EP and the Question of Firewood Gathering
I first met Jaytom a half mile up on the trail into Yubong. At maybe 14, he was a tall, lanky Tibetan who spoke no English beyond, “I love you”. They were great first words… love at first sight. Jaytom seemed to know where he was going, so we climbed together from desert into conifer saplings and beech trees to a 12,000 foot pass lined with mature cedars and spruce. From here, the trailed dropped into Yubong through young pines and beneath the 22,000 foot Snow-Capped Mountains. Jaytom brought me to his house to stay with his family. The father and son gathered around a wood stove. In the valley outside of the house, I could see columns of wood smoke rising from the dozen other houses. As mundane as it sounds, failing to slow the gathering of firewood has serious implications on the health of ecosystems. It’s one reason the five-hour hike to Yubong was not through primary forest.
The need to control firewood harvesting takes root in China’s recent history. During Chairman Mao’s rule in the years of 1958-1960 he instigated a policy called the “Great Leap Forward”. Chairman Mao’s essential idea was to take China, then a largely developing nation, and vault it into a world power through increased production of steel and grain. Traditional knowledge was abandoned and logic was lost somewhere between the mantra of more grain and more steel. Powering this idea was a list of slogans that included “destroy the forests, open the wasteland,”. In a period of a few months, experts estimate that 10 percent of China’s forests were cut. Aside from the loss of habitat (I should also note that it’s estimated that 30-60 million people died of starvation as a result of the Great Leap), one of the many lasting impact of this was massive floods in the 90s that led to landslides and destroyed infrastructure, homes and lives. This disaster prompted the government to ban commercial logging in Yunnan.
But because so much forest has already been cut, it puts conservation organizations in a sticky environmental predicament. How do you advocate slowing the gathering of the firewood when traditional cultures depend on it? We’re hoping to find out in the next couple of weeks.
In the meantime, when I left Jaytom and the village of Yubong I saw two interesting things, one was a chainsaw. The other was a solar panel. We’ll continue to update this section the more that we learn, these are just some initial thoughts. The audio update speaks a bit to the joys of traveling in China. The second audio update is just a brief about my adventures yesterday. I’m off again into the backcountry so will be off the blog for a few days. I hope you enjoy.