For the first time since before the Soviet era, local officials can manage and protect the forest based on local needs
Note: This story has been updated since it was first published to include additional information about the Tusheti Protected Landscape Administration and the Tusheti people.
AKHMETA, Georgia—In September of 2014, the Georgian Government officially transferred forest management control of the Tusheti Protected Landscape to the Tushetian people by authorizing the local Tusheti Protected Landscape Administration (TPLA) to manage the forests in the Protected Area. It is the first case of decentralizing forest management in Georgia and the first time forests in Tusheti have been under local control since before the Soviet period began in Georgia in 1921.
“Local control in Tusheti forests is a way to give the people who have lived in the area for centuries the ability to sustainably manage the forest to meet local forest needs, preserve their cultural heritage, and provide employment for local people in forest management, tourism, and recreation,” said Merab Matchavariani, National Forestry Consultant for FLEG II program in Georgia who is developing the methodology for forest management in the Tusheti Protected Landscape. “The local administration is working hard to undertake all the necessary measures to establish proper forest management so it will be able to meet the primary objectives of ensuring the integrity of forest ecosystems and their ecological stability over the long run.”
The Tusheti Protected Landscape in north-eastern Georgia is classified as a category V protected area by IUCN, which means it is a unique “area where the interaction of people and nature over time has produced an area of distinct character with significant ecological, biological, cultural and scenic value; and where safeguarding the integrity of this interaction is vital to protecting and sustaining the area and its associated nature conservation and other values.”
The TPLA consists of nine members, 7 of which are Tushetians, who are responsible for the management decisions regarding the forests within the Tusheti Protected Landscape. The Akhmeta municipality set up the TPLA as a “non-commercial legal entity” which means that it can operate and raise money from outside the municipal government.
Until 1921, locals had jurisdiction over Tusheti forests, but during the Soviet era the area was brought under increasingly centralized control. After 2003, the Tusheti Protected Landscape fell under the authority of the Georgian Agency of Protected Areas within the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Protection.
The Georgian Government recognized the value of allowing the Akhmeta Municipality and the Tushetian people who live there to regain authority over Tusheti forests, as Tushetians know “every rock” in the area and are motivated to manage it sustainably for the long term. While the government knew the benefits of transferring management control, it had to overcome legal and practical considerations before making it happen. It took from 2003 to 2011 to establish the TPLA to receive the management authority and until September 2014 to complete the transfer of official duties.
The FLEG II program has been working with all parties to provide the technical expertise required at various stages of the process. Until recently, the goal was to register the Tusheti Protected Landscape as a ‘Forest of Local Significance’ to complete the transition to local control (see “Preparing the final mile in historic handover of Georgian forest protection to local control” on the FLEG website), but over the summer authorities identified a more direct way. The Georgian Government amended two forest laws allowing the Tusheti Protected Landscape to remain within the government controlled forest system, called the State Forest Fund, but under the management of the Akhmeta municipality which uses the TPLA as the managing agency.
With the centralized and uncertain authority over the forest during much of the last 100 years, the forests in the Tusheti Protected Landscape were not receiving the management or silvicultural attention they needed. Local people were unable to get clear direction on how to legally and sustainably meet their local forest needs, especially with regard to obtaining legal firewood and timber.
With the legal transfer of authority now in place, rangers working in the forest and managers in the TPLA are local Tushetian people. The TPLA can enhance forestry personnel, undertake forest inventory, elaborate a forest management plan, and establish a transparent and sustainable system of harvesting and supply of forest products to meet local needs. The Administration will also be responsible for undertaking all the necessary measures in consideration of its Protected Area status, including forest fire control and proper management of pests and diseases.
“Tusheti is both a beautiful place with tremendous natural value and a place where people depend on the land for their livelihoods,” said Marika Kavtarishvili, FLEG II country program coordinator for IUCN Georgia and a native of the Tusheti region. “This transition to local control can help both the forest and the people living there, and a lot of work has gone into it from both the national and local levels to make sure it does.”
The semi-nomadic Tushetian people number around 10,000, or one-fourth of the total Akhmeta municipal population. Many Tushetians speak Georgian with their own Tushetian dialect, and some also speak a unique language which genetically belongs to the north-Caucasus group of languages.
They live primarily in three villages near the foot of the Caucasus Mountains and many spend their summers in the mountains tending their sheep as they have done for centuries. The sheep have exceptional snow-resistant wool that allows them to cross high mountain passes. Some say it was either the value of the sheep-farming culture or the fierce independence of the Tushetian people which led Stalin to exempt Tushetian sheep farmers and shepherds from Soviet military service.
The Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG) program is now in its second phase known as FLEG II. It is supported by the European Union as part of its work with the European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument East Countries (ENPI) and is implemented by IUCN, World Bank and WWF. FLEG II aims to promote sustainable forest governance, management, and protection of forests in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine, ensuring the contribution of the region's forests to climate change adaptation and mitigation, to ecosystems and biodiversity protection, and to sustainable livelihoods and income sources for local populations and national economies.
The Program builds on and further develops initiatives and activities undertaken during implementation of the first European Commission funded ENPI-FLEG Program (2008-2012). It is part of the European Union's Eastern Partnership and a key part of the Environment Governance Pillar.
This year in Georgia, FLEG II is working across three main pillars of work: assessing forest management in protected areas, supporting locally controlled forestry, and assessing the extent of human dependency on nature (HDN) in forested landscapes.
For more information please, contact Marika Kavtarishvili from IUCN Caucasus Cooperation Center at: [email protected]