Tourists drift on a bamboo raft in jinhu county, huai 'an city, east China's jiangsu province, April 13, 2019.
Floating forest. Tourists drift on a bamboo raft in jinhu county, huai 'an city, east China's jiangsu province, April 13, 2019. © He Jinghua/TNC Photo Contest 2019

The Nature Conservancy | Our Priorities

Ant Forest

Looking over the landscape, the trees are as small as ants but will eventually grow into a forest.

“Ant Forest” is a tree planting project at Yunlong Tianchi Nature Reserve in Dali, China, that is restoring the previously destroyed ecological corridor for Yunnan Golden Monkeys. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is providing scientific direction to the project and worked on site selection, tree species selection and planting program design. The project will plant about 213,000 trees.

The planting proved to be quite gruelling and was only a success due to the support of local villagers. During the month-long planting period, there was a steady drizzle of rain, which was the perfect condition for tree planting, but it was uncomfortably chilly for the planters being at 2,800-3,300 meters above sea level. The high altitude also made it difficult to transport saplings up the mountain from the nursery. First, the saplings were moved to the bottom of the mountain using carts, then they traveled in small pickup trucks to the nearby camp site, and finally, the saplings were carried on the backs of people and horses to the planting site.

in deforested areas, pictured here, that will restore habitat and sequester millions of tons of carbon.
TNC planted trees in deforested areas, pictured here, that will restore habitat and sequester millions of tons of carbon. © TNC

Since the planting site was 10-30 miles away from the village with limited transportation, the team had to endure harsh conditions and camp on the mountain. The participating villagers retrofitted nearby abandoned and broken houses, most without windows, to create a makeshift camp. There were up to 200 volunteers at a time, and they had to sleep side-by-side on a sheet of plastic. In order to save time, a large bucket of rice was prepared and delivered to the planting site for lunch.

At the end of each strenuous, tree-planting day, everyone was too tired to speak on the hike back to camp. But when they crested a ridge and looked back at the hillside full of saplings, they smiled. The current small trees were still as small as ants, but there was no doubt that one day they would grow into majestic forests.

It will take a year for a growing cycle to pass and see if the trees will survive, but the Huashan pine and spruce saplings now have a new home in the “Ant Forest”, giving hope to the future of forests and Yunnan Golden Monkeys.