by Ani Melkonian
STEPANAVAN, Armenia--The deadly fires in California force us to think about our forests and what we're doing to keep Armenia's precious natural resources safe. Though the cause of the fires is still under investigation, initial evidence points to manmade causes.
How safe are Armenia's forests? Let’s just say that as long as there are individuals anywhere in the world who don't believe that their action or inaction can make a difference, nothing is ever safe.
While firefighting efforts may prove beneficial, too often wildfires in rural areas are ignored and can be left burning for days in Armenia due to lack of resources and infrastructure. Even the smallest fires cause huge damage as Armenia has a forest cover of just 11 percent, according to official statistics.
That is why Armenia Tree Project (ATP) gives great importance to preventative measures. On the education front, ATP is raising awareness and teaching young Armenians across the country about forest fires prevention, especially in targeted areas like Lori, Kotayk, Shirak, Tavush, and Gegharkunik.
Tchalo, the firefighting gampr shepherd dog who is the face of ATP’s campaign, is actively involved in the process through an animated PSA and educational posters (visit www.tinyurl.com/tchalo to view the PSA).
Miles from California on the outskirts of Stepanavan, 19-year-old Angela Mkrtchyan is planting trees in ATP’s afforestation plot with her mother and older brother. For the next 11 days, the Mkrtchyan family's livelihood will depend on the little seedlings of ash, apple, beech, maple, oak, and pear trees. ATP hires more than 150 workers each year to help with planting and maintenance.
It's a short-term job but for the Mkrtchyan family, who have no permanent work, it is vital. It is Angela's second season with ATP but her family has been part of the planting brigade for the past four years.
"Many things we do in our daily lives have a negative impact on the environment and on the lives of future generations. Planting trees is one of the few things the next generations will thank us for, so I'm happy to be doing it," says Angela.
Angela is planting close to 200 saplings each day. By the end of the 11-day journey she will earn about $180, which is slightly over the average monthly salary in rural Armenia.
"Our cause becomes theirs. During this time they form a special relationship with the forest, and so they encourage others to preserve and protect it as well," says ATP Forester Vahe Martirosyan.
Similarly, over 40 men and women, young and old are working in Tashir on ATP's forestry plots and on a joint forestry project with GIZ in Aparan, Arayi, and Vardenut.
In total, ATP has planted another 187,845 trees this fall, bringing the total for 2018 to 257,910 trees. The overall total of trees planted in Armenia and Artsakh since 1994 is 5,722,562.
"We're proud of our results, of our positive impact on the land and the livelihoods we are helping to improve," explains Executive Director Jeanmarie Papelian. "Many of the trees we planted this year are fruit trees, or 6,640 to be exact. And the total harvest from ATP's trees was more than 1,600,000 pounds of fruit this year, which was distributed in the communities all for the benefit of local people."
Two hundred families in Lori's Ghursali Village received coppiced wood for the winter from ATP. The wood comes from a project done in the village on 10 hectares with HayAntar. Locals were hired and trained to cut tree stems which grow close together or from one stump to near ground level so the trees may grow to their full potential and thrive.
"To get 5.7 million trees planted, ATP needed a lot of helping hands from people like Angela and her family. The organization’s soon-to-be 25 year history shows us that not only are trees indispensable to our well-being but that there are ways you can afford a living through them as well," adds Papelian.
"Today, more than ever, there is a renewed opportunity to create an Armenia where the people and the environment can coexist in harmony. ATP’s work to help create an Armenia that is clean and green, with a healthy respect for people and the planet, continues stronger than ever as Armenia maps out its new future," concludes Papelian.