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Logger, ranger, lawmaker -- one man's identity shift amid China's green drive

Xinhua | Updated: 2021-03-07 00:35
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File Photo of Zhou Yizhe, a forest ranger and a Chinese national lawmaker, patrolling a forest in North China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region. [Photo/Xinhua]

BEIJING/HOHHOT - Throughout his life, Zhou Yizhe, 57, has worked with trees in a number of ways, each time using different tools.

For 35 years, he worked as a logger, cutting down trees with an ax and a saw. He then picked up a shovel and got involved in tree planting. Now, as a national lawmaker, he uses his pen and laptop to draft suggestions, calling for greater efforts in protecting trees.

At the ongoing annual session of China's national legislature, President Xi Jinping praised Zhou for his transition.

"Your identity shift from a logger to a forest ranger epitomizes our country's transformation in industrial structures," Xi told Zhou during deliberations with fellow lawmakers from North China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region Friday.

Zhou works on a forest farm in the Greater Hinggan Mountains of Inner Mongolia, along the country's northern border.

In 2012, as the country raised the vision of building a "Beautiful China," with ecological progress included into its integrated plan for development, some 16,000 loggers in the region shifted their roles to forest rangers in the Greater Hinggan Mountains.

New life

Inner Mongolia has more than 100,000 square km of state-owned forestry zones, roughly the same land area as Iceland. It used to be a major timber-production base, fueling the country's construction in infrastructure and other sectors for decades.

In peak times, the timber Zhou and his colleagues produced could fill 400 train carriages every winter.

"Buyers from all over the country came here for our timber," Zhou recalled.

Amid the increasing awareness of environmental protection and sustainable development, China started capping timber production in the late 1990s and natural forest logging in the Greater Hinggan Mountains was fully banned in 2015.

Tree fellers like Zhou turned into rangers. As part of the country's green transformation, China has created tens of thousands of state-funded posts focused on protecting grasslands, forests and wetlands.

Unlike in the past, when farm workers only got six months' pay for logging in autumn and winter, these people now have work all year long. Their income of up to 60,000 yuan (about $9,234) a year is three times the amount in 2015.

Zhou takes a two-hour ride by shuttle van to get into the forest and walks five to six hours a day. His job includes planting trees, patrolling, spotting fire risks and protecting trees through pest- and disease-prevention measures.

"With our afforestation efforts, we have built a green 'Great Wall'," Zhou said, adding that more wild animals, including roe deer and bears, are found roaming in the woods.

Over the past five years, the country has added 36.33 million hectares of afforested land, bringing the country's forest coverage rate to 23.04 percent from 21.66 percent.

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