People, Environment

Environmental Authority Lacks Jurisdiction Over Forests

About 10% of Iran’s timber demand is supplied by domestic forests.About 10% of Iran’s timber demand is supplied by domestic forests.

The wood industry around the threatened Caspian Hyrcanian forests in the north shows no sign of slowing down, much to the dismay of Iran’s top environment official who admits lacking jurisdiction over forests.

Speaking to ISNA on Sunday, Massoumeh Ebtekar, the head of the Department of Environment, said the shrinking of forests is “very worrying” and attributed the decline in forest cover to a variety of factors, chief among them the lumber industry.

“Aside from overexploitation, timber smuggling, land use change and waste disposal have all contributed to the decline of these forests. This has made us very worried,” she said.

“DOE has no jurisdiction in forests and, therefore, cannot enforce the law. We manage protected areas and national parks, but the protection of woodlands [that have not been declared protected areas] and enforcement of relevant laws are the responsibilities of the Forests, Range and Watershed Management Organization.”

Forests cover less than 10% of the entire landmass in Iran, but the level of protection accorded does not reflect their importance to the country, the people and the wildlife they support.

Already under threat by climate change, desertification, drought and various types of diseases, forests are in an extremely vulnerable state. However, most officials and environmentalists agree that the most pressing issue endangering the survival of Iran’s woodlands is deforestation.

The threat is so serious that President Hassan Rouhani issued a directive shortly after taking office in 2013 banning the felling of healthy trees to supply timber needs.

Following the president’s lead, the DOE drafted the Forest Protection Bill, which calls for a ban on knocking down trees for 10 years, allowing forests, especially the Caspian Hyrcanian forests in the north, to recover.

Despite opposition from industry players, Ali Mohammad Shaeri, the head of Majlis Agriculture Commission which will review the bill, has thrown his support behind it.

“After years of unsustainable exploitation, the northern forests are in dire need of a respite for replenishment,” he said at the weekend. In a move to stymie the growth of the wood industry and save the country’s forests, “we have facilitated the import of timber”, Ebtekar said.

Only 10% of Iran’s timber demand are met by domestic forests, but the plan is to reduce it even further.

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

Officials have lined up measures to alleviate the pressure on forests, such as increasing the import of timber from Russia and Ukraine.

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