The thousands of trees that fell over or were uprooted in Greater Taipei when Typhoon Soulik struck earlier this month were mainly a result of poor management rather than the natural disaster, environmental protection groups and a legislator said yesterday.
The groups showed photographs of trees on sidewalks growing out of small holes in the cement just a little wider than their trunks, as well as photographs of toppled trees with their roots still covered in plastic wrapping or in pots, taken after Typhoon Soulik swept through the Greater Taipei area.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬) said nearly 5,000 trees were seriously damaged in Taipei and New Taipei City (新北市) when the typhoon struck, but this should be blamed on the government for not caring about letting trees grow healthily.
Lin, who recently visited Singapore to investigate its policies and regulations on protecting street trees, said Taiwan lacks a government authority in charge of maintaining trees in urban areas, a comprehensive national policy on the management of street trees and related regulations.
“Singapore’s tree-cover rate in urban areas is about 46 percent. They have many tree doctors responsible for taking care of every street tree, who would be at fault if any tree falls down due to illness or improper care,” she said.
Showing the regulations in Japan for planting street trees, which detail the optimum soil pH levels for trees, the best grain size of the soil, planning for good drainage, as well as various other requirements, Lin Chang-mao (林長茂) of the Green Formosa Front said street trees in Taiwan are often planted sloppily by only “digging a hole to put the tree in,” which results in many “ill-growing” trees.
Showing several examples found in New Taipei City, Pan Han-chiang (潘翰疆), head of a tree protection volunteer group, said many tree pits were too small for the trees’ roots to grow and extend deep into the soil to anchor them firmly. It is then only natural that these trees were uprooted by the typhoon’s strong winds.
“It’s like the ancient Chinese custom of ‘foot binding.’ The trees are being mistreated and are in pain, but they cannot speak out,” said former People First Party (PFP) legislator Chang Show-foong (張曉風), who is also the author of a textbook article called “Street Tree.”
Tamkang University transportation management associate professor Chang Sheng-hsiung (張勝雄) said sidewalks in Taiwan have lost many of their original functions, such as offering drainage and an appropriate space for planting healthy trees, because they were paved over with large amounts of concrete.
“Street trees not only provide shade for pedestrians in hot weather, they also soften people’s hearts — causing drivers to stay calm and drive slower,” he added.
“The government should really reflect on what has been allowed to go on and think about planting appropriate tree species, how to plant them properly and how to keep them in good health,” Chang Show-foong said.
“They should not spend taxpayers’ money on meaningless practices,” he added.