He planted 270,000 deep-rooted trees on the mountains of Taiwan, and now he is known as "King of the Trees." Lai Pei-yuan is a 57-year-old Taiwanese entrepreneur that made his fortune in transportation and property, but his real mission in life is to reinstate at least some of the forests that once covered most of the island. "It was just a simple idea I had," Lai said during an interview on a hillside near Taichung, the city in central Taiwan where he was born. "If I was to safeguard Taiwan, I would have to plant trees." Today his efforts can be seen in the form of 130 hectares of mountainsides near Taichung covered with indigenous trees such as Taiwan incense cedar and a kind of laurel.
Lai was shocked by the impacts of the rapid industrialization of Taiwan: "Many, many trees growing in the mountains were cut down and exported," he said. It began under Japanese occupation from 1895 to 1945, when ancient trees were cut down in the name of progress, a process that continued until the closing years of the 20th century. Only in 1989 did Taiwanese authorities ban the logging of primeval forests, but by that time it was almost too late.
The results were devastating. In the course of the 20th century, forest coverage fell from 90 percent to 55 percent.