Zagros mountains in danger
By Tooba Moshiri (TM)
Although we have been witnessing the fires of the Zagros forests for decades, but if we take a look at the history of fires in the past 16 months which have sparked mostly by the hands of humans, and compare it with the April-May fires of last year that burnt down thousands of hectares of Persian turpentine and old oak trees, we see that mostly parts of the Zagros forests that are in the western Azerbaijan and Kurdistan have fallen prey to the fires, then in the Fars province, parts of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad province and the heights of north eastern Khuzistan that count amongst the main parts of the growth culture.
The Zagros is a mountain range that stretches from the west to the southwest of Iran.This mountain range starts from the shores of Lake Van in southeastern Turkey and after passing through the provinces of West Azerbaijan, Lorestan, Hamadan, Markazi, Isfahan, Fars, Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Ilam, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Khuzestan and Kerman provinces, continues to move through Bushehr and Hormozgan continues.This mountain range also extends to northern Iraq.
The Zagros mountain range has a very rich wild life and many rare animals and plant life; some endangered, reside in it. The Zagros vegetation zone includes the Zagros Mountains, the largest and most important habitat of various oak species in Iran, and for this reason this region is of special importance.
Zagros forests are an strategic point in the country, the life of around 105 million people that live in the vicinity of the forests are dependant on it. More than 80% of Persian nomads and more than 50% of the country’s livestock live in this area, and 40% of the country’s water come from this region.
Only compared to the previous year and considering the Marivan and Sarvabad regions, according to the statistics of the Green Chia Association, fires in oak trees in these areas have increased by 13%. Deforestation and destruction of oak forests are carried out to increase agricultural land and mostly it is turned into vineyards. In addition to setting fire to the forests of the Zagros, woodcutters cut down the oak trees with a chainsaw and uproot the trees using a tractor, and also cut down the trunks of the trees and sell them. The recklessness of the forest looters has reached a point where, with profiteers, some of them are even selling their fake gardens on the Internet and are trading and selling these national lands. An event that usually takes so long that it is hard to imagine it going unnoticed by the authorities. But the violators are not dealt with decisively, and this distruction is still prevailing. The Green Chia Association has so far identified 1,200 hectares of damage using satellite imagery.
Last year, Issiah Kalantari, head of the Enviornment organization, said in an interview with ISNA that, given the bastness of natural resources in the Zahros, the loss of only 16,000 hectares should not worry people, and in fact nothing special has happened. (This interview was conducted by Mahshad Karimi, a young journalist who lost his life in the overturning of a busy carrying environmental journalists to Urmia.)
Dana Ghorbani, one of the environmental activists in Kurdistan, says about the lack of authority of environmental organizations to manage issues related to their field: “suppose people want to dig up minerals in an area, for this they need related permits from the natural resources organizations, however, usually these permits are given to unworthy individuals who have the right connections and are in several mafia rings that are active within these areas, and the government organizations make no effort to cast an eye on the matter.”
NEWS of fire in Siah Kooh area of Ilam due to lightning strike and attempt to extinguish it with only one helicopter and local groups using basic tools, fire in Saadatabad heights of Marvdasht, Arsanjan and Pasargad, five fires in oak forests of Marivan and the loss of 423 hectares of forest and the destruction of nearly 504 hectares of forests and pastures in other parts of Kurdistan during 69 firest and the sad news of several large fires in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad in a short period time show how critical the situation is.
Not all the forest fires in Iran are due to climate change. According to environmental activists, the lack of education in responsible tourism on the one hand, and the exploitation of wood traffickers (specially at the end of spring, summer and fall) that use the fire and hiatus caused from it as a cover to cut and transport trees, are the main reasons that are causing such situation, another reason for a part of these fires are the sad story of legal struggles upon owning the lands of the forests, gardens and agricultural land that has been put up for charity, there are those who are dealing hands in the shadows to take control of these resources and it leads to fires due to lack of attention from officials.
Coming back from fires in this scope in forests such as the Zagros, that are suffering as they are due to reasons such as agriculture, ranching, other human factors, also pest and sicknesses that are prevailing in vast areas has caused trees to be less fertile, and makes the process of repair difficult.
“One can not hope that in the current situation, the problem with firefighting equipment will be resolved, because there is not enough credit provide the equipment and no one is thinking about the forests being burned in Iran.” This is what Omid Vatani says. A 30 year-old volunteer that has taken part in controlling several recent fires in the mountains around Marivan and is familiar with the Zagros firefighting crew and their livelihood.
In controlling the fires of Kurdistan province usually the Natural Resources Organization forces and protection unit, along with environmental N.G.Os, people living in the area and people who care for the environment are the ones that are involved in the disaster.
Everyear in addition to many animals dying in the firest of the Zagros mountain range, some of the people who are trying to control the fire also lose their lives.
Sharif Bajur, a well-known Iranian civil and environmental activist from Marivan, was a member of the board of directors of the Green Chia Association and was responsible for extinguishing the fire. In August 2018, he and other members of the Green Chia Association and a number of local foresters who had gone there to contain a fire in the forests of the villages of Pileh and Selsi were caught in a fire and died. Sharif Bajaur has become a symbol in fighting the Zagros fires.
If the forests of Zagros in south east and the provinces mentioned above are destroyed it will cause climate change in the area and the balance of water and soil will be disrupted. Therefore, the protection zone and shield of the Zagros is destroyed and thus the hot and dry air enters the Zagros habitats too much and causes low rainfall and dryness of the ecosystem and the descent of aquifer resources and the establishment of hot and dry conditions. A desert becomes the shape of the Zagros. The fires that took place in Kurdistan and Azerbaijan have caused the Zagros part of the country, which has more moisture and freshness, to lose its ability to absorb the cool and humid Mediterranean air, and the shape of the Zagros body has faced serious challenges and double drought.