Forested lands of Turkey have increased by 177,000 hectares in one year with the rehabilitation of decayed forests and new planting work. Nongovernmental organizations, in the meantime, warn against wildfire threat and recommend better rehabilitation and restoration…
As urban settlements grow and big cities turn into concrete jungles, Turkey adheres to its longstanding policy of increasing the size of forests. Forestation efforts gained new momentum in recent years with the country devoting a special day to planting new saplings, mobilizing the public in this green endeavor. Last year alone, the size of forests reached 23.1 million hectares (57 million acres), with an additional 177,000 hectares planted. Nevertheless, wildfires aggravated by the ongoing climate crisis pose a dire threat to the efforts. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) made a series of recommendations to the government on the occasion of Forestry Week marked this week for better rehabilitation of burned areas and forestation strategies.
The Directorate General of Forestry, a subsidiary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, spearheads the forestation efforts. In 2021, the directorate undertook maintenance of areas covering about 853,000 hectares, rehabilitating forests and replacing decaying trees with new saplings. Their work adds to consistency in the government’s policy of improving the forests and increasing their size. Data shows that Turkey had 20.1 million hectares of forests in 1973, an area that exceeded 22.6 million hectares in 2018. Now, the government plans to increase it to at least 23.5 million hectares within the next two years.
Forests are everywhere, from the barren lands of the southeast to the rainy terrain of the Black Sea region, while more than 94% are groves and the rest are coppices. According to official data, the volume of planted trees between 1973 and 2020 increased by 786 million cubic meters (28 billion cubic feet). Red pine, black pine, yellow pine, fir, spruce and cedar make up 60% of forests while the rest are oak, beech, alder, chestnut and hornbeams.
Last year, the country spent more than $14.2 million (TL 211 million) on the maintenance of forests, from pruning to preservation. Another TL 216 million was spent on forest restoration.
World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) Turkey and NATURA Association for Conversation of Nature and Culture say Turkey should revise its approach to forest fires at a time of changing climate and social conditions and adopt preventive measures to preserve its forests. On Monday the two organizations released a joint report on the issue focusing on the large fires that gutted forests in the country’s Mediterranean region.
WWF Turkey director Aslı Pasinli said in an online event to introduce the report that Turkey fought the biggest forest fires in its history last year and lost the same number of forests in 10 days as it did over two decades.
Dr. Sedat Kalem, WWF Turkey Conservation director says forest fires are “manageable” in Turkey, a Mediterranean country. The region is more susceptible to fires compared to other regions of Turkey, especially due to high summer temperatures. Kalem says Turkey lost up to 8,000 hectares of forests in the past two decades, in nearly 3,000 fires of different sizes.
“Last year, about 150,000 hectares of forests burned. The fires were in 54 provinces, not just in the Mediterranean region. But majority of fires were in Antalya and Muğla (in the Mediterranean region). We had 16 ‘mega fires.’ This can be an exception as it is a great number, an exception caused by climate conditions or other factors. What matters now is to prevent it from repeating every year,” he said.
Kalem urged authorities to review several practices like growing timber production, especially in the aftermath of “wave of forest fires” in 2021. “In light of current climate and social facts, we have to prioritize conservation, concentrated on ecosystem, rather than timber production,” he said.
NATURA’s director Dr. Okan Ürker highlights the need to plan the renovation of burned forests. “Plants that grew rapidly by themselves in the burned areas give us clues about the natural regeneration potential of an ecosystem. We have to take inspiration from this potential. Instead of intensive forest ‘engineering,’ we have to opt for natural restoration methods,” he says.
Professor Çağatay Tavşanoğlu, a biology expert from Hacettepe University, said at the same event that fires caused evolution in Mediterranean forests, which have regeneration potential but urged caution in the restoration of forests.
“We see heavy equipment used in rearranging the soil for forestation. This may harm the soil and affect biodiversity and might be damaging for blooming plants. Planting the forests with a single type of tree can also make them more fragile against external factors. If natural regeneration takes place in burned areas, the intervention should be reduced and if the need arises, additional seeds can be planted. Diversification of habitat in restored forests helps the ecosystem become more resilient in the face of climate change,” he said.