Activists take turns to occupy trees

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporter

Sat, Mar 30, 2013 - Page 3

Since Thursday morning, environmentalists and a retired high-school teacher have been taking turns sitting in and hugging trees at New Taipei Municipal Chiang-Tsui Junior High School, protesting against measures to remove 32 trees for a public construction project on the campus.

For the past six years, a proposed swimming pool and underground parking lot in an area with dozens of old trees on the campus in New Taipei City (新北市) has been a controversial issue, as a city councilor and the school’s president support the project, while many nearby residents, teachers and environmentalists are against the destruction of the “sea of trees.”

On Thursday morning, Pan Han-chiang (潘翰疆), head of a tree protection volunteer group, climbed into a banyan tree with Green Party Taiwan member and local resident Wang Chung-ming (王鐘銘).

They remained there overnight in heavy rain, faced with police who were trying to remove them, but supported by local residents, who brought them food.

At 6am yesterday, a retired teacher from the school, Chen Tsai-luan (鄭彩鑾), climbed up the tree and took a turn “tree sitting” as Wang climbed down.

As of 7pm yesterday, Pan had been sitting in the tree for 37 hours.

The Green Party Taiwan said construction workers began to remove the trees on Tuesday, but were forced to stop by the city’s agriculture department for violating standards. The workers continued sawing down the trees on Wednesday, so the volunteers said they had no other option but to try and protect the 32 trees that are due to be removed.

“The tree removal plan is unprofessional, the survival rate of the trees will become very low once their roots are damaged, but the agricultural department did not do anything to rescue the trees,” Pan Han-shen (潘翰聲) of the Green Party Taiwan said, adding that hurting the trees is a terrible example to set the school’s students.

Members of the tree protection volunteer group said there are already enough parking spaces in the nearby area and that the construction project would destroy the “Small Vienna Forrest” — local residents’ nickname for the area — which is the only piece of green land with trees in the whole neighborhood.

An official from the city’s agriculture department said yesterday that an examination of five trees sawed down on Tuesday showed that inappropriate measures had been used to remove them, with too few branches remaining, adding that the trees would be treated to try and save them.