It should be duly noted here, that upon entering Bayan Ulgii province, we did not see any trees until we arrived in Ulgii City. Locals can remember that only two generations ago, the river flats of Ulgii City, and much of the rest of the province, were covered in trees.
All were cut down for winter fuel and building materials.
However, the Trees are making a comeback, locals are recognizing the importance of these Guardians of the Earth(i), and in most fenced public spaces (which keep the grazing animals at bay) trees, almost exclusively Siberian Larch (larix siberica), have been planted to beautify the City Center streets. The river flats of Bayan Ulgii want to be treed; you can tell by how vigourously they grow given the slightest chance.
Special Guest Instructor (and student) Dr Beket gave the lesson on Trees today, from his work over the past few years in Bayan Ulgii:
Photo: Dr. Beket teaches about trees.
Of special interest, the Doctor's Bastama School Project, in which the Superintendent gets excited about planting 100 trees on the schoolgrounds, and organizes for workers to be there one weekend to accept delivery of what he thinks will be a caravan of lorries carting in trees by the truckload for transplanting, only to be met by Dr Becket holding two small plastic bags full of sticks.
The next school day, as bewildered grownups walked past 100 oversized pencils sticking out of the ground, one parent declared the Old Man crazy, and promised to cut his own nose off if any of those sticks actually grew any taller than his child.
Fast forward three years later, and the results speak for themselves (although we are pretty sure the aforementioned parent's nose remains intact):
Photo: 4 year old 'saplings'.
Meet Populus laurifolia (known locally as 'Fast White'), a tree that strikes easily from cuttings, can grow at a rate of about a meter-and-a-half each year (in a 90-day growing season, mind you), and can withstand -50C winters in an area which receives only 114mm of rainfall (most of which falls over 3 months).
The Barrens of Bayan Ulgii can be reforested.
Photo: Dr. Beket and I in front of his school tree plantation.
(i) 'TREES: Guardians of the Earth' by Bill Mollison, 1998