“From Need to Greed”: New film documen’s illegal logging and deforestation in Armenia

A 20-minute film about illegal logging and deforestation in Armenia–titled "From Need to Greed," was released this week by Vem Media Arts in Yerevan. The fourth in a series of environmental films–the documentary was funded by Armenia Tree Project–Armenian Forests NGO–and the World Wildlife Fund Caucasus Office.

In the opening of the film–Armenian children declare the importance of forests in supporting animals and birds–absorbing carbon dioxide and generating oxygen–absorbing dust from the air–and preventing landslides. "The number of forests in Armenia is very few. We need to protect the existing forests and plant new trees," states one child.

Produced by Manuk Hergnyan of Vem and written by Inga Zarafyan–the documentary explains that forests provide food–shelter–clothing–and fuel for people–but over time humans have started to destroy this vital lifeline. According to historical data–forests covered 20 percent of Armenia at the turn of the 20th century–but by the early 1990s this area was reduced to 11 percent and is now below 10 percent.

Massive logging started in 1992 as a result of the energy crisis in the country. Nearly half of the forests in the Vanadzor forest were destroyed–with much of the tree loss occurring on steep slopes and resulting in devastating landslides. Reforestation projects were carried out in the Lake Sevan basin in the 1950s to prevent erosion–but many of those forests were destroyed or damaged during the severe winters of the 1990s.

Although the crisis of energy shortages has diminished–tree cutting has continued and taken on new forms–notes the film. Since wood is treated as an inexpensive source of fuel–70 percent of the logged wood is still used as firewood. The actual volume of logging was estimated in 2003 by World Bank experts to be one million cubic meters–most of which is illegal logging since the annual number of trees subject to felling does not exceed 70,000 thousand cubic meters.

Aside from the segmen’s of the population that rely on forests for their survival–much of the tree cutting is widely believed to be done by oligarchs who are illegally exporting wood from Armenia. The State Environmental Inspectorate–however–denies the role of oligarchs in this sector.

"I myself haven’t come across any oligarch involved in forest consumption," states one government official from that office. "There are organizations that are implementing forest consumption in due manner–signing a contract with Hayantar (Forestry Department). People have won a certain land area by tender–and have taken the wood out of there–one part as construction timber–the remaining as firewood."

"The situation is different than it was in the early 1990s with the energy crisis," notes Armenian Forests NGO President Jeffrey Tufenkian. "There is still need-based cutting for people who can’t afford fuel other than wood–but it has moved from need to greed. The greed of a few who are taking truckloads of wood out of the forest and keeping local villagers from entering the forest."

One of Hayantar’s chief foresters also points out some questionable practices. They include the abuse of logging licenses by using them several times and questionable methods used to gain access to valuable walnut wood that is exported to Europe for use in luxury automobiles. In fact–the film documen’s the export of oak–walnut–ash–and hornbeam wood to countries including France–Italy–Spain–United Arab Emirates–Germany–Iran–and even Turkey.

Experts agree that even if logging is halted–the forests in Armenia will not be able to be restored naturally. It would be possible to save them only if there is a national forest recovery program and strict controls in place–but for now–the monitoring conducted by governmental structures is ineffective. "How else can we explain the fact that in 2005–the State Environmental Inspectorate recorded illegal logging of only 9,018 trees with 8,130 cubic meters in volume–or 15-20 times less than in reality?" asks the narrator.

According to data from the National Program Against Desertification–80 percent of Armenia’s territory has already undergone desertification. If this continues unchecked–soil humidity will decrease–pastures will shrink–cattle head will drop–and production of fruits and vegetables will go down. "Thus–Armenia will turn to a desert–not to the classical ecosystem–but into a desert created by man himself–and it will become an environment not fit for life anymore," concludes the narrator.

Near the end of the film–representatives of Armenian Forests NGO and Armenia Tree Project offer their views on steps that need to be taken to eliminate illegal logging and allow Armenia’s forests to regenerate. "First–public awareness needs to be raised–and environmental education is a useful way to arouse public opinion," states ATP Foundation President Susan Klein. "In addition–reforestation is an important goal for today. We in this generation must preserve this for future generations."

The 20-minute documentary film "From Need to Greed" is being made available for personal and public viewing in DVD format. To acquire a copy of the film in the diaspora with English subtitles–contact Armenia Tree Project via email at info@armeniatree.org.

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