At The Threshold Of Bidding Farewell To

 Ancient North Forests

" by Nasrindokht Khatibi "

 

Review and Translation by Mahin Sorouri

 

This book is about the age-old primeval Hircanian forests of Northern Iran bordering Caspian Sea, that through constant process of deforestation are on the verge of extinction.

The author,Mrs Nasrindokht Khatibi, is the co-founder and a member of Earth Watchers'center a non-profit ,non- government environmental organization  in Iran. (www.earthwatchers.org). She holds a B.A. degree in Geography and  has worked as consultant to different Iranian firms and  companies. She is a true environmentalist and believer in the conservation of natural resources. Her field of specialization, her job-related experiences and her love of nature have prompted her to write this informative and well-documented book . She has dedicated the book to the lovers of nature who adamantly refuse to bid farewell to such natural treasures as the North Forests of Iran and who strive on national and international levels, to conserve them in the nick of their remaining time.

The book consists of introduction, six chapters, the author's last words, appendix with sources and glossary of technical terms. Throughout the book charts, tables and graphs, based on documented facts and figures are presented along with many relevant, revealing pictures .The pictures are taken by author or members of the organization (E.W.C), during their many trips made specifically to the forests and its surroundings to gather facts and information. There are  also some professionally taken pictures. 

 Author thanks Miss Sima Mostofy Javid who helped writing the book and Mrs.  Fereshteh Movassaghnejad who edited the book and finally Mrs. Mahin Sorouri who made this English presentation of the book possible.

In 2005, from among 100 books, it was chosen the best-written environmental book by the organization of non-governmental publishers of Iran and won the Mehregan award.

 Introduction:

Even though sustainable development, preservation of habitat and natural resources such as forests, due to the efforts of many non-government environmental organizations and responsible international bodies, has become part of the governmental policy-making in many countries throughout the world, author believes that in Iran and most of the developing countries one often finds the reversal of such trend. Due to many factors such as economic gains, lack of knowledge and proper information, deforestation by government agencies, private companies and profit- seeking individuals continues in total disregard of national and international laws and policies.

Author offers a short historical background and mentions that massive abuse of North-Forests of Iran dates back to more than 130 years age when the profit seeking foreign governments and even private foreign individuals obtained concessions from the ignorant, greedy and selfish kings of Ghajar dynasty, to plunder the forests at the pittance of their worth and value. The trend continued during the span of Pahlavi dynasty to the end of Mohammad Reza Shah's reign. After the 1979 revolution the persistent pattern of abuse continued, but unfortunately on a much larger scale. Unlike the past, the government officials and their cronies became the instigator of profiteering and co- opted foreigners as their partners.

   Chapter 1

 After a general description of geographic location of North Forests, author mentions that historic name of Caspian Sea in the olden times  was "Hircony Sea " derived from the  name of forests and indigenous  people of the area. The name has been mentioned in Herodotos writings and found on the tablets belonging to Daruis, the king  of Achemenian dynasty, dating  back to 500 B.C.

 In describing the geological specifications, she explains that the formation of Alborz Mountains took place during 2nd and 3rd geological eras. The forests  belong to the 3rd geological era that due to their location on the east-westerly axis of Alborz Mountains escaped the ice age  of 4th era and as such are considered  to be unique  forests and highly valuable  genetic bank  by scientists.

Based on topography of the region she divides these forests into northern, central and eastern Alborz , each with a distinct  variety  of plant coverage and growth. She also mentions that the fragile land composition of these mountains makes them quite vulnerable to the unsustainable usage of the area, such as mining, dam and road construction and deforestation.

Based an climate and climatic characteristics of the area five zones ranging from very humid to partially dry areas have been recognized, each with a variety of micro climatic subcategories.

She ends the chapter by talking about the hydrology of region and how the watersheds are sources of more than 130 large and small rivers and how the deforestation of these watersheds will bring about landslides and floods causing severs damages and loss of many lives.

 Chapter 2

 In this chapter the author's main concern is the diminishing surface area of the forests in the three provinces of Northern Iran and she uses charts, tables and satellite photographs to prove her point. She points to the major discrepancies between the (F.A.O) Food and Agricultural Organization's figures and those of Iranian Forestry and Natural Resources Organization.

Large- scale deforestation since 1990 has caused many floods during the last decade. Many non- governmental organizations and scientific bodies have demanded that the true surface area of North-Forests and its boundaries be openly and publicly announced.  A demand that has remained unheeded as yet. But even according to the latest government statistics inclusive of green vegetation , newly planted trees and age old ancient trees, the surface area of  northern forests of Iran is .87% or less than 1% of the country ™s total surface area . Putting aside the dispute over figures , she ends the chapter by saying that upon looking at the increased numbers of floods, jumping from 17 in 1950's to 250 in 1990's and by comparing the existing panorama of forests as shown in satellite photos with what had existed before, strongly reveals the drastic reduction of North Forests' area.

  Chapter 3

 Up to now more than 130 species of north Forest trees have been identified. Some of the species and plant conglomerates are relics, some endemic and some semi-endemic to Hircanian forests of northern Iran. They are extremely valued as sources of sustaining the forest's echo-system and its diversity of plant life.

Out of 130 species the following 20 are described along with presentation of beautiful color pictures :

    Acer Campestre -Parrotia persica  -Zelkova carpinifolia -Quercus  (Quercus atropatana ) (Quercus castaneifolia )- Sorbus torminalis- Alnus glutinosa  -Fagus Orientalis -Cupressus -Taxus baccata -Thuja orientalis-Populus caspica -Acer Cappadocium - Buxus hyrcanus -Cerasus- Pterocarya fraxinifolia - Gleilitshia caspica-Carpinus betulus - Ulmus  glabra -Tilia  begonifolia -Fraxinus excelsor 

 These relic and endemic trees of northern forests of Iran are on the verge of extinction and author attempts to draw attention of interested scientists to fragile existence of these species in the hope of saving them or at least earning them their due  international recognition as valuable genetic banks.

 Chapter 4

 Here author points to the fourteen most valued and beneficial characteristic of North Forest. Being the remnant of wet Hircanian forests dating back to 30 million years ago, they are refuge to the limited species of plants that belong to tertiary era, recognized by UNESCO as genetic bank for the species unique to wet Hircanian Forests.

Being the largest water table in Northern Iran, they play a vital role in conserving the ground waters. They absorb and save water 44 times more than a normal sized dam in a year and reduce the earth erosion to 1/3 of erosion in non-forested lands.

They protect and preserve 12 internationally recognized wetlands, six of which are considered to be birds habitat , thus earning them double recognition. They act as natural regulator of climate and also act as natural preserver of land against erosion, land -slides, floods and droughts.

  Chapter 5

 Chapter 5 is by far the most extensive chapters of the book where the destructive factors contributing to deforestation are discussed.  The Forestry and Natural Resource Organization of Iran classifies such factors as forest dwelling , cattle raising, government gas and oil projects and construction of roads and dams as biotic factors, while such phenomenon as earthquakes, flood , landslides and fires are considered to be  non- biotic factors.

Author considers these factors as secondary ones and expresses her own views by presenting the main contributing factors to deforestation in a comprehensive chart that she considers it to be the only chart of its kind ever proposed by a non- governmental organization in Iran that could be useful to many government organizations.

According  to this chart the two major contributing factors to destruction of forests are:

  1. Lack of wholesome holistic policies of forest- management on the national and local levels.

  2.   The lack of a comprehensive zoning plan based on a policy of echo-economy and sustainable development schemes.

In the chart these two major factors lead to four lower level destructive factors:

 1 - proposing foresting plans as a facade to disguise the advancement of "business as usual" and the provision of raw material for wood and paper industries.

 2 - Proposing non-comprehensive, segmental, short-term foresting plans that leads to unsustainable foresting and development.

 3 - Lack of comprehensive laws proportionate to the existing environmental threats facing the forests and their surroundings.

 4 - Lack of proper investment policies for the protection and preservation of forests.   

 Following the chart, each of these four categories are broken down to 6-7 detailed factors such as vast scale profiteering on private and government level, a changing concept toward the usage of forests, construction of government projects such as roads and dams, pollution of forests and its surroundings and last  but not  least missing the opportunity to develop an environmentally sound and sustainable plan for the preservation of forests.

Throughout the rest of the chapters she describes these factors and documents her descriptions by the use of charts, tables and revealing pictures.

  Chapter 6

 On the basis of the major and lower level destructive factors discussed in chapter5, author writes about the disastrous outcomes of deforestation. Under the physical outcomes of deforestation, she uses  charts, tables and pictures to show how the process of deforestation in the three northern provinces of Iran has reduced the amount of rainfall during the last twenty years, while the occurrence of floods has increased by twenty times adding to the increased occurrence  of land slides, land-creeping  and earth erosions, causing the loss of hundreds of lives and extensive damages. In regard with  damaging effects of deforestation on the biosphere of forests she writes that many different plants and animal species are either extinct or threatened to become extinct due to the unfavorable conditions of their habitat. The extinction of each of these species that contributes to the procreation of life and its cycles in the forests will induce the growth of alien species, emergence of known and unknown disease that will reduces the bio-diversity of forests.

 She ends the chapter by suggesting that the only way to protect and preserve the North Forests of Iran and  to redress the damages of mismanagement and mishandling of these national treasures, located in a dry and semi -dry land, is to declare them as a "protected forests ". Any misuse or  change  in the utilization of these  forests  must be  banned, followed  by  implementing and proposing a comprehensive  plan inclusive  of  local inhabitants such as forest- dweller and farmers in order to benefit from their valuable  knowledge and experiences.

  A partial protective plan that uses cliché  like statements quite incongruous with the present potentials of forests only favors the continuation of status -quo, harming forests and people. The policy and decision makers should act responsibly and know that the decisions made today play crucial role in creating the conditions and harsh realities of tomorrow                             

                            Appendix

 Here she has included two short articles.  In the first she questions the construction of a dam (Mayjaran) right in the heart of North Forests, where the forest concentration is %90. She doubts the soundness of the preliminary studies made in regard with sustainability issues such as preservation of forest's echo- system and the cost effectiveness of such projects. In the second article she criticizes the government plans for protection and preservation of forests and considers them to be out-dated by present standards. Again in a simple chart she plainly shows how and why the government plans for the preservation of forests defeat their own purposes. The final chart reads as :  Having a profiteering outlook toward North Forests paves the way for the continuation of profiteering process that encourages the replacement of age-old trees  with young saplings which in turn leads  to the formation and growth of "Wood plantation", the exact opposites of the age- old, priceless forests. In truth such plans only promote and defend the rights of profiteers to plunder the forests in the years to come . 

 Covering the time span of about 40 years, from 1961-2001, the 53 sources that author refers to provide a list of valuable reference books to students and researchers.

A glossary of technical terms is also provided by author to help the common reader toward a better understanding of the issues of the book.

 Author's final statement is printed on the back cover of the book.  She emphasizes that in the dry and semi-land land of Iran the only possible way to preserve such nature's gift as North Forests and to rectify the damages inflicted upon them through mismanagement  is to declare them as‌ Protected Forests‌ , followed by proposing and implementing a viable plan based on people participation. Reverting to the out-dated plans and implementing them is and will be totally useless. It devastates our country and harms our fellow countrymen and women for generations to come.

 

***

we at the Earth Watchers' center,as a non government environmental organization, believe that because Iran is signatory to the Convention For Protection Of The World Cultural And Natural Heritage since 1975, the ancient Hirconian North Forests of Iran should be recognized as world heritage. We believe that at least 3 required characteristics that must be met to fulfill such recognition are presented and discussed in the above- mentioned book. 

1-The forests are unique in view of their geological and physical formations with a variety of magnificent landscaping of high esthetic values.                                                                                                                     2-The trees and plant species that are rare and relic to these forests , have high scientific  values  and are recognized by scientists as genetic banks.

3-These forests, with all theirs natural beauties and scientific worth are on the verge of extinction because of systematic deforestation. As habitat to ag-old trees and plant species their preservation is an absolute necessity.

    Unfortunately publishing of the above- mentioned book in English or any other languages has not yet been possible, due to lack of proper funding. We take the opportunity to ask interested international organizations, groups or individuals to help us in its translation and publication. If interested please contact us:

    Mahin Sorouri :  Mahsin9@yahoo.com

           Nasrindokht Khatibi :  Kh_nasrindokht@yahoo.com

 

                                                                 

 

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