by Hana Namrouqa | Dec 31, 2012

AMMAN — A patrol of rangers from the Ministry of Agriculture’s forestry department has been assaulted while trying to stop illegal loggers from chopping down centennial trees in Ajloun Governorate, the department’s director Mohammad Shorman said on Monday.

The recent assault, which occurred late Saturday night, was the seventh attack against rangers this month, Shorman said.

“Our rangers received a tip about people cutting down trees in Ajloun’s Rasoun village, which is home to very dense forests. As soon as the patrol arrived at the site at midnight, the illegal loggers started throwing rocks at the vehicle,” Shorman told The Jordan Times.

The violators damaged the vehicle and broke its windows, but the rangers were unharmed.

“The rangers were unable to see the offenders because it was very dark in the forest and because they escaped after they damaged the vehicle,” the official noted, adding that the patrol inspected the site and found that the loggers had already cut down ten oak trees around 700 years old.

Violations against the country’s shrinking forests are on the rise, Shorman warned, underscoring that illegal logging is turning into a “lucrative business” in light of weak law enforcement and outdated laws and regulations.

“We have seized and confiscated thirty trucks loaded with wood this month. All of the violators have been referred to court,” he noted.

Earlier this month, Shorman said that illegal loggers had organised themselves into “timber gangs” and were using silent chainsaws to avoid detection by forest patrols.

When discovered, he said at the time, the gangs often assault the rangers, and scores of them have been sent to hospitals after being beaten up by loggers.

To combat this trend, he said, the forestry department needs more than the 500 rangers it currently has, and they need to be armed and given the authority to make arrests, not just issue tickets.

Organised timber gangs in the Ajloun and Jerash governorates have chopped down hundreds of trees over the past three months, Shorman said on Monday, noting that the country’s remaining forests are under “fierce attack” from these gangs, with centennial trees being chopped down and shipped to Amman as firewood.

“People buying wood for their fireplaces share the responsibility for every chopped tree. By continuing to buy wood from the loggers, they are encouraging them to cut down more trees,” he said.

The official urged people to buy their wood either from shops that hold certificates from the Ministry of Agriculture or directly from the ministry’s directorates across the Kingdom.

“People who cooperate with us contribute to our battle against illegal logging and save their money. A tonne of wood from our directorates is sold for JD170-JD180 while illegal loggers sell it for more than JD300,” Shorman noted.

Illegal logging during winter, fires during summer and insufficient rain due to climate change are the main threats to Jordan’s shrinking green cover, estimated at less than 1 per cent of the Kingdom’s terrain, according to experts.

Under environmental regulations, those who cut down forest trees without a licence face a three-month prison term, a JD100 fine for each tree chopped down from state-owned land and a JD50 fine for each one from private land. In addition, their equipment is confiscated.