Changsha, the capital of central China’s Hunan province, is a “furnace” in midsummer, whose temperature may rise to 40 degrees Celsius. For Changsha citizens, the Dawei Mountain, some 130 km east of the metropolis, is an ideal place to escape the summer heat.
The winding mountain looks like a green belt interspersed with wetlands and valleys. This gorgeous scenery couldn’t have been shaped without the meticulous efforts made by “forest rangers and chiefs.”
Changsha introduced a “forest chief” scheme in 2021, which includes 11 forest chiefs at the municipal level, 83 at the county level, 1,068 at the township level and 2,390 at the village level. Together, they guard more than 600,000 hectares of forests.
The “forest chief” scheme is what maintains a sound and safe natural environment for Changsha.
Being a forest chief involves heavy responsibilities, said Liu Xiaopei, a forest chief from Longfu Xincun village, Xiaduo township, Ningxiang, a county-level city administered by the municipal government of Changsha.
Liu goes on a patrol mission in the forest early in the morning every day. “Clearing cigarette butts and other garbage, discovering plant diseases and insect pests, and rescuing injured animals…”Liu told People’s Daily.
Last December, he found some pines withering on a patrol mission and immediately reported it to relevant township authorities via a management app. The local forestry department launched quick check-ups and spotted pine wood nematode. Then it disposed of the infected trees, which prevented further expansion of the pest.
Changsha has 1,160 full-time forest chiefs like Liu. The city divides its forests into a number of management grids, and each grid comes with a forest chief, a supervisor and a law enforcement officer.
Each of the forest chiefs takes care of an area of no more than 10,000 mu (about 667 hectares). They wear uniforms and take with them standard tools and a manual. Besides, they are put under centralized management and performance evaluation.
The forest chiefs prevent such practices as firing, illegal lumbering and occupation of forests; they also monitor pests and protect wildlife.
To make the “forest chief” scheme more effective, Changsha has enhanced its input on technologies.
“Drones make our patrolling areas wider and make our job easier,” said Tang Ming, a forest chief in Gejia township, Liuyang, Hunan province.
A total of 42 drones are employed by the forestry department of Liuyang, which are able to cover all forests administered by the city.
Changsha is the first city in Hunan province to have established a smart forestry management platform, which integrates a forestry big data base, a dynamic monitoring system, a comprehensive law enforcement system and a demonstration system.
Lumbering was once the major source of income for forest farms. “Now, we make money from ‘watching’ the trees,” said Liu Junjie, head of a state-owned forest farm in Liuyang.
“We have vigorously planted high value-added woods to expand the country’s commercial forest,” Liu said. According to him, more than 120 workers of the farm are engaged in planting Phoebe zhennan and Zelkova serrata.
Changsha is also developing husbandry, fungi, herbal medicine, fruit and healthcare industries in the forests, making the “under-forest economy” a major driver for rural vitalization. The city is seeing annual revenue of more than 10 billion yuan from the “under-forest economy.”
“The ‘forest chief’ scheme stresses the responsibility and leading role of local party committees and governments, and involves efforts from government departments and social forces. It makes a concerted contribution to ecological progress,” said Deng Yangfeng, head of the forestry bureau of Changsha.
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