03:41 PM, July 23, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:47 PM, July 23, 2018

Volunteer recalls long, lonely fight to protect forest

Liu Zhenmao patrols forests on Shizikou Mountain in Chenzhou, Hunan province. Photo courtesy: China Daily

Volunteer Liu Zhenmao has protected a mountain forest in Hunan province for 38 years, spending 22 Chinese New Year's Eves at his sentry post and even missing his youngest son's wedding due to his dedication.

Liu, 71, patrols Chenzhou city's Shizikou Mountain by foot, walking more than 30 kilometers every day, and over the years has covered the equivalent of more than 10 circumnavigations of the globe.

The mountain has 23,333 hectares of primitive forests, 4,666 hectares of alpine meadow and is home to hundreds of rare animals and plants.

From 1993 to 2016, his sole companion at his sentry post was a dog.

But in 2016, the local government offered financial support and reformed a team of volunteers disbanded 23 years earlier. Liu was no longer the only soldier fighting for the forest.

"There are eight foresters, including me, in the forest protection project," he said. The government invested more than 500,000 yuan ($74,730) to improve the volunteers' living conditions, building another sentry post and equipping both with electric power, television, Wi-Fi and solar water heating.

After returning home from the army, Liu established a group of volunteer forest rangers in 1980 to protect the forest. "No trees on the mountain mean no stable water supply, and consequently no food," he said.

As a consequence of reform and opening-up, some of the volunteer foresters left to chase business opportunities elsewhere, and the team was disbanded in 1993.

But Liu decided to stay on, waging a one-man campaign to tackle the destruction of vegetation on Shizikou Mountain. "If I gave up then, I'd have been giving up halfway," he said. "I will adhere to my mission, however difficult it is."

Despite opposition from his family and friends, Liu spent 36,000 yuan to transform a log cabin, 1,600 meters up the mountain, into a stone house to serve as his sentry post. The money came from profits from a grocery shop operated by his wife.

Because the sentry post is in such a remote location, Liu has to walk for four to five hours to reach the nearest village. Before the government-funded improvements two years ago, his only entertainment at night was listening to a battery-powered radio or reading newspapers by oil lamp.

Loneliness is not Liu's only enemy on the mountain and he always takes an ax with him on patrols to fend off snakes and wild animals. Once, he was badly injured after falling down a hillside and had to stay in bed for more than half a year.

Liu has won a number of awards over the years for protecting the forest and has been recognized as a national role model.

In a letter to Chenzhou's vice-mayor last month, Liu wrote, "I want the Chenzhou government to further control grazing near Shizikou Mountain in order to protect the forests and grasslands and prevent soil erosion."

Copyright: Asia News Network/ China Daily