ILLEGAL LOGGING HAS DECREASED
Martun Matevosyan, Director of “Hayantar” SNCO answers the questions of “Hetq”
Ecologists assert that forest lands have decreased. How much was the decrease according to your calculations?
Qualitative changes have taken place in the forest, but forest lands have not decreased. Forest area now is as much as it was in 1988. Several forestry branches are still implementing their forest management plans, and I hope they will accomplish them in 2011. Then it will be possible to give precise figures on how much land area forests cover. The level of forest supply hasn’t decreased in Tavush and Lori as compared to 1988 and 2006; the level is the same despite of the extensive use of forests in recent years. Forest grows in the meantime. Natural re-growth is faster in the logged areas.
What measures does “Hayantar” take to prevent illegal logging?
Illegal logging is the main forest management problem. I used to think that no illegal logging took place during the Soviet period, but when we consult the archives, it becomes evident that it existed in that period as well, particularly in the forest-adjacent areas of the communities.
Of course, the volume of illegal logging increased due to a number of objective and subjective reasons – energetic crises, blockade of Armenia, etc. According to the figures, forest use volume has exceeded 1 million cubic meters since 2003. Priority objective of “Hayantar” is the conservation of forests. Analyses are being conducted to identify how successful is “Hayantar” in solving that problem, based on the situation, obstacles, salaries of foresters and forestry employees, and distribution of rights and competencies among other organizations involved in forest conservation in general.
“Improving Forest Law Enforcement and Governance in the European Neighborhood Policy East Countries and Russia” program is now being implemented by the assistance of World Bank, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF). This infers that an action plan and analyses plan will be developed, problems related to illegal logging will be revealed and recommendations will be provided for solving the problem. The main problem is in the society –public awareness on illegal logging and forest use should be increased. We have taken a number of measures; we have sent letters to the communities to inform people of the compensations of the damage caused to the nature by illegal logging. It would have been easy to solve this problem if it were an easy one. That’s the reason why international organizations emphasize the importance of this problem.
Would you admit that Armenia cannot to ensure the “safety” of the forests and is unable to prevent illegal logging?
This opinion is a little extreme. Armenia is not the only country to face this problem. Prevention of illegal logging is issue number one at every European or worldwide conference. It is particularly an issue for the countries with serious social problems. Volume of illegal logging has considerably decreased within recent years. At the inspections conducted in 1994 by “Hayantar”, 454233 illegally logged trees were recorded, in 1995 – 232933 trees. (See the table of illegal loggings for 2004-2009).
What is the percentage of unrecorded illegal logging?
A monitoring should be conducted to determine the volume of unrecorded illegal logging.
For example, Monitoring Center conducted a research in 2007; the volume of wood used as fuelwood in Armenia is approximately 300-350 thousand cubic meters, including the wood used by the households of forest adjacent communities. If we consider the use of fuelwood by the forest adjacent community households, it will be 150-200 thousand cubic meters. But this doesn’t mean that these villagers cut all these trees, because there is also waste wood available in the forest- trees damaged by snow, rotten trees, and branches. For example, projected volume of waste wood in forest management plan of Sevkar forestry branch is approximately 40 thousand cubic meters.”Hayantar” sells 70-75 thousand cubic meters of wood annually, of which 20 thousand cubic meters is waste wood, and the rest is legally logged timber.
Which countries do you export to?
We export a certain amount of beech boards, because the Government decree placed a ban on the export of logs; it was also our initiative. “Hayantar” exports to Iran only. The dynamics shows that the volume of export is much lower now, because the volume of logging is low. (See the chart of the volume of timber export from Armenia to Iran for 2005-2010).
Is there a demand?
Export of timber has not been regulated until the year 2005. The Government adopted a resolution to regulate the export, according to which timber can be exported exceptionally legally. The demand has decreased because the quality of our timber doesn’t meet their requirements. They imported beech logs not to use as board, but to use them in furniture industry. There was a demand for logs but not for boards. The quality of timber is not high at sanitary felling. We haven’t yet performed regeneration felling, the purpose of which is to get quality timber.
Even though regeneration felling is included in the forest management plans, we can only now start performing it, but it may bring about a number of infringements. The areas where regeneration felling may be performed are inaccessible; there are no roads or new tree felling technologies and equipment available; that’s why we abstain from major tree felling.
How much do you charge for wood?
Oak is unreasonably expensive. The price of wood increases after it has been processed. We have set prices for standing timber, for example, oak, linden, ash above 25 cm – 70 thousand AMD for the first-grade, 56 thousand AMD for the second grade and 48 thousand AMD for the third grade (the grade of timber depends on the existence of knots on the wood). Beech is 32, 26, 22 thousand drams, hornbeam and other varieties – 18, 15, 13 thousand drams respectively, etc. 12-14 thousand drams add to the price if they are delivered from the upper or lower storages. We are also planning to conduct auctions for logging areas next year.
What is your evaluation of tree felling business in Armenia?
It isn’t a well established business. It is our task, as well as the task of the country to develop it as a business- logging, delivery, use. We hope this process will start after the approval of the forest management plans, and the government will announce a tender. Forest governing body will not have to wait for a new decree every year; it is a common practice throughout the world that forest management plan, which is the document issued to the forest governing body, is valid for a period of 10 years. Our objective is to get this area up-graded. We hope that “Hayantar” will not be responsible for performing logging next year. We also have a lack of specialists, especially logging area determination specialists. Unfortunately “Hayantar” employs only 10 per cent of the required number of specialists. It is worth mentioning that only a few of our foresters have forestry education.
Isn’t the volume of sanitary logging big? How much is it?
Logging area fund is 35 thousand cubic meters in 2010, of which 20,050 is improvement felling and 14, 950 is sanitary felling. The volume was about the same last year. This is to the benefit of the forest – these loggings contribute to the improvement of the quality. It is necessary to increase the volume of legal logging in order to prevent illegal logging. After all, villagers will cut the trees if they need it. If the villagers have cut one or two trees, they will have to pay a fine of 300 thousand AMD. That’s why our foresters may not report these cases of tree felling. Will a forester fine his fellow villager? If he does so, the villager is in big trouble. No logging has been performed in pine forest stands of Aparan and along the highway Vanadzor-Dilijan for many years.
It is a crime from the forest management standpoint. There have always been pointless alarms and criticism. An expert from Germany, who is one the the best forestry experts in Europe, said to me after his visit to Kapan; “It is a crime towards the forest to keep so many overmature forests”. We have oak stands where absolutely no natural regrowth takes place, because no logging has been performed in those areas for years.
How much was the volume of industrial logging?
It is Teghut now. 55 ha area has been logged. Logging is also performed in hydroelectric power plant construction areas, but these companies reimburse us if they sign an agreement with us. A couple of trees may be cut during the road construction process; for example, a new road was constructed due to the collapse of Ijevan road, but the volume of such felling is low.
How did the natural gas price increase affect the volume of logging?
The pressure of big cities on the forests reduced as a result of extensive installation of natural gas pipelines; the demand for fuelwood decreased. We were hoping that the volume of logging would decrease in forest-adjacent communities. Unfortunately our hopes didn’t come true, because natural gas, due to its high price, became unaffordable to the people living in forest adjacent communities.
The Monitoring Group didn’t report the actual number of the logged trees in Gugark forestry. Does this mean the the Monitoring Group generally doesn’t reveal the actual numbers? How trustworthy are the results?
I have sent our experts for that purpose; employees of the Department of State Nature Protection Inspection and members of legislative body have been inspecting the areas since morning – trees should be measured and marked, the loss should be calculated; the matters have already been taken to the public prosecutor’s office.
In which areas is illegal logging performed most?
Yeghegnut, Vahagni, Gugark have been the most vulnerable areas for years. So many people- foresters and forest guards have been prosecuted since 1990-s in Vahagni and Yeghegnut forestry branches, and now everybody is so scared that nobody wants to work as a forest guard.
How much is the salary of forester?
The salary of forester is 60-75 thousand AMD, forest guard’s salary is 40-45 thousand AMD. This is a serious issue. Inspectors’ salary is about the same. Low salary infers additional corruption risks in the system. Throughout the world illegal logging control starts not from the forest, but from the roads through which illegally cut trees are hauled. 8000 hectares is the area allocated to each forest guard to control. It is impossible to control such a vast area particularly in our forests that are extended on the hills and mountains.
The Control Service of the President of Armenia has commenced inspections in “Hayantar”. What violations have been detected?
The Control Service of the President is conducting inspections. These are routine inspections. The last one was conducted in 2003, which resulted in structural changes – “Hayantar” was transferred from the Ministry of Nature Protection to the Ministry of Agriculture, thus separating forest management from inspection. We knew in advance about the inspection. It was included in President’s Control Service Action Plan approved in January. We have been meeting with the Control Team Leader every week, and we haven’t been notified of any violations. This means that no violations were detected.
You have been holding this office for many years. How would you evaluate your work?
It is the Director’s drawback if the problems that require administrative solutions don’t get solved, whereas if there are problems in the system, they should be solved by introducing reforms in the system. My self-evaluation is not important. Evaluations may vary from extremely good to extremely bad.
This post is also available in: Armenian