Deforestation & Illegal Logging
One of Armenia’s longest and most widespread environmental campaigns has dealt with the forest crisis. Private business interests, together with weak governance in the forestry sector, allow for continued wide-scale deforestation at such an alarming rate that World Bank Experts believe that Armenia’s forests will completely disappear in 20-30 years if current logging rates continue.
Deforestation will significantly contribute to the even larger problem of nationwide desertification which some scientists believe could occur in the next 50 years, at the current rate of environment destruction.
The heavy deforestation rate and other forms of ecological exploitation in Armenia are almost always due to the promotion of an economic interest. While deforestation has been partially attributed to the survival needs of the rural poor, nationally conducted studies show that, more often than not, the export of illegally harvested timber is the driving force behind the vast majority of operations. For a detailed report on this phenomenon read this report from Seta Chorbajian, from 2006. Or read this article on Who Profits from Deforestation. The video From Need to Greed also offers an excellent introduction to the deforestation crisis in Armenia.
Deforestation is a major issue that shows a clear connection between economic development and the need for environmental protection. For example, lax regulations in copper mining operations in the north of Armenia have led to both economic benefit and disastrous environmental public health consequences. The filter-free copper smelting plant in Alaverdi poses huge public health risks as well as direct risks to the nearby Teghut forest. Local communities are forced to choose between the short term economic benefit from salaried jobs working for the operations, and the long term consequences of poor management standards. Learn more from AEN's series of blogs on the Teghut mine.
However, among the many deforested slopes and the desertification that follows, a number of activists have taken a stand. The most recent success was the Shikahogh Preserve. The Armenian government had planned to build a major highway directly through one of the last pristine forests in the country to connect Yerevan to Tehran. When the public first expressed its outrage, no one took notice. But, through determined coordination and effort, SOS Shikahogh was able to bring enough attention to the cause to stop it from being destroyed.
Officially, the Republic of Armenia has stated that the change in plans was completely unrelated to local and Diasporan opposition. Watch the short documentary SOS Shikahogh and decide for yourself what Diasporan-assisted, locally organized pressure can do.
To learn more about activities helping communities through tree planting and restoring the forests, check out the Armenia Tree Project.
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