DILIJAN DEFORESTATION: ARE OFFICIALS TURNING A BLIND EYE TO ILLEGAL CUTTING OF TREES?
by Arman Gharibyan
2 March 2010
On February 20, a group of young people traveled to Dilijan for a hike in the woods. Upon entering the forest they heard a familiar but unwelcome sound.
We had just started to hike when we heard the sound of an electric chainsaw. It seemed like there were several saws going off from different directions; a symphony of saws if you will. The noise went on all day. That evening, my friends and I set off in the direction of the buzzing saws to see who was cutting down trees in the forest. Along the way, we stumbled upon a number of thick stumps surrounded by fresh sawdust and cut branches. Victims of the chainsaw, said Mariam Sukhudyan, one of the hikers.
Please, no photographs
The hikers first encountered two men. One was carrying an axe and the other had a saw. They had evidently cut down a bunch of trees and were rolling down the limbs and branches into a ravine to make it easier to transport out, Mariam said. I asked if what they were doing was legal and they answered, of course. I suggested that I photograph them in the midst of their legal work. The young guy with the saw immediately turned and left. The other one turned his face from the camera.
That day, Mariam notified Hetq about what she had witnessed. We, in turn, contacted the Ministry of Nature Protection.
Artur Gevorgyan, Deputy Head of the State Environmental Inspectorate, told Hetq that after receiving the news ministry inspectors went to site of the incident accompanied by staff of the Dilijan National Park Protection Unit. They saw that seven healthy trees had been illegally felled in an area known as Aghvesi Tala.
Illegal tree choppers identified
Artur Gevorgyan said, An investigation was conducted by the Parks Protection Unit and members of the Dilijan Police and those responsible for the illegal tree felling have been identified. A case file was prepared and sent to the Tavush Environmental Inspectorate for processing.
The Tavush Regional Inspectorate is charged with assessing the extent of the damage. If it exceeds 400,000 AMD ($1,050), the case is then sent to the police and a criminal case is launched.
Mariam Sukhudyan said that they witnessed other cases of trees being cut down.
When we left that site, we happened upon another terrible sight. We saw more than thirty healthy trees that had been felled. Despite being a bit removed from the site, I tried to take some pictures with my video camera. (Hetq has the photos Ed). We saw a car and a truck parked at the site. I assume they were about to ferry out the tree, recounts the young environmental activist.
But we have permission to chop and cut
They were probably following our movements using binoculars, since we were a good distance away. A bit later, two men approached and asked who had given permission for us to take pictures. I replied that if they werent doing anything illegal why were they scared of the camera lens. The men were quite aggressive so I called up Artur Gevorgyan, the Deputy Head of the Inspectorate, at the number given to me by Hetq. I wanted him to talk to the guys chopping down the trees. Naturally, they refused to talk to Gevorgyan. They called up someone else instead and then quickly left us, Mariam recounts.
Inspectors arrived at the site after Mariams call. Afterwards, the ministry inspectors approached us with the men we had early encountered. The officials said that after investigating the site, they concluded that some of the cuttings were legal and others werent, Mariam said.
To prove that they were legally cutting down trees, the men produced a copy of a tree cutting permit from the Ministry of Nature Protection, spelling out a 20009 work project for the Dilijan National Park. According to the permit, 25 trees were to be felled; 16 hornbeams, 8 beech and 1 maple.
But I saw more than 30 cut trees in just one day. I also saw stumps that were being burnt to make it look like the trees had been dried out and old. They were healthy trees, however, Mariam said.
Dilijan Park Director Poghosyan Nothing illegal going on
Ashot Poghosyan, Director of the Dilijan National Park, assured Hetq that the men who produced the permit were engaged in legal activities and that illegal cutters were responsible for the other damage.
Hetq asked Ashot Poghosyan if was possible that those with permission to fell 25 trees might actually exceed their limit. He replied that his office had examined their work and that no illegal cutting had been conducted.
We also asked Artur Gevorgyan, the Inspectorate Deputy Head, the same question. Is it possible? We are living in the age of monkeys. Everything is being closely monitored, was his reply.
Environmental Inspectorate People cutting down trees only answerable to us
Artur Gevorgyan noted that wood harvesters were under no obligation to show Mariam Sukhudyan any permit. They have to prove to us that what they are doing is legal and not to anyone else.
Mariam Sukhudyan believes that those with permission from the ministry were also engaging in illegal cutting. If they were legally felling trees then why, Mariam argues, would there be any need from them to prove anything to her?
If all that deforestation was legal why did they initially try to scare me off and then try to reason with me? When they realized that I was steadfast and wouldnt give in, they tried to bribe me into silence. Anyway, I got the strong impression from the way they acted that what they were doing was also illegal, Mariam says, adding, If this violation isnt investigated and those responsible not punished, then there can be no doubt that they enjoy the protection of high-ranking officials.