The 40km-long Lijia forest road that meanders through the Lijia wildlife habitat in Beinan Village (卑南), Taitung County, is a lengthy track that used to be home to numerous giant trees. Now, there remains just a single camphor tree, more than 1,000 years old — the result of years of illegal logging.
Lin Ken-yi (林肯毅), 53, a Beinan Aborigine, has long been saddened by the destruction of the natural environment in the area where he grew up, prompting him to return to the mountain a few years ago in an effort to stop illegal logging and deforestation.
Driving a car along the narrow zigzagging mountain roads, Lin, head of a self-organized watch group called the Forest Watch Team, stops a van he encounters and questions the driver.
Asked by Lin why he is heading up the mountain, the driver claimed that he was looking for edible wild herbs, but Lin’s instincts tell him otherwise.
Lin writes down the license plate number of the vehicle and notifies the police without informing the driver, who realized he had been found out and quickly fled the scene.
“A great many huge trees used to stand here,” Lin said, recollecting his childhood. “Their trunks were so thick it took as many as four adults holding hands to go all the way round the tree.”
However, following years of illegal logging and natural disasters, Lin said almost all the tallest trees have vanished. The stream that used to flow through his village has also dried up.
A patrol team, made up of individuals from the Taitung Forest District Office, the Lijia Watch Team and the Forest Watch Team, drives along the Lijia forest track to a mountain site located about 1,000m above sea level.
The first thing visitors see is a camphor tree that Lin said is more than 1,000 years old. The tree is 40m tall and has a circumference of 20m.
Visitors are usually amazed to see that a huge door has been carved straight through the trunk of this ancient tree.
“Illegal loggers have vowed to topple this tree within a year, but as long as I am alive this tree will continue to stand,” Lin said.
To better shield the ancient tree, Lin has installed a patrol box nearby and inspects the area up to four times a week.
“If we fail to protect it, then such trees could disappear forever,” he said.
Every time he clocks in at the patrol box, the sight of the damage done to the tree reminds him of how important it is to fight illegal loggers, Lin said.
He has sworn to protect the only forest in the area, so that future generations can experience the power and wonder of nature the forest represents
“Forests are an integral part of Aboriginal life,” said Lin, who doubles as Lijia Community Development Association chairman, adding that he appealed for volunteers last year to join the Forest Watch Team.
More than 30 tribal residents joined the team soon after, including women, elders and Lin’s wife and son, all having been moved by Lin’s dedication to the cause.
One team member, identified as A-hsiang (阿香), said that without Lin’s drive and determination, the team — which was elected model watch team of the year — would have disbanded long ago.
Former association chairman Wu Hsien-yi (吳賢一) said Lin often risked his life to defend the forest, citing one occasion when Lin crept through mud in a torrential downpour for more than 100m, just to ambush illegal loggers and arrest them.