Friday, January 9, 1998
LebEnv # 45
500-SQUARE KILOMETER PRESERVE ESTABLISHED
by Fareed Abou-Haidar
Happy New Year! I will start this new year with the
unbelievably good news that appeared in a recent article, written by
Peter Speetjens, on The Daily Star's web site
(http://www.dailystar.com.lb/). In March 1997, a vast area of the
Shouf Mountains was protected as a nature reserve. It covers an area
of 500 square kilometers (that's not a typo with two extra zeros;
that's five hundred, five percent of Lebanon's area!) and stretches
from the Damascus highway to Jezzine and covers most land above an
elevation of 1000 meters, including the three cedar of Lebanon forests
of the area. (One is currently open, with the others to follow in a
couple of years.) The following photos show three views, taken in
1990, of areas that are now presumably protected by the preserve. The Nabi Ayyoub area,
from Nabi Ayyoub, and Pine forest near Ain
Unlike the rest of Lebanon where the hunting ban has been violated, here hunting is strictly banned by 12 rangers armed with guns, radios, and the authority to fine and/or arrest violators who also get registered on a data base. (That's more rangers per unit area than most American national parks!) In just the seven months that the reserve has been in existence, animals that the vast majority of people do not even know exist in Lebanon have made a comeback. These include gazelles, lynx, boars, river otters (in the Barouk river), jackals, foxes, hyenas, and badgers, as well as griffin vultures and other birds. The Nubian ibex will be reintroduced.
Even wolves have returned, an impressive feat considering that their brethren in the U.S. were eliminated from most of that huge country and were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park only after fierce resistance by ranchers, and after millions of dollars were spent. Despite the huge fires that swept through the park several years ago, visitation to Yellowstone has increased, thanks in part to people who would travel hundreds of miles for a chance to see or even hear a wolf, whose howl is the symbol of unspoiled wilderness.
The preserve, along with the older preserves of Horsh Ehden and Palm Islands (1992), are now part of the five-year Protected Areas Project, now in its second year, that is being carried out by Lebanon (Ministry of the Environment) in cooperation with the IUCN-World Conservation Union.
The Shouf nature reserve is managed by Assad Adel Serhal, a prominent environmentalist (whom I got to know during my 1993 trip to Lebanon). He will do an excellent job of managing this new jewel of Lebanon. A visitors' center will be built within two years. The Ammiq swamp in the Bequa'a Valley is expected to become a reserve soon.
While the primary reason for such nature reserves is to protect natural ecosystems, the tourist potential should not be overlooked. When it comes to tourism, Lebanon has relied almost exclusively on tourists interested in seeing historical sites and/or engaging in activities such as sunbathing, eating out, and night-clubbing. Eco-tourism based on seeing animals and birds in wild areas and hiking remote trails in spectacular natural scenery will attract an entirely different kind of traveler (the kind who will go to the rain forests of Costa Rica rather than the beaten track in Paris or Rome) and and will greatly benefit Lebanon.
Although some five percent of the country for one reserve, not to mention the others, is a very impressive figure indeed, a lot remains to be done. Spectacular areas remain threatened by various kinds of development and other abuse, including overgrazing. The following areas come to mind: Nahr Ibrahim (Adonis River) gorge, Qadisha gorge, the Stone (Umbrella) pine forests of the Meten area, the karst limestone area of the Keserwan.
And let's hope that the government will be generous in financing the preserves well into the future, the operating costs of which will be a tiny fraction of the money spent on building highways and other development.
More good news in two weeks!
Fareed's Home Page (with articles and photos on the environment in Lebanon) at http://members.aol.com/fdadlion/