By Hana Namrouqa

AMMAN – Environmentalists and activists will go on a solidarity trip next month to Bergesh Forest, the site selected for the construction of a military academy.

The activists are calling for the relocation of the academy, the construction of which could entail uprooting hundreds of centennial trees in one of Jordan’s few forests.

The solidarity trip, organised by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) and the Save Bergesh Forest from Execution Campaign, is one form of objecting to the construction of the project. Over the past five months, activists have held several sit-ins in different locations.

“Participants will come with their families to highlight that Bergesh Forest is one of Jordan’s last remaining breathing spaces. It is another stand against the construction of the project at the expense of our trees,” Omar Shoshan, head of the RSCN’s environmental policies section, told The Jordan Times yesterday.

Construction work on the military academy started in early January but was halted after several environmental NGOs and MPs objected to the site, situated in the heavily wooded Bergesh Forest.

If the project had gone ahead in the original site, located 90 kilometres northwest of the capital in Ajloun Governorate, it would have resulted in the uprooting of 2,200 oak, pistachio, hawthorn and strawberry trees, each over a century old, according to environmentalists.

Following deliberations between the Jordan Armed Forces (JAF) and a Lower House committee probing the academy’s construction, the project was relocated to another site where fewer trees would be cut.

Earlier this month, the JAF issued a statement announcing that the blueprints for the academy had been altered to limit the number of uprooted trees to 200 non-centennial trees.

The statement said that for each uprooted tree, 20 saplings will be planted in the area, and that 2 per cent of the 1,200-dunum area slated for use by the academy includes forest trees and will only be used for training purposes.

“The JAF has worked to ensure that the project does not include any industrial elements that could potentially harm the environment and [the project] meets green building requirements,” added the statement, which was carried by the Jordan News Agency, Petra.

But environmental NGOs, activists, MPs and local residents say they want to avoid cutting down a single tree – pointing to the Kingdom’s rapidly depleting green cover.

Forests constitute less than 1 per cent of the Kingdom’s area, while the green cover in Bergesh stands at 90 per cent, according to the RSCN.

The forest represents an integrated ecosystem that houses over 100 plant species – 13 per cent listed as rare, 4 per cent as locally or internationally threatened and 13 per cent as holding medicinal value.

Shoshan said an alliance of environmental NGOs operating in Jordan will this week send a letter to all decision makers involved in the project, including the JAF, the ministries of environment and agriculture and MPs among others.

“The letter will again clarify our point of view that we don’t oppose the project, but call for its relocation to avoid cutting down Bergesh trees. The letter will remind decision makers of the laws that will be violated if the project continues,” he added.

If the project goes ahead, it will be in clear violation of Article 35, paragraph B of the Agriculture Law, which forbids uprooting, damaging or violating any centennial or rare forest trees and threatened wild plants, according to the RSCN.