'Lord of the Trees' chosen as focus of Arbor Day campaign
CNATAIPEI--He may not be as burly as an Ent in J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy world, but his deeds have made him just as powerful as the ancient creatures known for their commitment to nature.
March 10, 2013, 12:13 am TWN
Dubbed the “Lord of the Trees,” Lai Pei-yuan gets up at 5 a.m. every day and travels more than 100 kilometers from his home in Taichung to Dasyue Mountain, where he owns 130 hectares of woodlands.
The 56-year-old spends his day tending to and planting his trees, getting rid of pests, and facing down unexpected mountain dwellers such as bees and wild boars.
But Lai said he has never considered his daily routine demanding since starting it 27 years ago. His goal is simple: to leave Taiwan 500,000 trees before he dies.
“My only concern is that I might not be able to live that long,” said Lai, who has already grown 270,000 trees.
Because of his dedication to replenishing the natural environment, the Forestry Bureau chose him as this year's spokesman for Arbor Day, which falls on March 12.
Having aired a 4-minute short film about Lai, the bureau said it hopes to capitalize on his fame to encourage the public to plant some 100,000 trees throughout the month.
The bureau said the campaign would echo the beliefs of Sun Yat-sen — the founding father of the Republic of China — who advocated planting trees to improve the people's well-being.
Lai started his tree-planting journey by investing the NT$100 million (US$3.3 million) he earned in the logistics business to acquire 10 plots of woodland in mountainous central Taiwan.
He then retired as chairman of his freight company at a young age to cultivate his newly acquired land full time. The only part of the land farmed commercially is a small plot he left to his son to grow coffee beans for his coffee shop in downtown Taichung.
Lai's motivation came from what he saw as rampant overdevelopment and his desire to reverse the trend.
“We should return the trees we borrowed from nature,” Lai said, adding that he has spent more than NT$2 billion (US$67.4 million) on his tree-growing mission, which now involves his two sons.
The money has come in part from the logistics business, which has stayed in his family, but one of his sons said Lai's obsession has left the family in debt.
Lai said he plans to set up a foundation within the next three years so that his initiative can be sustained.
Under Lai's plan, the trees will not be sold, cut down or left to his offspring and instead will be left to the Taiwanese people, he said.
The Forestry Bureau's Arbor Day campaign hopes to impart that same spirit of sustainability to the public.
Bureau Director-General Lee Tao-sheng said the distribution of tree seedlings is a good way to protect Taiwan's natural environment and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warning.
According to the bureau, one tree can absorb 5-10 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2), while 112 trees can remove the amount of CO2 produced by one air conditioner a year.
If each one of the country's 23 million people plants a single tree, those trees will absorb the greenhouse gases released over a year by 200,000 air conditioners.
Perhaps just like the young Taiwanese incense-cedars and zelkovas he planted in the first year of his crusade, which have now reached some 10 meters tall, Lai said he believes that his efforts to nourish the environment will pay off with time.
“I wish I could live 10 times to spend all my time growing trees,” he said. “I hope everyone can join me because it is the right thing to do.”