Tracking illegal logging to ensure protection of Armenia’s forests
02 April 2014 | Article
By creating a community monitoring system, and through proactive advocacy and education, Armenia’s state forestry agency show just how far things have changed since working with IUCN and partners.
The multi-country FLEG (Forest Law Enforcement and Governance) programme, implemented by the IUCN, World Bank and WWF, began working with the Armenian government in 2009, in order to tackle illegal logging and protect its limited forest resources. Armenia is a small country with a rich natural and cultural heritage, whose topography is dominated by high mountains, river basins and numerous alpine lakes. However, illegal logging and related government corruption are major problems in Armenia’s forestry sector, which had to be urgently addressed as forest total area has decreased in the past decades and is now estimated to cover only about 11per cent of total land area in Armenia.
Over the course of the first three years of the programme, known as “FLEG 1”, significant progress was made in securing governments’ commitment to reduce illegal logging, improve forest governance and introduce policy reforms as well as collaborate with NGOs, local environmental organizations and forest communities. Illegal logging has been substantially reduced, leading to many sawmill closures. In addition, the participatory approach encouraged by the FLEG 1 initiatives has raised public awareness of the detrimental impacts of uncontrolled illegal logging.
Unearthing the magnitude of illegal logging
In studies conducted by IUCN and its partners within Armenia’s forestry sector, the real scale of illegal logging was revealed to be 80 times higher than the officially declared statistics. These astonishing results were presented in an open stakeholder forum attended by government officials, environmental NGOs, local organizations, community members as well as journalists. It was the first time such information was revealed to the public, pushing back the walls of government secrecy and spurring awareness among the Armenians, especially among local activists and forest communities on the impact of illegal logging on deforestation and its environmental consequences.
“The biggest achievement of the FLEG project was the change in the attitude of the people working in the forestry sector, the public and the NGOs.” says Luba Balyan, IUCN-FLEG Country Program Coordinator in Armenia. “Now NGOs, government and the public are holding press conferences, sitting side by side and openly debating about highly sensitive issues. Before, it was not even thinkable.”
Empowering people and communities through knowledge dissemination
IUCN set up a journalist resource platform with the aim of providing journalists with training in environmental reporting. Journalists were allowed to witness debates and dialogues between government officials, scientists, environmental NGOs and community members, so that they could get a representative picture of the varied viewpoints and present balanced coverage on environmental issues. In addition, the journalists were allowed to visit illegal logging hot spots to witness first-hand the level of destruction.
“It is extremely important that journalists receive the clearest and most accurate information on environmental issues which can improve public debates and in turn enable them to hold the governments to account,” states Luba Balyan.
The FLEG roadshow - cruising 20 forest communities
In order to reach out to rural and isolated forest communities, IUCN teamed up with Hayantar (Armenia’s forestry agency) to conduct a roadshow, offering information and advice to the communities on the importance of natural resources conservation. During its tour of Armenia, the FLEG vehicle, carrying forestry and legal experts, would stop at village squares to discuss with villagers issues faced by the villagers related to forest degradation and illegal logging, which included soil erosion, drying up of water resources and soil degradation.
Moving through the forest communities, the FLEG roadshow has already made a big difference to local lives, so far. The villagers sought FLEG’s assistance to present their views and make their claims to be heard by the government. One of the forest community appeals, asking for the rights to gather fallen deadwood was granted by the government.
“We compiled the communities’ list of proposals and passed it on to Hayantar so that Hayantar could present the list to the Parliament,” Luba Balyan explains. “This is a brilliant example of working directly with the communities and transmitting their needs to the government.”
Civil society and independent monitoring of forests in FLEG 2
Interventions for combating illegal logging and other forest activities require strengthening of forest law enforcement through independent monitoring. Currently, the second phase of the FLEG programme (FLEG 2) is underway and it will implement an independent forest monitoring platform using global positioning system (GPS) and geographic information system (GIS) to pinpoint affected areas and to construct an interactive forest mapping website. These maps will provide accurate field data that can be cross-checked against data by government and private sector sources.
Mobile groups composed of private citizens and forest experts will be trained to log GPS data and GPS tagged photos whenever they discover illegal forest operations. “All violations will be recorded , including logging, illegal constructions and dumping, as well as natural phenomena such as forest fires - will be recorded and plotted on the map,” adds Luba Balyan, who will be enlisting forestry experts, students and activists to launch this project.
Since monitoring can also occur using local resources, the FLEG roadshow will continue visiting communities to engage them in the monitoring of illegal forestry activities and reporting violations.
European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument East Countries Forest Law Enforcement and Governance II Program (ENPI-FLEG 2)is supported by the European Union and implemented by IUCN, World Bank and WWF.