Many readers will be surprised to learn that the Armenian government passed a law this January prohibiting the felling of certain valuable tree species – walnut, ash, oak, maple, linden, elm and pear.
The government claims it is serious about protecting, and even restoring, Armenia's dwindling forests. Should we believe these claims?
However, the same government law states that it is OK to chop down mature trees, under proper supervision, in the name of forestry management. Mature trees supply valuable wood for a number of usages. Recently, there have been reports in the press that large quantities of wood are being shipped to Iran.
In 2005, a new concept came into being – forests with production significance. These were forest that could be constantly culled of mature trees for reprocessing. In 2006, the government took out the word "oak". By 2007 this modification was deemed to be nullified.
As a result, the earlier prohibition of felling valuable species was substituted with legal felling.
In this regard, the remarks made to Hetq last year by HayAntar (ArmenianForest) Director Martun Matevosyan are insightful.
"There haven't been cuttings for a long time in our pine groves like those in Abaran and along the Vanadzor-Dilijan highway. From a forestry perspective this is a crime. A while back a forestry specialist from Germany came to Armenia and said it was a crime that such mature forests were being preserved. We have oak forests where there is practically no new growth because there hasn't been any pruning."
According to the 2005 "National Forest Project" statistics, about 70% of the country's natural forests are decrepit and aged and that large reserves of wood are relatively inaccessible.
The study also claims that due to unorganized felling and preservation methods, climatic conditions in the forest are being altered and that the risk of forest fires has risen. All this, the report alleges, creates ideal conditions for invasive and destructive insects and diseases.
Here, it should be noted that in 56% of the 460,000 hectares of forest land in question, such restorative felling of trees is prohibited. Either the forests surround water resources, serve as anti-erosion zones, or are located in specially protected plateau zones.
HayAntar Director Matevosyan says that his agency wants to get out of the business of cutting down trees in those forested areas where it is permissible for restorative purposes.
He says that the private sector should take over the work and that, in any event, his agency just doesn't have the resources necessary.
Most of these forests are inaccessible and the infrastructure and technology is lacking, he says.
Director Matevosyan argues that the Armenia must seek to develop its forestry resources as a business. This would include the felling of mature trees, their delivery and reprocessing.
Can the private sector do a better job of managing Armenia's already mangled and exploited forests any better than HayAntar.
The recent news from Teghut isn't encouraging. Police investigators have revealed a number of abuses carried out by Karast Ltd., a company hired by the mining firm Teghut Ltd, to clear away the forest for the launch of the mine. Some 5.6 million AMD worth of felled trees (for fuel and reprocessing) was reported to have disappeared.
It would seem that the concept of "forestry business" has already entered Armenia in a destructive and exploitative manner.
The main question that needs answering is whether the government will be able to maintain effective oversight of those private firms it will be hiring to "preserve and protect" the health of the nation's remaining forests and green spaces.