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 December 20, 2002 

Green New Year?: Restrictions imposed on holiday tree cutting

Hakob Sanasaryan leads the Union of GreensA government official promises that this New Year's Eve Armenians will celebrate around fir trees cut from some place other than their own country.

The growing business of holiday trees and the lingering effects of de-forestation caused by indiscriminate cutting during the severe winters of a decade ago have given nature lovers and ecologists reason to fear for the future of Armenia's evergreens.

According to the order of the Minister of Nature Protection Vardan Aivazyan this year not one conifer will be cut in Armenia's forests, as the forests suffered enough from dark and cold years.

Aivazyan says his office will cooperate with the Yerevan Municipality and Dues Department to protect the trees.

"With our joint efforts we'll try to exclude cutting of fir trees in the territory of the Republic of Armenia as much as possible," Aivazyan says.

The Mayor of Yerevan has joined the campaign to stop the cutting by announcing stricter guidelines for holiday tree selling in the capital.

"This year it will not be allowed to sell fir trees in every street and under each tree," Mayor Robert Nazaryan said. "Every community will have its trade outlet."

Those who violate the ban on cutting will face fines of 150,000 drams (about $260) per tree.

At issue is the concern that holiday festivities are ruining Armenia's forests.

The tradition of starting the new year with a fresh green tree has, in recent years, created a less festive tradition of losing a valuable natural resource.

A garden of green waits to  form Republic Square's holiday treeOr according to the president of the Union of Greens: "This means to start the year with vandalism committed towards nature," says Hakob Sanasaryan.

Officially Armenia's forestland is only 11 percent of the total countryside and activists worry it is incapable of sustaining further cutting.

"The figure is not very precise, as it is 10 years since any serious exploration have been done, while during the last 10 years relatively more trees have been cut than before," says head of the press service of HaiAntar State closed joint stock company Artsrun Pepanyan.

With the permission of HaiAntar, 30,000 and 15,000 pines (the only sort of conifer in Armenia) were cut for celebrations of the 2001 and 2002 New Year.

But concerned environmentalists say these figures are just written on a paper, and only those who cut and sell pine trees know how many trees were actually cut and how many trees were thrown into dust-heaps.

One businessman, who wanted to remain anonymous in order not to harm his further activities, proves the opinion of Sanasaryan with his own experience. He assures that the number of pine trees sold only by him during the last year was 16,000.

Sanasaryan says neither the number nor the quality and age of the trees is being considered in the harvesting for holiday trees.

Mostly 20 to 30 year old pines are being sold at the trade outlets. If taken into account that pines live for 300 years, then the healthiest, fluffiest and youngest trees are being cut. Some only have tops removed, but even that process causes the entire tree to die.

The Union of Greens has implemented an education program aimed at helping teenagers learn the value of trees and to discourage the practice of using destroyed pines for holiday entertainment. The Union encouraged residents to grow their own holiday trees for perpetual use and gave out seeds and growing instruction for that purpose.

The anti-cutting campaigns do not, however, mean that Armenians will celebrate New Year without the smell of young fir trees. As in past years trees will be imported from Georgia, Russia and Karabakh.

But the price of the imports is two to three times higher than native stock. Yerevantsis looking to have a green New Year can expect to pay from about $12-20 for the privilege.


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