We were saddened to witness the forest fires in the Khosrov Forest Reserve and in Artavan, Vayots Dzor on 13 August 2017. Unfortunately, our country lost many hectares of old growth forests, with estimates ranging from 2,500 hectares to 10,000 hectares. In addition to the benefits to tourism and other ecosystem values of these 600-year-old forests, we lost a large stand of 150-year-old juniper trees, as well as habitat for the animals living in these forests.
Information is still being gathered by organizations and governmental agencies involved in the recovery effort. We expect to know more in the coming days and clarify the extent of the losses, and hopefully identify the causes of the fires, as well as the action plan to prevent such disasters in the future.
There is an ongoing risk in Armenia to forest fires, especially in summers when temperatures are hot and the air and soil is dry. This threat is further exacerbated by climate change which has caused higher temperatures and more erratic weather patterns including drought in summer. We often see smaller fires, but these have been the largest in recent memory.
Of course the issue raises questions about Armenia’s capacity to fight such fires or withstand other natural disasters. The weekend events have revealed a lack of resources and infrastructure to fight massive fires, though the men and women deployed to fight the fires are to be commended for their hard work and bravery to bring the disaster under control.
We also received technical support from Russia in the form of water distribution and a firefighting air vehicle, which helped disaster management workers to control the spread of the fires. Clearly there is more room for improvement and capacity building, and we would like to see this become more of a national priority to protect our natural heritage.
None of the sites were planted by ATP, but we have already begun to take action and reach out to the major stakeholders involved in the recovery and future prevention efforts. These include the Ministry of Nature Protection, World Wildlife Fund, Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets, Caucasus Nature Fund, and the United Nations. All of the parties are interested in coordination and a proactive approach to preventing similar disasters in the future.
Here are a few initial steps that ATP has taken:
• We are visiting our planting sites to assess any areas of risk and ideas to prevent the outbreak or spread of fire
• We have extended a hand to partners working in or around Armenia’s forest reserves, to assist with monitoring for threats
• We are already developing educational materials for the public to learn about threats and think twice about practices that can cause forest fires
Protecting our green infrastructure is a team effort. At this stage, we wanted to let people know that we’re aware of the threat, we are concerned and our experts are talking to the appropriate parties to determine an action plan for solutions.
Carolyn Mugar, ATP Founder
Jeanmarie Papelian, Executive Director
Lucineh Kassarjian, Country Director