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Feb 14 2013

Jordan's govt urged to approve strategy, new agriculture law to protect forests

By Hana Namrouqa

AMMAN -- Conservationists on Wednesday called on the government to approve an already-formulated national forestry strategy and a new agriculture law that protect forests from further destruction.

The national strategy and the proposed agriculture law were formulated in 2007 by a committee of ecologists, conservationists, legal experts and academics from different sectors, but "never saw the light of day" as they were not given priority and marginalised, the conservationists said during the launch of the "For a Green Jordan" campaign.

"The national strategy and the proposed law must be approved as soon as possible to end violations on our shrinking forests," Omar Shoshan, head of the environmental policies and advocacy department at the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), said.

"Lawmakers must give urgency status to both to stop forests from further degradation," he stressed.

Under the campaign, which seeks to sustain efforts to protect forests, conservationists and legal experts studied and analysed all forest-related laws and regulations, Shoshan noted.

The experts identified several factors that undermine forest protection efforts in the country, including loopholes in the current Agriculture Law and contradictions between it and the Municipalities Law, which give violators more leeway, he added.

"In addition, forest protection has stopped being a government priority since the 1970s, when forests started dwindling," Shoshan charged, noting that greater involvement of local communities near wooded areas and NGOs is required.

Meanwhile, RSCN Director General Yehya Khaled highlighted that the country's forests have witnessed blatant violations this winter, due to the hike in fuel prices.

Noting that rising fuel prices can never be an excuse for cutting down trees, Khaled said that timber gangs were responsible for the increasing violations and not the local communities residing near forest areas.

"There is no need for initiatives to plant new trees if we are not protecting the already existing forests... let's take care of our trees in the first place," Khaled said.

He underscored that although these breaches were serious, they were still not getting the attention of lawmakers.

"The issue must be raised at the Lower House to be addressed with new and stronger laws," Khaled noted.

Mohammad Asfour, chairman of the Jordan Green Building Council, said that forest protection efforts must become institutionalised and sustainable instead of just "reactions".

Challenges threatening forests are numerous, Asfour said, highlighting that urban crawl and building on forested land as well as illegal logging were among the major phenomena jeopardising the country's remaining woodlands.

He underscored that the forestry department at the Ministry of Agriculture must be empowered and given legal and financial independence to confront the rising violations on forest trees.

For his part, the director of the forestry department, Mohammad Shorman, said Jordan's forests, which stand at less than 1 per cent of the total terrain, were dwindling due to climate change and the lack of proper planning on the use of forest lands.

Shorman called on the government to approve an independent forestry and pastures strategy to preserve what remains of the country's trees.

He noted that the department's rangers seized and confiscated more than 52 trucks loaded with trees heading towards Amman between mid-November and mid-January.

© Jordan Times 2013


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