This spring flames of fire soared higher than ever in the forests and rangeland of Iran. Golestan National Park caught fire a number of times burning down or severely damaging over 1000 hectares of the trees. The situation begs the question who is responsible for putting out and preventing these raging flames?
The Department of Environment says it does not have adequate equipment to put out the fires but the parliament claims this is just an excuse. Forest rangers also maintain that the Department of Environment is not living up to its responsibilities.
Within two months Golestan National Park fell victim to seven fires with some occurring in rather inaccessible areas. Dry weather and winds also exacerbated the situation causing rapid spread. On several occasions the Department of Environment put in requests to the provincial offices for a helicopter to combat the fires but the helicopter either never arrived or when it did, hectares of the forest had already been destroyed. That leaves forest rangers combating fires with the most primitive equipment of shovels and buckets which are simply not sufficient.
The Department of Environment confirms that the Ministry of Interior has called upon the Red Crescent to loan its helicopters to the DOE in times of fire but Red Crescent wants an official agreement and in front payment before providing its helicopters to the DOE. However the Department of Environment says that if it had the funds for such a service, it would not turn to the Red Crescent it would directly go to the private sector.
The Department of Environment also reports that some fires are started by poachers who try to use it as a diversion while they hunt their prey.
However independent forest watch organizations say while these statement are all true, the Department of Environment does not have a well planned out program to address its duties. They say the DOE fails to hire an adequate number of rangers, it has no programs or equipment for the rangers to combat the fires. Without appropriate procedures a helicopter could not be put to adequate use even when it is provided.
Parliament also criticizes the Department of Environment saying the administration has not shown effective collaboration to address the problem of burning forests. Head of the Environment Commission has been quoted as saying that the under-activity of the administration regarding forest fires is now under probe. They say if there is need for increased funds to handle the fires, parliament should be presented with the appropriate documents and requests because parliament cannot approve a budget unless it is presented to it by the Department of Environment.
Environment experts say that while the Department of Environment has been very active holding meetings and conferences, there has been no concrete actions resulting from this gatherings. Massoumeh Ebtekar, President Rohani's head of the Department of Environment has been very vocal in her support for environmental protection but her efforts have fallen short of implementing any practical solutions. Experts say more effective and practical solutions are available to Iran's environment officials.
Hossein Akhani, a Tehran University Professor and an environmental activist says first the road that passes through the protected areas of Golestan National Park has to be removed from within the park territory. He says that it is also vital to engage grassroots organizations to assist rangers in the task of forest protection and supervision in the dry and summer seasons when there are many visitors to the park. Akhani says a sustainable and effective plan of protection has to engage local communities and involve them in the task of environmental protection.