By Simona Sikimic
Monday, January 24, 2011

BEIRUT: A Lebanese Army helicopter commenced national reforestation efforts Sunday, spraying pine and oak seeds in the vicinity of the village of Fatri, in the district of Jbeil.

The planting drive is part of President Michel Sleiman’s pledge to make 2011 an “exceptional year for the environment” by reversing the damage done to the nation’s green spaces during the unusually long and dry summer months, which helped fuel a string of forest fires.

A ton of seeds of different varieties was dropped over a 140,000 meter area by the army helicopter.

Fatri, located some 10 kilometers east of Byblos and 45 kilometers north of Beirut, was the site of a vicious December blaze which raged for more than a week, destroying over 150,000 square meters of woodland and causing residents to flee their homes.

Thousands of trees, mainly olive groves and pines, many thought to be over 100 years old, were destroyed in the flames, which proved extremely difficult to tame because of high wind speeds and rough terrain. Six Civil Defense firefighters suffered minor injuries during the incident.

On a visit to Fatri after the fire, Sleiman offered sponsorship to the Lebanon Green Again Organization, which has since pledged to plant trees in over one million square meters across the country.

“Today we plant green to replace the desert and this is important for life renewal and stepping out of the problems we are facing,” said engineer Wissam Baroudi who helped orchestrate the planting. “What is also important is to continue our daily efforts in meeting the minimum of demands, especially in terms of the social and environmental and economic levels, because life does not stop at political crises.”

This is a message of support to all aspects of regeneration in the damaged areas, Baroudi said on Sleiman’s behalf.

The initiative is the first of its kind in Lebanon to bring together government resources and civil society groups for reforestation purposes.

“This is a testament for the healthy Lebanese society that is able to overcome problems,” said Baroudi.

Helicopter planting is seen as a quick and efficient method that helps teams access large, hard to reach areas in a short period of time. The scheme is intended to revive forests lost during the spate of wild fires which ravaged the country in 2010. Around 42 separate incidents are thought to have occurred.

The period from September to mid-December was one of the driest on record with less than a quarter of seasonally-expected precipitation falling during the four months.

Pine trees on average take around 70 years to reach maturity but can live upwards of 1,000 years. They have the highest chance of developing if planted as seedlings after year of maturing at a nursery under carefully monitored conditions. The current spraying, however, is happening at an optimal time of year when the cold temperatures and predicted rainfall are expected to encourage growth and increase the chances of success, event organizers said.