After the collapse of the USSR, Armenia faced a number of problems – social, economic and political. Continuous clashes with neighboring Azerbaijan as well as Turkish-Azeri blockade finally resulted in energy crisis. As a result due to lack of gas and electricity people started to use trees for fuel. Illegal loggings became widespread. According to the data of International Forestry Review of 2005 only in 1991-1996 about 600,000 cubic meters of trees were logged annually in Armenia. The loggings did not stop the next years: it is testified by the data registered in 2005 when forests covered 10% of the territory of RA whereas in 1988 it was 11.2%1.
What is the state of things today? Do illegal loggings continue today when there is no energy crisis and according to RA Ministry of Trade and Economic Development only in the first 6 months of 2005, 10.2% economic growth was registered.
According to the data posted in the site of the Armenia Tree Project (ATP) the situation is as follows: today about 750,000 cubic meters of trees are logged annually on the territory of RA. According to experts the result of this will be than in 50 years Armenia will become a desert area. According to the research about half a million cubic meters of wood is burned annually in Armenia and only 10-12% of it is registered. Due to such illegal activities not only the territory of Armenia’s forests have reduced but it also have caused structural changes in tree types: valuable trees like beech, oak, pine and ash reduce with less valuable trees coming to replace them (e.g. fennels) (United Nations Common Country Assessment of Armenia).
According to another research by ATP, more than 100,000 hectares of forestland was logged on the whole territory of Armenia since 1993. As a result today Armenia has 240,000 hectares of forests which is 8% of the whole territory (Armenia Tree Project).
Finally, according to another research by UN, 24.353 square kilometers of the territory of Armenia, which makes 81.9% of its territory (excluding territories of the Lake Sevan and other reservoirs), is subject to desertification of different degrees. There is an extremely high threat of desertification for 26.8% of the territory, and a milder but still possible threat of desertification for 8.8% of the country’s territory2.
What are the official data and generally the position of the state in this question?
Let us first mention that according to official data, forestland in Armenia cover 334,100 hectares, i.e. 11-12% of the territory of RA. However these data are back from 1992. And according to the above research todays forests cover 8% of the RA territory.
According to Martun Matevosyan, director of “ArmForest” SNCO3, forests have undergone qualitative changes but forest lands have not reduced. He states that now forests cover the same territory as in 1988. Comparing with 1988 and 2006, mainly in the Tavush and Lori provinces, forest resources have not reduced, the level is the same despite big volume of loggings. Mr. Matevosyan claims also that forests grow and in logged territories natural increment is faster.
At present a project of improving the forest legislation application and forest sphere management is being implemented in the European Neighborhood Policy Eastern European countries and Russia supported by the World Bank, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)and World Wide Fund For Nature (former World Wildlife Fund). And ArmForest is putting much effort in making the population more informed about the compensations for the harm done to the nature by illegal cuttings.
As for the existence of logging business in Armenia, Mr. Matevosyan believes such business is not established in Armenia. Moreover, he thinks it is the objective of ArmForest and the country to establish it as a business – cutting, transportation and utilization. Mr. Matevosyan hopes that after approving these forest management plans we will move in that direction and the state will invite tenders. But Inga Zarafyan, head of “Ecolur” environmental NGO, considers any cutting to be an irreversible loss. “Business has to be pushed out of this sphere,” Mrs. Zarafyan states. The authorities however do not agree with her, claiming that it may become a heavy burden for the socially vulnerable population living in forestlands who hope to get fuel and jobs at the expense of forests4. The solution Inga Zarafyan offers is e.g. carrying out no cutting for 5 years, banning logging and reducing gas prices for forestland territories. She insists that it will cost the government cheaper than solving the problems due to cuttings. She says that when they sound alarm about forest cuttings, their activists are called to the police and interrogated there. “It is not our objective that the poor forest warden, who is executing an order, is put into prison, our objective is correcting the situation,” Inga Zarafyan says adding that in Hankavan 500 hectares of forestland is taken out of forest stock and is given to communities which sold them to unknown persons5.
Minister of Agriculture Gerasim Alaverdyan has his solutions for forest cutting problems. During his visit to Vanadzor, where he met representatives of law-enforcement bodies and forestry experts of Lori province to discuss reasons of illegal cuttings and means to prevent them, the minister announced that in the future check points would be installed which would check trucks coming out the forests and it would help to reduce the volume of illegal cuttings. Besides last year a project was developed in the Ministry of Agriculture intending to provide cheap firewood to the population living near forestland. If now they pay 1200 drams for 1 cubic meter of firewood, after the decision is made they will pay 600 drams.
The third step that is supposed to prevent illegal cuttings is improving labor condition of forest wardens. At present their salary is less than 50,000 drams, they have no weapon, no car or horse and no uniform 6.
Judging from the programs mentioned by the Minister of Agriculture, one can suppose that forest cutting may reduce but it will not stop. But aren’t the figures brought by experts that 24,353 square kilometers of the territory of Armenia, which makes 81.9% of its terrotiry (excluding territories of the Lake Sevan and other reservoirs), is subject to desertification of different degrees (UN), enough to become a powerful incentive to stop forest cutting at least for several years?
According to a research carried out by the Armenian Center of Ethnological Studies in 2009, forest cuttings will not be possible to stop even for one year as long as gas is inaccessible for remote forestland villages not due to geographical factors but because of its high price. The research carried out in Syunik, Tavush and Lori provinces have showed that wood is used as fuel not only in the areas that have no gas but also in areas with gas, and the volume of gas consumption as fuel has considerably decreased parallel to the increase in its price. “Gas is used in case of emergency or e.g. to heat some room. Along with gas wood is used as fuel,” ethnologist Hranush Kharatyan says.
So in this case Inga Zarafyan’s proposal of making gas more affordable for inhabitants of remote forestland villages both in essence and with respect to the price seems a possible solution for the problem.
However Hranush Kharatyan mentions that forest is more often cut for business purposes, and that the main threat for the forest is not the cuttings for heating but the cutting for business purposes because namely in this case the best trees are cut7.
So another question arises here – what sould the state do to ban such though officially not recognized but existing business? Taking into account the above facts and opinions we can come to the following conclusion. Serious supervision has to be secured over all forestland as well as fines have to be raised for each cut tree to the level that will make doing such business non-lucrative. Naturally only state supervision will not be enough for ensuring strong monitoring and supervision. Representatives of non government environmental organizations too have to be involved in the supervision program to ensure objective and balanced supervision. In this case one could speak not on forest cuttings but of reforestation. And before that the state has just to make one step – to pay attention to such proposals and get rid of its indifferent attitude towards environment.
- http://hetq.am/am/ecology/m-matevosyan-2/ 2010/09/17
- http://armenianow.com/hy/social/environment/24966/ environmentalists_suggest_moratorium_forest_logging 28.09.10
- http://hetq.am/am/ecology/antar-3/ 2010/09/28
- http://ecolur.org/hy/news/2010-10-01/1465/ 2010-10-01
- http://hetq.am/am/ecology/antar-3/ 2010/09/28
Sofya Manukyan, Source www.hra.am