Braving Hardships and Danger
Li Wenjie June 29, 2011Comments(0) Post Your Comment E-mail Print Save

To protect the world's forests, Yi Lan, 30, from Southwest China's Sichuan Province, joined Greenpeace in April 2007. Greenpeace is one of the world's most influential non-governmental environmental organizations. The Amsterdam-based organization, established in 1971, has offices in more than 40 countries and regions. Before she joined Greenpeace, Yi was employed by a foreign enterprise in Beijing. She has also owned a restaurant.

As a campaigner of Greenpeace's forest team, Yi is responsible for researching and studying destroyed forests throughout the world. In recent years, Yi and her colleagues have been rushing to destroyed forests to investigate, collect evidence and struggle with loggers. The organization has also shared information about environmental protection with people who inhabit areas around such sites. "Now that the world has too many profit seekers, I just want to do something to make our world more peaceful and beautiful," Yi says.

In November 2008, when Greenpeace tasked its forest project team with exposing and stopping rampant illegal logging and forest destruction of the Paradise Rainforest in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Yi Lan and some of the team members traveled to the site. Yi and her colleagues wanted to take immediate measures to stop what they said was illegal logging activities in the forest. The team was concerned the logging would leave the area barren within 10 years.

The team had reason for concern; the rainforest was the largest tropical virgin forest in the Asia-Pacific region, and it supported more than 500 species of mammals and more than 1,600 species of birds, not to mention around 30,000 species of rare plants.

Since ancient times, the indigenous inhabitants of the forest have obtained all of their daily necessities — food, water, clothing, tools, medicine and items used in religious rituals — from the forest. In recent years, though, some transnational logging companies have cut down many of the trees.

At Port Moresby, the capital and largest city of PNG, the locals welcomed Yi and her team on September 1, 2008. The following day, as the team was traveling by ship, which was called Esperanza, to New Britain Island, the team met the cargo ship of Rimbunan Hijau Inc., the logging company and one of Malaysia's largest multinational enterprises. The company had a monopoly over PNG's timber export market.

In recent years, the company has been accused by several groups of corruption and causing environmental degradation. A recent report by Papua New Guinea's Department of Labor and Employment indicated there was evidence of the company committing bribery, when dealing with local officials, so it could destroy and plunder local forest resources.

Yi ordered her colleagues to stop the huge cargo ship. In small boats, they rowed to the ship; when they reached it, four members of the team hung a 10-meter yellow banner, with the words "Protect Our Forests, Save Our Climate," on the ship. Yi spray-painted the words "Forest Destructor" on the ship. She did so with great difficulty, as she could only paint when her small boat was pushed, by the waves, close to the ship. When she completed the task, she was covered with paint from head to toe.


For the next several months, Yi and her colleagues videotaped several logging sites and interviewed many local people, including villagers, teachers and woodsmen. The team heard stories about how the logging — some interviewees referred to the activity as illegal — had seriously affected the locals' lives.

Some of the villagers told Yi they had lived easy, comfortable lives before the logging companies "invaded" the forest. The loggers made it more difficult for them to hunt; they said it was harder to trap prey, and many said they often returned home empty handed, as wild boar and other animals moved deeper into the forest.

Kemaru Garry Bissue, the son of a tribal chief, told Yi, "Our forest boasts various precious butterflies, whose market prices are around dozens of kinas (PNG’s currency, 10 kinas are equal to about US $4), much higher than the price of wood, which usually sells for 10-plus kinas. In addition, people may also earn money by selling orchids collected from the forest … However, trees are the sources of our lives, we simply cannot survive without the forest."

When they visited the villages, Yi and her colleagues taught the indigenous inhabitants about environmental protection. They also encouraged the inhabitants to sue the logging companies for destroying the rainforest. Yi vowed to help the inhabitants collect evidence to present in court.

Before the "green warriors" returned home, they asked the local government to closely monitor the projects in the rainforest and take decisive measures to stop illegal logging. They also presented written details of their investigation and research, into the destruction of the forest, to the local governor.

After Yi returned to Beijing, in April 2009, she wrote a lengthy report entitled "Through the 'Wounds' of the Paradise Rainforest." The report, which included photographs, contained details of the logging companies' activities — some of which were illegal — in PNG. Yi's report caught the world's attention.

In early December 2009, Yi got news, from some inhabitants of ‎Gulf Province (a province on the southern coast of PNG), that they had won the lawsuit against the Rimbunan Hijau Inc. The Supreme Court ruled the company had obtained the right to fell trees in local forest through illegal means, and that it had to compensate local inhabitants for the loss of their precious forest resources.

In Awe of Nature

Early in 2010, after Yi watched the film Avatar, she wrote in an article, "In the film, human beings can hardly understand Beauty Avatar, a female ET (extraterrestrial), who spares no effort in protecting the forest. In many people's eyes, the forest, inhabited by wild, ignorant and poverty-stricken people, is merely a natural resource, from which they grab whatever they want.

"In reality, quite a few logging companies follow the same logic. They destroy not only the living things in the forest, and the forest's biological balance, but also the indigenous inhabitants' ability to communicate with the 'holy spirits' in the forest, which has been passed on from generation to generation over thousands of years."

Yi cried as she watched Avatar; given her experiences in PNG, she was able to relate to the Avatars and their feelings. Profit-seeking companies and groups have long destroyed forests, and their common excuse has been the need to exploit natural resources for the sake of modern civilization.

Yi recalls a conversation with Kemaru Garry Bissue,who told her, due to the destruction of the forest, traditions were dying out. For example, boys, when they turn six or seven, no longer leave their mothers to live with their fathers to learn the skills needed to live in the forest, such as hunting, rowing boats and making and using bows and arrows. In the past, fathers would also pass on to their sons the mysterious ability to communicate with nature; foexample, to ask a hoe for a bumper harvest, or ask a bowand arrow for good game.

It breaks Yi's heart to think that such days are gone"Without due respect for and awe of nature, we human beings suffer tremendously," Yi says. "We have had plentylessons. I hope we will not destroy nature before we masteits mysterious 'code'."

Changing the World

A short time before Women of China interviewed Yi the environmentalist had returned to Beijing from a fact-finding tour of Garze, in Southeast China's Sichuan Province, which borders the Tibet Autonomous Region. In the past, the area had some rare "virgin forests." Due to secret logging activities in recent years, the precious fores resources have given way to man-made forests.

"A natural forest is formed over a long period of time, with correlations between plants, insects and microorganisms, it can provide important eco services such as water and soil conservation," says Yi. "To expand their businesses and/or industries, some enterprises cut down natural forests, and cultivate, on the spot, new ones, by planting single tree species that are suitable for production.

"This does great harm to the local ecology; for example the poor biodiversity, and chemical pesticide and fertilize use… What we are trying to do is to prevent the destruction of the natural forests, while promoting the sustainable development of the plantations."

When she learned the natural forest in Garze had been destroyed, Yi and her colleagues headed to the site. As they traveled along the Sichuan-Tibet Highway, they encountered heavy snow and were stranded for half a day about 5,000 meters above sea level on the winding mountain road.

When they finally reached the site, the sight stunned them: Many dragon spruces and firs, which were between 0.5-1 meter in diameter, had been cut down. The hillside was left virtually barren. "The damage was so devastating that it was simply beyond remedy, as the company would not go to the effort to replant trees on such a steep slope,"Yi said.

In addition to their routine work, such as taking pictures conducting an investigation and obtaining evidence at the site, Yi and her colleagues had an arduous task: They had to hang a large banner on the steep slope. The words on the banner were eye-catching: "There's no time to lose to protect our forests."

As the only male member of the team, Liu Bing, the photographer, was responsible for choosing the right angles — sometimes on dangerous footing on slopes — to take pictures of the logging site. Yi took the lead in shouldering the dangerous task of hanging the banner on the steep slope. She struggled — her legs trembled — to climb up the mountain.

"I was scared at that time, as we had no protection," she recalls. "I could see stones above my head, and a river rumbling below. I moved on with great difficulty, trying to set my feet safely. I felt extremely nervous when stones under my feet rolled down the mountain."

At last, Yi and another woman completed the arduous task. Yi looked quite small beside the large banner. The loggers were stunned by her tremendous courage — and the slogan on the banner. 

After that, Yi and her colleagues wrote a detailed report about the forest’s destruction. and the team included a detailed, hand-drawn map of the area. The report and map were submitted to the State Forestry Administration of the People's Republic of China.

Shortly after the team returned to Beijing, they learned that the administration sent a team to Garze to investigate. "It was our most successful operation … Through the cooperation and efforts of all parties concerned … we successfully stopped the loggers from destroying the forest," Yi notes.

In recent years, Yi and her colleagues have encountered, from time to time, resistance from the logging companies. However, the strong-willed woman has led the team in the struggle to protect the forests.

"Ma ny people have lit tle k nowledge about ou r investigation work. We adhere to the principle of disclosing environmental problems, conducting thorough investigations and adopting immediate measures to change, worldwide, the adverse situations of forest destruction, and bring about changes towards zero deforestation areas in the world," Yi says.

Greenpeace is one of the most inf luential non-governmental environmental organizations in the world. It has offices in more than 40 countries and regions. In addition to its forest project team, Greenpeace has various teams in China, including the climate energy team, pollution prevention team and the sustainable agricultural food team.


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