LANZHOU, Aug. 12 (Xinhua) -- Every morning at 7 o'clock, Wang Guoli puts on his straw hat and starts his daily patrol in the mountains, carrying shovels and water tanks.
Wang lives in northwestern Gansu Province's capital city of Lanzhou and the Yellow River flows through the city. Dubbed as China's "mother river," following years of severe soil erosion, the river has turned yellowish, just like its name.
The 59-year-old is a forest ranger in the mountains on both sides of the Yellow River. Born and raised in the narrow valley beneath the mountains, Wang never liked the scenery while growing up.
"The mountaintops were almost bare and it was hard to find a single piece of tree shade. Every spring, dust and dirt blown from the top could soil a freshly-washed shirt in just a day," Wang recalled.
To improve the urban ecosystem of the city, the local government launched a voluntary afforestation campaign in the 1950s. Initially, state enterprises and government staff joined the campaign and later passed down the voluntary drive from one generation to another.
The campaign saw batches of saplings planted on the barren land, but due to the harsh natural conditions, the survival rate of seedlings was very low at the beginning.
In 2000, the local government established the Lanzhou Mountainous Environment Engineering Headquarters and started to recruit full-time forest rangers for daily management and protection of the newly-planted saplings.
Wang's father-in-law, He Yongcai, who was in his 60s, became one of the very first government-paid forest rangers in the mountains. He was responsible for forest maintenance, watering, pest control and fire prevention.
Without modern equipment, He and other foresters walked on foot and patrolled in pairs. One of them would be equipped with shovels and water tanks, while the other carried seedlings. Day in and day out, the area of woods on the mountains began to expand.
"The mountains and river banks would look great in green, and we want to do our part," he said.
However, by the age of 70, his knees could no longer stand long walks. So, He "chose" Wang as his successor. "It's hard for a tree to survive. Please take good care of them," he told Wang.
It was not an ideal job for Wang at first. Wang followed suit with a meager monthly payment of 600 yuan (about 85.9 U.S. dollars) in 2009. However, the feeling induced by the growing woods transcended the importance of money.
"There was a sense of fulfillment seeing saplings sprout and grow taller day by day. No more second thoughts of leaving, I wanted to stay and paint all the mountains green," Wang said.
He devoted himself to this job and his footprints have spread across a patrolling area of 133 hectares over the past 11 years.
In 2013, a ranger station was established and Wang was selected as the leader of a 13-member forester team. With more investments by the local government, the team was equipped with professional tools like portable extinguishers and wireless intercoms, and they received regular training on fire prevention.
Besides, with the help of irrigation projects and scientific plantation, the survival rate of saplings has gradually improved. But Wang never lowered down his guard, especially during fire seasons in winter and spring. "A fire could burn down an entire forest within a few minutes and ruin years of hard work," he said.
In 2015, Wang and his team used herbicides to create fire barriers between woodland and farmland, effectively reducing the risk of man-made fire.
During the past 11 years, Wang has roughly walked around whopping 13,000 kilometers along the mountains, nearly one-third of the length of the equator.
At present, Wang's salary has increased to 3,800 yuan per month, earning a decent life for his family.
Currently, there are around 3,000 forest rangers in Lanzhou. Thanks to their efforts, forest cover in the mountains has expanded to over 41,333 hectares in 2020, with more than 160 million surviving trees, according to statistics from the Lanzhou Mountainous Environment Engineering Headquarters.
Prior to the establishment of the headquarters, the green area was only 9,333 hectares.
The campaign helped reduce over 600,000 tons of soil erosion in the upper stream of the Yellow River every year, according to Ren Zhibin, deputy commander of the headquarters.
Wang is pleased to see that the mountains have now become a popular summer resort for locals.
With his retirement approaching, Wang has already made a plan in advance.
"It is hard to say goodbye to my woods. Before my retirement, I must hand it over to someone I trust, someone who works hard and is conscientious," he said.
Three years ago, Wang "chose" his 34-year-old son-in-law Zhang Xiaojiang to carry forward the legacy.
"Cherish every inch of the greenery, keep working and make the river banks a wonderland for the next generation," said Wang. Enditem