Decline and destruction of Zagros oak forests has been accelerating at a rapid pace in the past five years and despite many warnings, no solution has been so far implemented to protect these highly valuable natural resources. While numerous meetings and seminars at taking place on this issue, an unknown pestilence is progreesively drying out the entire oak forests of Zagros.
The condition is affecting eleven provinces and the National Forest, Rangeland and Watershed Organization reports that in Lorestan, Chahar Mahal Bakhtiyari, Kohgiloyeh, Fars, Kermanshah and Kurdistan Provinces 33 percent of the forest have been contaminated.
In Ilam 30 percent of the forests are on the verge of complete drying out and destruction. In Lorestan Province they have established a task force for “Protection and Replenishment of Lorestan Forests.” Meanwhile a member of Forest, Rangeland and Watershed says they cannot attribute the drying out of the Zagros Forest solely to one cause.
Experts have been critical of the weak response of government organizations to the control and treatment of Zagros oak forests. In addition to the contamination, changes in climate including temperature, precipitation and winds are also affecting the rapid decline of these forests. Most significantly environmental stress has led to an increase in the activities of pathogenic fungi which is causing the “Oak Charcoal Disease” a highly fatal disease for the trees.
The decline in Zagros forests is not even limited to its oak trees; juniper, mastic, sham and
hawthorn trees are also falling victim to widespread drying out.
In Lorestan, forest patches have declined anywhere between 10 to 100 percent. Infected oak trees are cut off and turned into charcoal which means a large expanse of the natural resources in Iran’s western regions is turning into charcoal. The National Forest and Rangeland Organization is taking a treefold approach to combat this phenomenon which consist of planting resistant species, extensive replanting and removal of infected trees. However these actions do not match the thousands of hectares of oak trees that are falling victim to the infection.
To make matters more complicated, experts have not yet reached a complete consensus regarding the decline of the oak trees. They are also looking at the experiences of some European countries in dealing with similar declines in oak tree population are being considered as a rich resource for finding a way to combat the fast growing loss of forests in the Zagros region.
Head of Iranian Forests Society says cutting down 18 million oak trees cannot be the best solution for this situation. Kia Deliri was quoted by Mehr News Agency saying the actual extent of infection has not been accurately determined and some trees marked in winter for cutting down were seen to have grown leaves in spring.
He also maintained that one of the chief problems of the region is the presence of a high concentration of livestock in the region adding that before the preliminary problems are not addressed cutting down the oak trees will not be an effective solution.
The oak tree is the most important and populous tree species in western Iran especially in the Zagros region. They line close to 1300 kilometres of the Zagros Mountain Range from Western Azerbaijan Province to Fars Province. The oak trees cover an estimated 5 million hectares of land in Western Iran.