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The aim of the competition that is held for the second time is to protect Armenia’s forests.
Protect Our Forests coalition summarized today the results of the public
contest of alternative Christmas trees.
The following encouraging presents were given as well:
Yesterday fir tree settlement in the skeleton of the Christmas tree in Republic
Square of Yerevan. As Martun Matevosyan , the deputy mayor of Yerevan
stated that 1200 firs will be brought to Yerevan from Goris for festive
decoration of Republic square. 1050 out which will be settled in the sceleton.
“Yerevan” foundation will spend about 20 million Drams for
Dear Mr. Zakharyan.
We think that the use of natural trees and branches is unacceptable when it is
forbidden. Even it is more unacceptable to use them for the main tree of the Republic
Square. This ban was first imposed last year, so there was enough time to find
alternatives to natural trees and branches.
Director Nazeli Vardanyan
The choice of a park–the Komitas Park is symbolic, i.e. one of the Yerevan’s parks used to have nearly 2500 trees and bushes. During the years of fuel and energy crisis this park was also suffered.
The condition of the parks in Yerevan is disconsolate, i.e. the area of the parks is decreasing gradually, trees are being cut, care and protection is not being implemented, the parks are not being watered, valuable trees are disappearing.
In Yerevan, according to the norms, there should be 24 m2 of green area per inhabitant. Today that number has twice decreased. In countries, rich with forests, the coefficient is 40 m2 per inhabitant.
The green areas are considered to be the lungs of the city, they swallow up the harmful flatulence, outflows, dust, swallow up the noise, lighten the wind, protect from strong sun lights, protect the humidity. Being harmed the life of the trees is decreasing, and instead favorable conditions are created for people.
Restoring a small park together, the members of the coalition called the society to protect, take care of and expand green areas and forests. The action didn’t need much financing, only willing and integrity for the prosper of the society, our children and future generations.
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Armenia cuts down its forests for export
According to the Customs Department and the Statistical Office of Armenia, the volume of wood exported from Armenia has risen sharply over the last four years. During the Soviet era, the republic imported, rather than exported, wood. Today the nearly forestless Armenia exports not only wood products but raw timber as well. These are the volumes (in metric tons) of wood exported from
Armenia from 1999-2002:
The main export is raw timber, which goes to Iran, France, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Germany and Russia. In 1999, 17 Greek walnut trees, which are registered in the Red Book, were cut down in land privatized by village communities in the Kapan region and in areas belonging to the forestry service. Reports were drawn up on three trees, but only the dates of felling and location of the other fourteen were recorded. Logs and roots from the walnut trees were stored and exported to Turkey, Italy and Russia. The trees were felled with the written permission of local government. When we asked Robert Navasardyan, the director of the forestry service of Kapan, how many walnut trees registered in the Red Book had been cut down since 2000, he said, “There are 40 kinds of nut trees in the Kapan forests, who says cutting them down is prohibited? As far as I know, in the past there was only one kind that couldn’t be cut down. This year we haven’t received any complaints about Greek walnut trees.”
But according to Vladik Martirosyan, the former director of the forestry service, the Kapan forests hold only Greek walnut trees, which are both very valuable and endangered. Their wood is used for furniture and luxury car interiors.
Walnut forests are being destroyed in Nagorno Karabakh as well, but more on this at a later date. According to a 1998 agreement signed with the Yerevan Brandy Company, HayAntar (the country’s forestry service) is to supply the distillery with 2,000 cubic meters of wood for oaken casks a year for 15 years at the price of $120 per cubic meter. But experts say the market value of timber of that quality is $200 per cubic meter. The agreement was signed when Gevork Vardanyan was minister of ecology. According to a government decree, cutting down oak trees is prohibited, under any circumstances. But within the fifteen years of the agreement, 30,000 cubic meters of high quality, often centuries-old oak will be felled, because the government has favored a private company. Ecological NGOs have sounded alarms about the state of Armenia’s forests, and are coordinating tree planting, monitoring, seminars, etc. But the reality is that forest razing is organized and encouraged by the state, as it provides government officials with the opportunity to boast about economic growth and trade.
Indeed, Minister of Ecology Vardan Ayvazyan told us with pride that the sale of timber had contributed 1billion.drams (about $1.8 million) to the state budget in 2002. Sadly, the ministry of ecology is busy with everything but protecting the environment. It is this ministry that carries out both the razing and the protection of forests. It is this ministry that presents such high indices. Although the minister told us that he would do everything in his power to prevent trees being cut down in Armenia, looking into the work of various departments of the ministry gave us a completely different picture.
“Today 100 trucks of wood enter Yerevan daily via the Sevan-Yerevan highway,” says one ministry employee, “and almost all of them have the documents they need to overcome any obstacle. After they sell the wood they just throw out the papers. Everybody--local police chiefs, employees of the Marzpets’ offices, generals - is involved in the wood business. It is impossible to fight them, unless you have instructions from the top.” He didn’t specify what he meant by “the top”.
We found out that various officials - mainly representatives of the power structures-- are involved in the wood business. In other words, even Armenia’s forests are divided among the clans. Everyone knows which general controls the forests of Krasnoselsk, which general controls the forests of Lori and Tavush. Thus the statements issued from time to time are meaningless, especially when they are made by the minister of ecology, who himself regulates the felling and, naturally, gets his due each month. A few years ago the president’s Office of Oversight looked into what was happening to the forests, but its findings were never been made public.
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Despite a World Bank programme aimed at stopping the logging, it appears to be continuing and no one in government is prepared to take responsibility for a potential environmental disaster.
"Only a tiny part of the forests was cut down by ordinary city residents," said Nataliya Agababian, a native of Vanadzor who witnessed the entire process. "The vast majority of trees were felled by the local authorities."
Agababian says that the felling of forest in Vanadzor has become a major industry.
"Look what is happening: the entire city has turned into a timber factory, manufacturing window frames, doors and parquet floors," she said. "Can't the authorities see this? And if they do see it, how can they allow it?"
The forests are supposed to be protected by law. And a World Bank programme, The Natural Resources Management and Poverty Reduction Project, approved last year, aims to "to promote adoption of sustainable natural resource management practices and alleviation of rural poverty" in the regions around Vanadzor.
However, the deforestation continues. Several firms have government licenses to carry out "sanitary logging". Several businesses, such as the Mach-Group or the Yerevan Furniture Factory, are also engaged, full-time and entirely legally, in manufacturing and selling furniture and other products from the timber industry.
Three years ago, 60 employees of the state forest service Haiantar (Armenian Forest) were accused of illegally cutting down 500,000 square meters of pine forest. However, several employees were subsequently acquitted, and the rest paid a fine and all charges were dropped.
The control inspectorate of the presidential administration is looking into Haiantar's activities, jointly with the police, but has so far not made any report on its findings.
Akop Sanasarian, the chairman of the Union of Greens of Armenia, says that local people play a key role in the illegal logging business, "All the residents of regions where there is wood heat their homes with logs in winter." They buy the so-called timber "off-cuts" after the "sanitary logging". Or they "comb" the forests of their own accord looking for trees to fell. And then they sell on the timber or use it to heat their homes.
Sanasarian blames Armenia's environment ministry, which has overall responsibility for the forests, for allowing these practices to continue.
Artsrun Pepanian, the ministry's press secretary, rebutted the charge and declined to comment on allegations of corruption, saying only, "The people who are accusing us should try themselves to work as forestry officers and receive a salary of 20 to 30 dollars." He said that they have begun entrusting the protection of the forests to several local authorities.
Because of the logging, the ecological situation around Vanadzor is getting worse and there is now an increasing risk of landslides.
"When it rains, torrents of dirty water come down from the mountains," said Vanadzor resident Grigor Avetisian. "The water floods our home, and more dirt comes with it than we have ever seen before."
Senik Bekchian, the main specialist of the agriculture and ecology department of the regional authority where Vanadzor is located, told IWPR that they had no way of preventing landslides and had only been able to study the problem.
Ruben Petrosian, from the Green Armenia environmental NGO, said it had developed a programme to restore the country's forests, costing one-and-a-half million dollars, but there were no funds to implement it.
Until recently, the woodlands of Lori, Vanadzor and Tavush provinces made up two thirds of the forests of Armenia. However, a recent report from the Centre of Ecological Research at the American University in Erevan, warns that if felling continues at this rate, in 20 years there will be no woodlands left in Armenia.
"A forest is not just trees," warned Professor Nora Gabirelian, head of department of classification and geography of higher plant life at the Institute of Biology at the National Academy of Sciences. "It is a living organism, and each cell is linked with the others. And if trees are chopped down without any system, then the consequences will affect everything: springs dry up, the biology is impoverished, and the climate changes."
World Bank experts have calculated that in the last 10-12 years, forested areas that once took up 11.2 per cent of Armenia has shrunk by a tenth.
However, Artsrun Pepanian of the environment ministry disputed the figures, saying that it was impossible to make an accurate assessment of this kind.
Pepanian said the situation was bad, but much better than ten years ago, when Armenia suffered a severe energy blockade during the Nagorny Karabakh conflict. "Up to 500,000 cubic metres of timber is cut down ever year - half of what the figure was 10 years ago," he said. "But at that time, the authorities closed their eyes to this, as people were living very badly."
Local people are less optimistic. "I can understand that trees were chopped down ten years ago so children could keep warm," said Vazgen Karakhanian, an unemployed man from Vanadzor. "But now? They take axes and destroy the forest. They don't spare anything."
Karakhanian says that felling of trees in Vanadzor reaches its peak in the winter months and a new season is beginning "All the neighbouring forests have been chopped down, and now they drive trucks higher into the mountains. When will it end?" he asked.
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Armenia is now one of the world’s most forestless countries, with 0.12 hectares of forest areas per capita. The forest fund of the republic is 460,000 hectares, of which 334,000 hectares are covered with forests. In Armenia, forests make up 11.2% of the total territory; in Turkey this figure is 14%, in Georgia 37.4%, in all of Africa 25%. Experts estimate that the overall wood resource of the forests of Armenia is 40 million cubic meters and the average annual growth is 354,000 cubic meters. International standards prohibit industrial felling in such forests.
Armenian forests are divided into three groups, according to significance:
1. Forests of protective significance
-water protective (forests near rivers, lakes, reservoirs)
-counter-erosive (soil-protective forest areas)
2. Forests of social significance
-sanitary-hygienic (forests near water pipe-lines, and sanitary protection zones)
-health protective forests
3. Forests of special significance
-forests in preserved areas
Eighty percent of the forests in Armenia are of purely protective significance. In such forests, only preventive felling, aimed at the health and regeneration of trees, is permitted. Almost 64% of the forest fund of Armenia is in the Lori and Tavush marzes, and 13% in the Syunik marz.
Experts calculate that over the last ten years almost 800,000 square meters of wood annually have been cut for heating purposes, under the guise of preventive felling. Forested area constituted 30-31% of the Lori region before the energy crisis. Now, Hovik Bekchyan says, this is down to 10-15%. Moreover, according to a study conducted by the ecology and agriculture department of the Lori Marzpet’s (governor’s) Office where Bekchyan works, 30,000 of the region’s total of 98,700 hectares of forest have been completely destroyed. In other places, intensive deforestation is taking place to this day. The same study shows that the 800-hectare tall pine forest in the Gugark forestry zone was completely destroyed and the area was set on fire to conceal the crime. Over the years no planting has taken place parallel to the intensive cutting. The 60 hectares of forest planting implemented over the last two years is too negligible to represent any real improvement of situation. In Soviet times, 250-300 hectares of forest was planted per year within each forestry zone in the marz. Today, planting is usually a farce. While music plays, officials gather and plant couple of trees for the benefit of video cameras and journalists, and then go off to banquets. In the areas where trees were planted years ago, the survival rate of saplings was just 5% or even 0%. The law, meanwhile, requires that newly planted forests be tended for at least five years. But today, even forests that were painstakingly planted decades ago are being heedlessly destroyed.
Of course, trees should be cut down in regulated volumes equal to the annual growth of the forests in question. But this basic of forestry seems to have been forgotten long ago in Lori.
Requiem for Armenia’s forests - 2
What makes Hovik Bekchyan, who works for the ecology and agriculture department of the Lori Marzpet’s (governor’s) office, most angry is that wood is being exported from Armenia. In our forests, it’s mainly the most valuable trees, like beeches, that are being cut down. Beech trees regenerate only through seeds-they don’t sprout from stumps. As a result of mass deforestation, the natural dissemination of oak seeds is not taking place, either, and the species as such will be on the verge of extinction within a few years. Lindens, oaks, pine trees, and breadfruit trees all face the same fate; all are in danger of being wiped out in the forests of Lori.
The annual deforestation throughout the region is estimated at 25,000 square meters of wood, 5,000 of which is used in construction. But Bekchyan calculates the overall volume as more like 500,000 square meters a year. He says that every day about 1,000-1,500 square meters of wood is transported to various parts of Armenia from the Lori forests. Although the forestry services fulfill state orders, they face financial difficulties, and cannot pay salaries. “It is unbelievable that a forestry where thousands square meters of woods are cut down can be in financial trouble,” Bekchyan says. But it all takes place outside the official budget-billions of drams have been in circulation here over the years, but in the shadow economy. This is made possible through protection by senior officials in the military and law enforcement agencies. Anyone in doubt can go to the Vanadzor-Yerevan highway in the early morning hours and count how many trucks loaded with wood are driving toward Yerevan. The drivers like to travel at night and in the early morning, to keep out of sight.
“I will tell you something else-this year a state order for 3,000 square meters of wood was placed with the Gugark forestry service, where there are almost no trees left because of the mass deforestation. And I think that all this is taking place on purpose-all this illegal cutting is carried out under the cover of state orders. It’s a coded message for the illegal woodcutters to tell everybody that they are fulfilling state orders,” Bekchyan explains. The average density of the Lori forests during the 1980s was 0.6-0.7 square meters. No studies have been conducted since Armenia’s independence, but Bekchyan estimates that the current density here is 0.3-0.4 square meters, which can’t be considered forest, since it has lost the ability to regenerate on its own.
“For decades, our grandparents used the forest, and I am convinced even now that cutting down trees for everyday use will not harm the forest. That alone would not put the forest into this condition, if it weren’t for exporting wood abroad, and for large and small wood-working enterprises operating in the shadows,” Bekchyan says. Since the “wood business” got underway, people in the villages near the forests of Lori have stopped working the land. In these hard times, villagers have become forest pirates, and clans and gangs of wood thieves have sprung up.
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A press-conference and the first meeting of the POF Coalition took place in June 4th at Hotel Armenia 2 together with society, social and governmental organizations of Armenia , the Coalition involved different social nature protective , legislative, international organizations, scientists, representatives from the government, party organizations interested in protecting Armenia’s forests. The representatives of “Armenian Forests” NGO and Armenia Tree Project, “Cafesjian Miseum” fund, The center of education and scientific research of AUA and others entered in the board of Directors of the new coalition.
Today is the environment day, and yesterday at the conference, held at the Armenian hotel, was announced about founding the coalition “Protect Our Forests”. The coalition started to get formed in fall 2000, the initiatives were “Armenian Forests” NGO, Armenia Tree Project. The members of the coalition are UN development project of national authorities, “Armenian Volunteers” union, “Cafesjian Museum” foundation, OSCE. Forest scientific research and educational center of AUA. As said the representative of “Armenian Forests” NGO, Nazely Vardanyan, the initiative group announced about the founding of the coalition now after six month’s of activity, as they think that good conditions are created for realizing their project connected with new elected National Assembly and government. We foresee that the staff of the coalition will be enlarged including not only NGOs but also statesmen, forest economy rulers and consumers. “We all are united for one purpose to preserve and restore our forests,” says Nazely Vardanyan.
To the music of Armenian traditional instruments, 70-year old Boris Ghahramyan raised a young seedling in his hands and new life began in the Lori Mountains to the sound of the zurna and dhol on May 2.
Ghahramyan joined his fellow villagers of Odzun to start a new forest in the one that has been destroyed by necessity and carelessness.
The first community forest in the republic has been founded by villagers, officials, students and representatives of international organizations, thanks to the Tufenkian Foundation's "Forests of Armenia" project.
"It is wonderful to see the music and man dancing with the trees," said the director of the project, Jeffrey Tufenkian. "I think many things will change in Odzun village. The future of Odzun is being founded, the forest is being founded."
Head of the Odzun village Melik Ajvazyan says great damage has been done to the woodlands of Odzun, starting with the energy crises of a decade ago.
"The damage is very significant," Ajvazyan says. "But today it's a real holiday for us, because though we had chopped tree by ourselves, today we have gotten the opportunity to correct our mistakes and restore everything."
Andranik Ghilihjanyan, director of the Science and Research Center of the Ministry of Environment Protection says it is hoped this action will cause many changes in the environment of the village.
"Larger trees will be planted such as maple, oaks, pine, ash, beech, wild nut and pear trees, as well as other trees," Ghulijanyan said. "It will restore the green zone of the village and of the forest."
The deforestation of the one village reflects a widespread problems throughout Armenia. Nazeli Vardanyan of Forests of Armenia, says that Odzun was not a random choice for a new forest, but was chosen based on many factors.
Vardanyan says the entire eco system of Odzun has suffered because the trees have been felled. For example, springs have dried up and soil has eroded, increasing the risk of mudslides.
"During one month 125,000 trees will be planted on the territory of 100 hectares, creating the first communal forest in Armenia," Vardanyan says. "The community becomes owner of the forest and gets rights to manage, work and supervise it. The forest will be of both environmental and sanitary and serious economic importance."
Planting and maintaining the forest will provide about 250 jobs for villagers.
"There is gas available in the village, however many villagers have no possibilities to pay for gas," Vardanyan says. "Thanks to this project villagers will be able to solve that problem as well without having to cut trees."
Garegin Davtyan from Odzun is glad to be a part of such a project.
"This project is a great light in our lives," he says. "Tree planting is something that can please God and the 1,200 drams (about $2) that I earn daily can satisfy the needs of my big family."
Villager Gagik Najaryan has an 11-member family and sees the new forest as a legacy.
"We are grateful that such an attention was paid to our village," he says. "There used to be a magnificent nature here and now we do everything for our grandchildren so they could also see nature and forests and enjoy the results of their grandfathers' work."
To restore Armenia’s forests
The charitable projects to restore Armenia’s forests are Armenian Forests NGO, Armenia Tree Project, who have organized a forest coalition that includes several ecological NGOs. It is anticipated to implement a huge patriotic ecological work with the efforts of these NGOs.
This year Armenian Forests NGO has taken up Yerevan Tsitsernakaberd park’s 30 ha area cleaning and the responsibility to plant 200 trees there. The NGO has started coppicing reforestation by means of hired workers, i.e. a technology to grow tree from the stump by leaving the strongest sapling on the stump and cutting the extra small saplings so that the stumps don’t become bushes, but full-fledged trees.
In the same time the area is cleaned by removing dried branches and cutting dried trees. This action will be implemented in spring when it is needed to extract new weak saplings.
The director of Armenian Forests NGO Nazeli Vardanyan determines that the NGO is implementing a reforestation project in Odzun village of Lori region and in forest area in Tsakhkadzor. The actions will be implemented by means of inhabitants of the area which means opening several workplaces there. These projects are financed by charitable means of the American businessman James Tufenkian. 100 ha area coppicing reforestation mission will be implemented in Tsitsernakaberd by Armenia Tree Project (director-Susan Klein). Last year this project has implemented reforestation in 30 ha area. Additional 100 ha area would be included this year. 168 workers and specialists are involved in the work.
The above mentioned NGOs and other organizations who joined them participated in cleaning event on the 5th of April in Tsitsernakaberd memorial park neighboring area, and the main goal was not only Tsitsernakaberd park preparation for 24th of April (the path neighboring forest areas on the way to memorial monument were cleaned and put in order), but also propaganda of the Armenia’s forests absolute necessity.
The representatives of the participants considered it very important the reforestation project and urged all people in the republic to participate in the activity.
Within the month of Yerevan cleaning and greenery planting campaign Yerevan mayor Robert Nazaryan highly appreciated the undertaking of the NGOs and assured that the mayor office would support the organizers within its power.
Maqur Yerevan project joined Armenian Forests NGO and Armenia Tree Project in the April 5th event organization and the number of participants was so large that counting them is not appropriate. Let’s notice that those included a number of international organizations, representatives of institutions and schools.