Armenia’s state forestry agency reported on Tuesday a sharp increase in the scale of illegal logging in the country, blaming it on the increased cost of natural gas.
Martun Matevosian, director of the Hayantar agency, said some 1,700 trees in various Armenian forests were illegally cut down in the first half of this year, an almost 100 percent increase from the same period of last year.
“This increase in the scale of illegal logging was observed already last fall,” Matevosian told a news conference. “It’s connected with the rise in the price of gas.”
The official said the mostly rural residents living in or close to wooded areas find it increasingly hard to pay for the gas and use firewood for heating and cooking purposes. “We are actively working with law-enforcement structures to identify those engaged in illegal logging,” he added.
Environment protection groups agreed that the illegal destruction of trees across the country is on the rise. But Inga Zarafian of the Ecolur non-governmental organization said that the official figures cited by Matevosian are not credible and that the real scale of logging is higher.
Zarafian and another prominent environmentalist, Hakob Sanasarian, claimed that Hayantar is not doing enough to tackle the problem. Sanasarian said widespread corruption within the state body seriously aggravates it.
According to Hayantar, a total of about 2,500 trees were felled without an official permission in the course of 2010. The figure represents a tenfold decrease from official logging data for 2004.
Speaking to journalists in May, Matevosian attributed the downward trend to the restoration of the national natural gas distribution network, which gained momentum in the early 2000s and is now largely complete. “Pressure on the forests from big cities like, Yerevan, Gyumri and Vanadzor has decreased substantially since 2004,” he said.
The total area of Armenian territory covered by forests has shrunk considerably since a severe energy crisis in the early 1990s which left the country’s population without electricity and central heating. Commercial logging by local firms producing construction materials and furniture has been another contributing factor.
Matevosian claimed in May that Hayantar has planted 12 million new trees and recreated 30,000 hectares of forest since 2004.