A least nine Chamaecyparis taiwanensis trees, commonly called Taiwanese cypress, have recently been felled in Datong Township (大同), Yilan County, by illegal loggers, prompting hikers to accuse the Forestry Bureau of negligence.
The Datong area is also home to the Nanshan Shenmu group of trees.
Shenmu (神木), a term originating in the Japanese colonial period, refers to a tree that has been worshiped as a deity or a tree that has lived for more than 1,000 years.
The Datong area has about 20 trees of varying sizes, with the oldest having stood for about 2,500 years.
However, illegal loggers have cut down almost half of the Shenmu group. The combined age of the trees that were cut down was nearly 8,000 years.
The Yilan District Prosecutor’s Office and the bureau have formed a task force to catch the perpetrators.
Although hikers for the most part blamed the illegal loggers, they also directed blame at the bureau, asking: “Why couldn’t the bureau place a surveillance camera linked to the Internet at the entrance of the Nanshan hiking trail? We’re sure that hikers would be glad to give 24-hour surveillance and help catch these people.”
In 1989, the government banned all logging of first-class natural needle-leaf trees.
However, despite the policy, recent illegal logging has spiked.
On Aug. 31 last year, Yilan police caught seven illegal loggers from Hualien County with three cypress logs valued at NT$1.2 million (US$40,630), chainsaws and other logging tools.
The Yilan District Court recently sentenced the culprits to prison sentences of between six months and three years, 10 months, fining them between NT$230,000 and NT$470,000.
In response to the latest incident, Forestry Bureau Deputy -Director-General Lee Tao-sheng (李桃生) said he had offered rewards to rangers who apprehend illegal loggers, adding that they would be disciplined for failing to catch loggers.
Lee said that all forest management department chiefs nationwide have been asked to maintain close contacts with local police to prevent illegal logging.
Translated by Jake Chung, Staff Writer