Zagros oak forests are dying in Ilam Province

July 2, 2011
The tragedy of the gradual destruction of oak trees in Ilam forests is a source of grave concern for the country and requires urgent measures to be taken by the experts to find a solution for the problem.
According to environmentalists, some of the major reasons behind this disaster since the beginning of the 20th century are mismanagement, droughts, and recent dust storms stemming from the Arab countries.
The Zagros region is located in the west of Iran running from northwest to southeast. This region is one of the strategic and valuable locations in Iran and total forest area is about 5.2 million hectares. (1)
Mohammad Fattahi, an Iranian environmentalist and researcher, who has conducted several studies on the subject, says flora and fauna is very rich in Zagros forests with high diversity.
“Population pressure has led to encroachments on the forestland, and forests are decreasing because of agricultural and garden usage, collection of wood for fuel, mining, human settlements, overgrazing by animals, utilization of branches and leaves of oak trees for feeding domestic animals and etc,” he adds.
This natural disaster is so sensitive that last month Iran’s widely circulated Persian daily, Hamshahri, discussed the problem in its two exclusive articles. The newspaper writes the forests have at least 5,500 years old antiquities but the (aforementioned) plague is threatening the very existence of approximately six million hectares of oak trees.
People have been forced to be dependent on these depleted forests, so the forests have been reduced quantitatively and qualitatively, Hamshahri writes in its report.
Meanwhile, since 1965 natural regeneration has been severely reduced while pests and diseases have increased. Fattahi explains the history of management governments in these forests from 1961-2002 and lists several items which are important factors:
1. Exploitation of the forests for charcoal projects by government permission from 1960-1970.
2. The first management plan started in 1972 with the aim of reforestation and protection, but it did not achieve its aims.
3. The second phase of management plans was to cover 1981-1991, but it was never implemented.
4. In the third phase, integrated management plans in vast areas were begun from 1996-2001, directed only by governmental experts with little participation by the people.
5. Finally in the latest governmental guideline, in order to provide a complete and up-to-date picture of integrated management plans in which people participated, equity and settlement schemes to other areas were considered.(2)
Zagros covers about 20 percent of Iran’s territory, 10 provinces with more than 50 cities, 30 percent of country’s population, feeds more than 50 percent of livestock and constitutes some of the most important rivers for 30 percent rainfall, and 40 percent water content. This shows the value and strategic importance of this region for Iran.
Total forest area in this region is about 5.2 million hectares. Flora and fauna is very rich with high diversity. Vegetation species frequency is 2000-2500 and endemic and rare species 7-10 percent. Trees and shrubs frequency is more than 150 species. Shifting (cultivated) forests to agricultural and horticulture areas and usage in producing as fuel wood, livestock feeding of branches and leaves and other socio-economic problems have been provided some conflicts in management. Living people includes sedantair, transhumance, nomadisme and semi nomadisme. Animal husbandry is open with low output. (3)
Hard climatic and geographic conditions, low income and unsuitable living conditions all have forced people to be highly dependent on these degraded forests, early and late grazing, overgrazing in 7 to 9 months in each year from quantitative and qualitative degradation, caused a fragile ecosystem with unbalance of fauna and flora.(3)
Meanwhile, Hamshahri quotes Reza Ahmadi, the director of Forests and Rangelands Organization (FRO), who is currently studying for Ph.D. and has long experience in this field, as saying that mismanagement is one of the key reasons behind the current grave situation as academic studies have not been carried out on the gradual destruction of oak trees in Ilam province yet.
He concluded that the only law which has been devised is that the forests should be preserved from further destruction without considering other aspects of the problem.
1- Aghazamanee Jamshid 2001. Strategy Zagros forest In Iran, department of forestry of Iran
2- Djavanchier, Karem,et,al, 1994. Sustainable development and Natural resources, forests and rangeland organization about west forest of Iran
3- Fattahi, Mohammad, 2001. Degradation West forests of Iran, Research Institute forests and rangelands of Iran
4- Hamshahri newspaper – Vol.19,No.5401, p.7