By Christian Garbis
YEREVAN–The government of Armenia has already approved measures to have portions of the Shikahogh forest reserve removed for the construction of a new highway. An estimated 30 hectares (74 acres) of forest will be cut from the reserve–located in the Syunik region.
The forest contains some of the most endangered species of animals in the Caucasus region–such as the Eurasian lynx and mouflon (sheep)–which are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red Data List. The list documen’s thousands of species of animals that are endangered worldwide–with over 70 such species to be found in Armenia.
It is estimated that approximately eight percent of Armenia is covered by forests–down from 12 percent at the beginning of the last century–as determined by Armenian Forests NGO–an environmental protection organization based in Yerevan. However–some specialists believe the percentage may be as low as six percent.
The reserve also contains a virgin oak forest–comprising about 14,000 trees. The forest represents one of the last untouched wooded areas in Armenia.
"Armenia’s forests are threatened–and with them the fragile ecosystem–water–crops–air and biodiversity," said Jeffrey Tufenkian–president of Armenian Forests NGO.
Environmentalists are concerned that the destruction of the reserve will further contribute to the ongoing ecological imbalance in effect throughout the country. For several years–Lake Sevan has faced increasing threats to further support marine life as excessive fishing of native species–including the renowned Ishkhan fish (Armenian trout)–has caused the increased–rapid growth of underwater plants. Deforestation–as a result of a thriving wood export business–as well as a source of fuel–has caused problems with erosion and even mudslides in many areas–especially in northern Armenia.
Some representatives of diaspora Armenian organizations have already expressed concern. Hrair Hovnanian–board chairman of the Armenian Assembly of America–wrote a personal letter to President Robert Kocharian urging him to reconsider the route.
The construction of the highway is endorsed by the Ministry of Transport and Communication–headed by Andranik Manukyan. The ministry has contracted the construction firm Transproject to begin work pending a final governmental decision. Worldwide outcries from various international environmental protection agencies–including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)–have pressed the Armenian government to rethink the measure for construction.
Christian Garbis is a freelance writer based in Yerevan–Armenia.