Forests Razed as Regulations Go Unenforced

Forests Razed  as Regulations  Go UnenforcedForests Razed  as Regulations  Go Unenforced

Forests cover less than 10% of Iran’s land area, which are relatively small compared to the global average, because of the country’s arid climate and location in one of the most water-stressed regions.

One would think that the government would make concerted efforts to protect the rare resource, but that is not happening.

Instead, unenforced regulations and lackluster monitoring of industrial activities in the country’s woodlands have all but ensured the gradual demise of Iran’s forests.

“Exploitation of Iran’s northern forests (the Caspian Hyrcanian forest, for instance) has been going on for years as part of a scheme called the ‘10-Year Exploitation Plan’,” Mohammad Javad Heshmati, deputy prosecutor general for judicial affairs, told IRIBNews on Friday.

Heshmati said all problems associated with the execution of the scheme are rooted in a lack of monitoring by relevant bodies.

“In 2013, the government issued a directive to control and manage forest resources to promote the sustainable use of woodlands, which included some effective measures,” he said.

Based on the directive, broken and diseased trees must be used to supply timber needs and no healthy, standing trees can be felled for that purpose, “but that is certainly not happening.”

The official noted that contractors pay no attention to the regulations and at times “even knock down 200- to 300-year-old trees”.

“To add insult to injury, how they chop and carry timber compound the damage inflicted on forests,” he added.

  Missing Link

The only way to ensure sustainable use of forests is for contractors to comply with the government directive.

Heshmati said activities in forests are not monitored and that is the missing link in the process to protect forests.

“The directive includes measures that hold contractors responsible for the protection and restoration of forests. The problem is that forest wardens, who are contracted by timber companies, get paid by them. Naturally, they are less inclined to report misconduct,” he said.

In 2004, the protection of forests was delegated to private firms because the relevant bodies, namely the Agricultural Jihad Ministry and the Forests, Range and Watershed Management Organization (FRWO), were spread too thin (in terms of budget and staff) to do the job efficiently.

Iran’s demand for timber is estimated to reach 13 million cubic meters in five years, double the current 6.5 million cubic meters.

Officials have proposed a variety of solutions to reduce reliance on Iran’s woodlands to meet the growing demand, one of which is leasing forests from other countries.

Iran has lined up a number of measures to alleviate the pressure on forests, such as increasing the import of timber from Russia and Ukraine to reduce logging in the country and protect the Caspian Hyrcanian forests.

Tehran currently imports a million cubic meters of timber from Russia and Ukraine annually, but wants to increase the volume four times. The goal is to import a total of 10 million cubic meters of wood every year by 2021.

According to FRWO, 7.1% of forest areas in northern Iran have been lost in recent years to logging and wildfires.

The Caspian Hyrcanian forest has been on UNESCO’s tentative World Heritage List since 2007. Its biological diversity is of high economic and social value.

There are a number of protected areas within the forest. It covers five provinces, stretching east to west along the southern border of the Caspian Sea, covering the provinces of North Khorasan, Golestan, Mazandaran, Gilan and Ardebil.