Over the past four decades, a forest ranger couple has sacrificed the higher pay and conveniences that come with living in a town or city to concentrate on their efforts to protect the trees.
Lacking electricity or a phone signal for many years, Tang Zitian and his wife, Li Qinglian, live on the Baituchong forest farm at the foot of a mountain in Huitong county, Hunan province, helping to breed 132 species of fir tree. Their two daughters were raised by their grandparents.
Tang and Li regularly walk 20 kilometers to check for fire risks in the 600-hectare forest, and there has not been a single fire since their base was established, thanks to the couple's efforts.
They are also required to measure the diameters of certain trees, collect seeds and compile a wide range of other data.
Sometimes, Tang has to risk climbing high in the trees. One time, when he was just about to measure the height of a tree, the rain-soaked soil at its base suddenly gave way and he rolled more than 10 meters down a hill until he was stopped by another tree.
His log records the heights and diameters of sample trees every year, month and day.
Even the minor growth of a tree excites the couple. "It's very gratifying to see a sapling grow into a towering tree. They are just like our children. I am reluctant to leave them," Tang said.
In 1981, the central government started cultivating high-yield fir trees on the forest farm, so Tangwho was then an 18-year-old county resident — was sent to help with the work.
Five years later, he married Li, who was also working as a ranger.
At the time, they each earned 1.50 yuan a day. The place was sparsely populated, and the couple thought about leaving. In fact, dozens of their co-workers moved to do odd jobs in cities, leaving the couple as sole residents.
"My wife sometimes mentioned the poor conditions and the low wages, and said she wanted to go outside (the farm). I told her that I didn't want to leave because I have an interest in forest cultivation. When some professors from forestry research institutes came to conduct field surveys, they taught me about their experiments. I was very eager to learn," Tang said.
The results of the research won national — and provincial-level prizes, which cheered Tang up.
Li chose to stay because she was worried that no one would care for Tang if he got sick on the mountain as there was no phone signal.
In 2019, the couple's dilapidated brick house was fitted with solar panels that generate electricity. In 2021, a cement apron was laid in front of the house.
Today, Tang makes 1,500 yuan ($215) a month as a ranger, and he earns extra money by nurturing seedlings for the farm.
Now, many species of fir are being grown nationwide, increasing yields by 30 to 57 percent, so more people can benefit from their presence.