By Atom Markarian
The government, widely blamed by environmentalists for Armenia’s deforestation, approved on Thursday a bill that would impose heavier fines on poaching and destruction of wildlife and urban green areas.
“These are serious sanctions. Implementation of this law will be extremely important for regulating this sphere,” Environment Minister Vartan Ayvazian told reporters, unveiling the draft law to be sent to parliament soon.
The bill contains a list of animals hunting for which is illegal. Each of the endangered species has its own fine tag, with a rare mountain goat being the mostly highly priced. Hunters who are found to have killed one would be fined an equivalent of $6,000.
Hunting for hedgehog would be much less costly: $50. The lowest fine, $10, is set for poaching fish in the ecologically endangered lake Sevan.
The bill also calls for heavier penalties for damage caused to the country’s shrinking forests. Those who cut down a large tree, for example, would be fined $100, while the destruction of a single square meter of green space in Yerevan would be punishable by $400.
Environment protection groups say the government has done little to stop Armenia’s post-Soviet deforestation largely resulting from commercial logging. Only 11 percent of the small country’s territory was covered with forests in 1991. That proportion has since fallen to below 8 percent amid lax government controls and corruption.
The green areas of Yerevan have also shrunk dramatically in recent years. Much of the damage has been caused by the construction of numerous cafes and restaurants inside the main public parks that began in the late 1990s. Many of their owners are senior government officials or their relatives.
Ayvazian admitted that the higher fines could give rise to bribery among government officials issuing hunting permits. He said “strict oversight mechanisms” would be put in place to rule that out.