜), Taiwan incense cedar (台灣肖楠) and Michelia Formosana (烏心石) are ideal materials for furniture and decorative wood-working.

The unit price for a cubic meter of high-quality Taiwan Yellow Cypress is about NT$100,000.

Yen said that forestry agencies had done their best to collect the driftwood along 142kms of the Tachia River and 96kms of the Taan River after the flood.

"Illegal cases involving trimming trees before the arrival of heavy rains were rare," Yen said.

Current laws entitle residents to collect driftwood one month after a natural disaster occurs. After Mindulle, community residents have been allowed to collect driftwood between Aug. 3 and Aug. 31.

However, residents complained that within the first month after the disaster, much valuable wood had already been marked by the government for collection and future sale.

Meanwhile, legislators criticized the Forestry Bureau earlier this month for not pursuing illegal loggers and timber merchants.

Yen said yesterday that the establishment of a 178-member team of forestry police in July 1 had led to investigations of 19 cases of forestry law violations.

According to Lee Chung-shing (李中興), the team's chief officer, 10 cases involved logging valuable trees secretly. Lee said forestry police would further monitor illegal activities carried out in mountain areas.

"In addition to logging, we also found that certain groups grow marijuana secretly in the deep mountains," Lee said.

Forestry officials said yesterday that collected driftwood would be sold to the public, and that a quotation of prices for diverse types of wood would be available on the bureau's web site early next month.

Local Chinese-language media estimated that the value of driftwood collected by the government this year could be NT$1 billion. However, forestry officials yesterday declined to specify a value.

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