My Journal for Botanical Trip to Hyrcania

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My Journal for Botanical Trip to Hyrcania;
Siah Roudbar, Katoul, Golestan, Iran | June 2017 | Shayan Ghiaseddin

Forest has found its silence; the silence with bird’s singing in background. I just saw a boulder under the Large-leaved Lime tree. I’m going to sit on that to meditate for minutes, as our tour guide asked. My classmate has found a sunspot to sit. Some small rays of sunshine pass through broad-leaves of forest. There are some dancing and floating yellow leaves, falling down from English Yew by breeze. We are pleased to see and feel an original landscape of Hyrcanian Forest, in a botanical trip to English Yew reservoir of “Pooneh Aram.”

This is my second trip to Katoul region of Golestan province, Iran. I had visited the Thuja reservoir and English Yew reservoir of Afratakhteh, in October 2016 with another group of classmates. This botanical trip is a part of eco-tour guides’ education followed by theoretical trainings. In response to growing demand of Iranian nature tourism, this short-term eco-tour guiding courses has recognized by Iranian government, “Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Organization” since 2002.

I’ve recently received my certificate of completion in eco-tour guiding course from “Avaye Tabiat Paydar” institute. In spite of being a tour guide, I just want to learn about ecology and nature of my country, Iran. Sometimes I remember my trips before passing this course, which didn’t have any purpose than having fun. I guess my behavior has been changed, as a consequence of changes in knowledge, values, and attitudes. Now I understand why we, travelers are responsible for environment, how to take action, and where to stop damages. It is amazing as I can watch the process of changing attitudes in fresh students of eco-tour guiding course.

We are finally getting off. After twelve hours of traveling by train and minibus, we are eager for lectures of botany teacher, Mr. Bahram Zehzad. He is working in this field for several years. He is kindly describing properties, applications, and keys for identification for each living plant in the region. He told the story of his interest in botany, inherited from his teacher in agriculture faculty about 30 years ago. Similarly, my classmates will describe Hyrcanian plants as a tour guide for tourists to raise their interests. Whether or not, conservation and responsibility will be emerged from awareness and interest. So we can consider eco-tour guides as a frontier of conservation, who can help to reduce negative effects of tourism and boost responsible actions. However there is a question, if raising awareness is enough for rescuing Hyrcanian Forest.

Having a total area of 1.85ha in south and southwest of Caspian Sea, the Hyrcanian Forest is located in Iran and Azerbaijan. It has unique features in flora including conifers and broadleaved and Mediterranean plants, spread from zero to 5671m altitude. Although they haven’t agreed on terms, Iranian and Azerbaijani governments are trying to submit Hyrcania as a heritage of Tertiary period in UNESCO. In Iran, conservation projects are in-progress, performed by both Department of Environment and related NGOs.

Unfortunately, the study of “The Atlas of Global Conservation” has demonstrated that the habitat loss in Hyrcania has risen from %51.0 on 2000 to %57.6 on 2009 . Recently, the Department of Environment succeed to get parliament approve the bill: “10 years interval for exploitation in the Hyrcanian Forest.” This rule will ban every kind of exploitation in Hyrcanian Forest from 2020 to 2029. Actually, the bill was a part of “the 6th Five-year Development Plan” which postponed for four years by lobby of wood industry. But the crisis in Hyrcanian Forest is too complicated to solve by a policy in top-level.

Masoudi family in Siah Roudbar County are our host, at night. Farhad, the son of Masoudis is a ranger who helped us in the forest. The father has stopped wood cutting and predation many years ago and started making packsaddles. He told us how he was pushed by poverty to gather firewood in cold winters to survive his family. Most people of Hyrcania are farmer or rancher. Plains beside the sea are occupied by rice and tea farms. Animal husbandry is more interested in high altitude areas. Fishery farms are working on rivers in every valley of Alborz mountains. Construction is a popular career in big and small cities, near the sea, and even in depth of forest. There are four roads connecting capital, Tehran to the north, that indicating Iranian “mass tourism” on weekends. After all wood cutting is a part of crisis in the region. Farhad said, marking trees for wood cutting has stopped after approval of the bill, 10 years interval. Now wood cutter can only cut already marked or dead trees. Even if illegal wood cutters and wood smugglers stop their action, people have to change their career. However, common careers in the region are agriculture, husbandry, fishery, and construction, still have negative effect on environment.

In this situation, experts and academics in conservation are proposing disciplines on sustainable development to follow by government and society. Avaye Tabiate Paydar is an institute in Tehran, active in educating eco-tour guides and implementing projects related to natural resources, environment, local people, and handicrafts. Managers, staffs, and volunteers of this institute believe that all the rules, plans, and projects must be implemented considering disciplines of sustainable development. Rather than classic definition of sustainable development, this idea has emerged in an applicable way in Masoudi family. Farhad got wood smugglers to stop their illegal actions via negotiation courses. He is also working on his idea about tourism in Siah Roudbar. In the latest moments of our visit in Pooneh Aram, he introduced his idea about propagating and planting English Yew by tourists; so they would always remember that they have an English Yew named after them, somewhere on planet earth.
Still sitting on a boulder, I’m taking a deep breath of oxygen in pristine forest. It is a really tall Lime tree, I leaned on. There’s no need to be critically endangered like English Yew for a specie to be considered important and beautiful. Lime, Acer, Alder, Oak, and other trees are beautiful. There are some spot-zones full of English Yew, still living in Katoul region on Golestan, Iran. As they are protected carefully by Iranian rangers, other species can survive there too. Now, it’s time to go back to Tehran. Here in this botanical trip, we have divided into 3-person teams and we have identified and sampled over 30 species. As I witnessed the process of leaf-samples gathering –obsessed with not harming the trees– I believed my classmates will take actions on responsible and sustainable tourism. This generation of tour guides can solve many problems case by case, as they bring their joy and awareness to the society.

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