Precious Hyrcanian Forest loses 25,000 ha annually

July 6, 2019

TEHRAN – Some 25,000 hectares of Hyrcanian Forest in northern Iran undergo fragmentation mostly due to land use changes for agricultural and residential purposes, wood smuggling and overgrazing, an official with the national network for environmental and natural resources organizations has said.

Unfortunately, lack of supervision and protective measures is exacerbating the condition for Hyrcanian Forest, ISNA quoted Masoud Molana as saying on Saturday.

Recently designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, the Hyrcanian Forest cover the northern slope of the Alborz Mountain in Iran at the southern edge of the Caspian Sea and it contains very rich ecosystems due to the particular orographic and climatic situation (precipitation rich, warm-temperate, high moisture from the Caspian Sea and damming effect of the Alborz Mountain range).

According to UNSESO, the forest contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation. It also contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.

Law banning exploitation of endangered forests not efficient

Referring to a law banning exploitation of endangered forests in northern part of the country, he noted that the law was in fact replacing an incomplete plan with defective structures, which was not fully enforced due to lack of fund and supervision.

In January 2017 in line with the laws regulating all aspects of policy making and project managements with regard to environmental factors Majlis [Iranian parliament] prohibited any exploitation of endangered forests by the fourth year of implementing the sixth five-year national development plan (2016-2021).

According to the law, exploitation of forests for commercial and industrial purposes will be brought to a halt by 2020. By that time all exploitation contracts will be expired and none will be renewed. 

All exploitation projects will be banned with the exception of broken branches, fallen or damaged trees which can be only authorized by the Forests, Range, and Watershed Management Organization.

“In the previous plans, despite some defects, there was little monitoring, but banning exploitation of endangered forests without a field of performance led to the complete loss of supervision,” Molana explained.

He went on to say that due to lack of proper structure for the implementation, lack of funding and participation of locals in addition to lack of support from the related organizations, the project was failed.

Land use changes the most to blame for 

“Over 50 percent of the Hyrcanian Forest has been depleted since past 40 years, Molana said, adding that some 1.8 million hectares of the forests has remained. The figure was 3.6 million hectares in 1330s (1950s), he regretted.

If deforestation continues, undoubtedly, the valuable Hyrcanian Forest will disappear in the near future, he added.

Land use changes, wood logging and overgrazing are the main reasons behind the forest depletion, among which land use change is even more damaging, with wood smuggling, only trees are cut and the woodland remains untouched, so after 10 years the area can be reforested but in land use changes there is no chance of rehabilitation.

Forests reduce climate change speed

As forests play a significant role in the carbon cycle, when are cut down, not only does carbon absorption cease, but also the carbon stored in the trees is released into the atmosphere as CO2 if the wood is burned or even if it is left to rot after the deforestation process, he explained.

According to climateandweather.net, forests store up to 100 times more carbon than agricultural fields of the same area, it is estimated that more than 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide are released to the atmosphere due to deforestation, mainly the cutting and burning of forests, every year.

Over 30 million acres of forests and woodlands are lost every year due to deforestation.

Deforestation greatly contributes to speeding up climate change, he said, adding, climate change pace will increase due to a buildup of carbon dioxide in atmosphere.

Floods results of deforestation

Molana referred to the recent floods haunting many provinces across the country and said that the floods have been a consequence of deforestation.

Over the past 30 years, rainfall has dropped by 20 percent in northern part of the country, while flood occurrences have been by 50-folded, he lamented.

Key functions of the forest and natural resources are soil and water conservation, which is why preservation of natural resources as a national strategic asset is of great importance, he concluded.

Lack of ranger, proper policies pushing Hyrcanian toward extinction 

Yousefali Embrahimpour, commander of the protection unit of natural resources and watershed management department of the province said that currently a forest ranger is assigned on each 45,000 hectares of the forests in the province, while on average every 18,000 hectares of the country’s forest is being monitored by each ranger, while, in other countries, every ranger observes only 3,000 hectares of the forests.

Moreover, Reza Sheikhpour, an expert in the field of natural resources said that Hyrcanian Forest will extinct within the next 70 years if deforestation or illegal construction of roads and dams is not stopped.

Unfortunately, the country’s management policies are not based on knowledge, as construction projects must be based on sustainable development, not development regardless of environmental damage, he highlighted.

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