by Hana Namrouqa | Dec 17, 2012

AMMAN — Organised timber gangs in the Ajloun and Jerash governorates have chopped down hundreds of trees over the past three months, a government official said on Monday.

The country’s remaining forests are under a “fierce attack” from these gangs, with centennial trees being chopped down and shipped to Amman to adorn fireplaces, according to Mohammad Shorman, head of the forestry directorate at the Ministry of Agriculture.

“The number of illegal logging cases has been on the rise over the past five years, and violators have turned into specialised and organised gangs,” Shorman told The Jordan Times.

The “gangs” are using silent chainsaws, attacking rangers and sometimes setting forest fires to distract them.

“Our concern is not only about the rising number of destroyed trees, but the fact that the violators are becoming gangs, firing live shots at our patrols and even burning our vehicles,” Shorman said.

The timber gangs are also creating new ways to transport the wood without being caught by forest patrols, he added.

“We pulled over a refrigerated truck heading from Salt to Amman 10 days ago and found 2.5 tonnes of wood hidden inside,” the forestry official said, adding that others smuggle wood in trucks covered with cages filled with chickens.

The directorate’s patrols have also seized 15 trucks carrying around 30 tonnes of wood over the past two weeks.

More trees are usually cut down during winter, but this year the number is higher, Shorman said.

“The directorate registered 250 illegal logging cases during November in Ajloun Governorate alone. During the same period last year, we recorded 180 cases,” he highlighted.

Most of the cut down trees are centennial oaks, according to Shorman.

“Oak trees, which are rare, are sought after by the violators because their timber is expensive. Regretfully, one oak tree that is more than 1,000 years old is cut down by a silent chainsaw in 10 minutes and turned into two tonnes of wood,” the official said.

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, and a JD100 fine for each tree chopped down from state-owned land and JD50 for one from private land. In addition, their equipment is confiscated.

Shorman noted that laws and regulations governing illegal logging in Jordan are outdated and need to be revisited.

“The penalties against violators, who walk free most of the time, must be heavier. In addition, we have repeatedly asked for a ban on the import and use of silent chainsaws, unless with a licence, but in vain,” he noted.

Shorman urged the government to increase its support for the forestry department by raising the number of rangers, which currently stands around at 500 personnel.

“The most important step in improving the protection of forests is giving our rangers and patrols the authority to enforce the law rather than just issuing tickets and allow them to carry a weapon to defend themselves,” the forestry official underscored.

Shorman noted that scores of rangers are beaten up by the violators and rushed to hospital, highlighting that forests in Ajloun can be dangerous, especially at night.