YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian ministry of environment imposed a two-month ban on all logging across the country–citing the growing danger of deforestation.
Environment Minister Vartan Ayvazian said on Wednesday the extraordinary measure–that was activated on January 1–is part of a government program aimed at preserving Armenia’s forests which have suffered enormous damage over the past decades. He said illegal logging reached "a threatening scale" and must be countered with tough action.
"The cutting of trees has been stopped because the existing legal mechanisms are deeply flawed," Ayvazian told RFE/RL.
The total area of lands covered by forests in Armenia’shrunk considerably since the onset of a severe crisis in the early 1990s which forced many people to use wood to heat their homes in the winter. Wood is also greatly used by local firms producing construction materials and furniture. Environmentalists say the deforestation is already causing soil erosion and having other negative effects on the country’s ecological system.
The logging ban is to be used for a sweeping overhaul of the Hayantar agency that manages some 340,000 hectares of mountainous forests across Armenia. Ayvazian said that the agency–widely accused of corrupt practices–will be banned from cutting and selling trees and transformed into a purely regulatory body. Hayantar will be held responsible for preserving forests and selling limited logging licenses to private firms on a competitive basis–the minister added.
The ministry of environment announced last month that the government of Japan has approved a $8 million grant for the restoration of forests and parks in and around Yerevan.