Friday, November 15, 1996 - (Updated 19 Sep 1997) - Supplement of Nov. 20, 1996
NATIONAL PARKS OF LEBANON
text and photographs by Fareed Abou-Haidar
In the last few years, several National Parks and Reserves have been established in Lebanon to protect significant areas. Lebanese environmental groups played an important role in convincing the government to set aside these areas to be forever protected from development, an action that was long overdue. The National Parks and Reserves are:
Benta'ael: This park in the mountains above Jubail, established during the war, was Lebanon's first. It came into existence thanks to cooperation among the nearby villagers, the owner of the land, and the government. This small park of about two square kilometers protects a mountainous area partly covered with pine and other trees. It may not be significantly different from other areas of Lebanon, but this area is now safe from ever being quarried, bulldozed, or subdivided; a protected slice of Lebanon's landscape. A brochure was put out at the time but seems to be out of print now.
Horsh Ehden: This mountainous area north of Ehden contains a large forest of Cedar of Lebanon that is less well-known than the one above Bsharri. Its survival is no accident; the local residents protected it from destruction during the war years. In addition to cedars, it contains an intact indigenous (original) ecosystem; in other words, it is a sample of Lebanon's forests before they were altered by humans, starting a few thousands years ago. The Reserve includes a rare stand of Cilician Fir growing at the limit of the species' range, the largest natural stand of Cedar of Lebanon, as well as other trees such as High Juniper, Maple and Wild Apple that are rarely seen by Lebanese in other parts of the country during their everyday lives. Fifty-seven plant species in it are found only in Lebanon; thirty of them have Lebanon as part of their names. Other plants were only recently found to include Lebanon in their range. Six new plant species and one butterfly unknown to science were recently found here. Horsh Ehden also protects many animals rarely seen elsewhere in the country: Hedgehog, Squirrel, Porcupine, Jackal, Weasel, Badger, Wild Cat, Hyrax, Cape Hare, and others.
The Reserve was established in 1992, and plans are being made for managing and using it as an education center. Strict regulations already protect the Reserve; these include no grazing, fires, hunting, camping and picnicking (hiking is OK). Plans call for (among other things) replanting damaged areas, building a research center, establishing a rare-plant nursery, guided visits and trail maintenance.
A photo of Horsh Ehden, © Elie Wardini, 1996 (ed.)
Palm Islands: These small islands off Tripoli were set aside as a Reserve in 1992 to protect their unique terrestrial flora, the marine life around the islands, and the migrating birds that stop there on their way elsewhere or that stay there for the winter. In addition, sea turtles, endangered around the world, lay eggs on the beaches, and the extremely rare Mediterranean Monk Seal uses sea caves and shore rocks. As with Horsh Ehden, strict regulations protect the islands, and plans are being made for managing the Reserve. These include a research station, surveys, footpaths for visitors, a botanic garden, among others.
Palm Island was in the news recently; some local politicians tried to pass legislation that would undesignate the Reserve so that they could go ahead with plans to build a hotel and other destructive development on the island. Thanks to the outcry of environmentalists, the plan failed. (Don't laugh; it happened in the U.S. too. In 1996 there were failed attempts by the Congress to trash a large part of the National Park system and give it to private owners.)
The above information was obtained from a booklet on the Reserve put together by Ricardus M. Haber and Myrna Semaan Haber of the Friends of Nature and published by The Committee for Environmental Protection of El-Mina (Tripoli).*
Barouk Cedars: The three Cedar of Lebanon groves of the Shouf area were threatened during the war, and a few trees were cut. As a result, in a no-nonsense move, the local forces of the area fenced off the forest and placed guards and land mines (with warning signs) to keep tree cutters out. After the war, the groves were formally protected. Rania Masri has been conducting research on the cedars there and will be announcing the results in the near future.
In addition, many other parks or reserves were being proposed in 1993. These included:
Ammiq Swamp: I believe this area has been protected since 1993. For years, this rare marsh in the Bequa'a valley was abused by drainage schemes, fires, and unregulated hunting of migratory birds that flew over the area or stopped to feed and rest. The miracle is that there was anything left to protect.
The Cedars: The famous grove above Bsharri is already under some form of protection, but was being proposed for more formal protection. Long abused by, among other things, people wandering all over the forest and eroding the soil, people are now required to stay on designated trails. The forest is off-limits to goats. Cedar seedlings have been planted to eventually replace the old trees, many of which were damaged by a huge snowstorm recently. Five-thousand seedlings were also planted around the forest in 1993 in an attempt to expand its area. The list of woes facing the old trees is too long to include here. Just refer to Rania Masri's article on the Al Mashriq web site at http://www.hiof.no/almashriq/
Wadi Jhannam: A spectacular gorge in a very remote area of North Lebanon.
Qammoua Cedars: A little-known Cedar of Lebanon grove in North Lebanon; the area also includes large juniper trees, survivors of forests that were cut down by the Ottomans and French.
Tannourin Cedars: Cedar trees growing in remote high mountains in the hinterlands of Jubail.
Jaj Cedars: More cedars in the Jubail area.
Tyre Sandy Beach: Thanks to the war in South Lebanon, this stretch of beach between Tyre and the border was unaffected by the resort development that has devastated most of the rest of Lebanon's coastline. Also, being far from large cities and trash dumps, it is relatively unpolluted.
Nahr Ibrahim Gorge: This deep valley south of Jubail has been frequently mentioned in previous articles of LebEnv. In addition to spectacular scenery, it includes many rare plants.
There are many other areas of Lebanon worthy of being protected, places ranging from the famous, such as Wadi Qadisha, to the typical unnamed pine forest in the Meten area east of Beirut. The benefits of National Parks and Reserves are too numerous to include all but include protecting the ecosystems that we all depend on for a meaningful life, ecotourism, and scenic values.
Created 961130 / 98012/bl