Profile: Forest rangers in Xinjiang fight expanding desert
URUMQI, July 31 (Xinhua) -- When floods loom each year, Eli Niyaz, a forest ranger in Yuli County, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, is busy digging up canals to irrigate poplar trees.
Eli Niyaz has devoted himself to protecting the trees for 26 years. During flood season, along with 175 other colleagues, he digs canals in the forest and diverts the long-anticipated rain to quench the thirst of the trees. The vast poplar forest they attend to stretches 520 km long and 240 km wide.
Poplar trees work together as a natural shield that fends off expanding deserts. The trees and people in Yuli have peacefully coexisted for centuries, but in recent years, as demands for water rise sharply, the delicate balance was broken. Since the 1970s, the Tarim River, the longest inland river in China and mother river for people in Xinjiang, has drained out in Yuli. Without water, poplar trees there gradually withered.
As the trees started dying, deserts started expanding. When Eli was young, spring was never about sunshine or flowery scents, but rather frequent sandstorms and gloomy skies. When heavy winds hit, Eli’s world would become dark all of a sudden. Crops and leaves of fruit trees would get blown off, while farmlands would become encroached by sands and dust. To save his motherland, Eli Niyaz put himself forward as a forest ranger after he graduated from high school.
Eli and his colleagues are in charge of poplar forests that take up more than 53,000 hectares of land, and they have to trek every day for dozens of kilometers.
There was a time when Eli Niyaz went on patrol with five other rangers to a forest 100 km away. On the way back, their motorbikes ran out of gasoline. As night fell, the six of them were standing in the middle of nowhere looking at each other in dismay. They had no choice but bed down for the night on the dunes. The next day, they walked back to the patrolling station.
Weather is extremely harsh on the borders of deserts. In summer, the temperature can reach above 40 degrees Celsius and will drop to minus 20 degrees Celsius in winter. However, no matter what the weather, the forest rangers have to be on duty to check the trees.
Life is hard for a forest ranger in Yuli, and a lot of young men end up giving up the job. Eli Niyaz has to keep on encouraging and cheering up his young colleagues. Thanks to his relentless efforts, the ranger team in Yuli has seen more recruits, and it has grown from 130 people in 2002 to 175 this year.
“It’s no easy job, but I know every poplar tree's value. We safeguard the trees, and they help us keep our homes,” Eli Niyaz said.
His hard work has paid off. In 2001, a project on the Tarim River, with a total investment of over 10.7 billion yuan (about 1.6 billion U.S. dollars), was approved by the central government. Thanks to the project, the upper reaches of the river started to supply water to areas downstream. For years, more than 7.7 billion cubic meters of water has been transferred to the drought-afflicted regions. The water-replenishment project has helped areas spanning more than 220,000 hectares revive surrounding greenery, while the desert areas have dwindled by more than 85,000 hectares.
The water has also given life to poplar trees in Yuli county. As the sun sets, the river ripples with a golden shiny glow, and trees on the banks reflect refined silhouettes in the still water. Everything is quiet and peaceful.
"We live on the edge of the desert, and we never back down. The poplar trees are just like us,” Eli Niyaz said as he leaned against a poplar tree.