By Armine Tokhmakhyan andJason Sohigian
YEREVAN—The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has been publishing its “Red List of Threatened Species” since 1963. The IUCN is the world’s main authority on the conservation status of plant and animal species, and the Red List is published periodically as the most comprehensive inventory available. A series of regional Red Lists are produced by countries and organizations to assess the risk of extinction to species within a smaller geographic area.
The Ministry of Nature Protection released its own two-volume “Red Book of Plants and Animals of the Republic of Armenia” in 2010. “The country’s attractiveness and public welfare are directly linked with the splendor and richness of its natural heritage,” writes Aram Harutyunyan, Armenia’s minister of nature protection, in the preface to the publication. “The production of the Red Book is another step forward in the preservation and recovery of the region’s biodiversity.”
There are approximately 3,600 plant species in Armenia, and 123 are endemic or found nowhere else on the planet. According to the authors, these plants may become endangered because of a number of influences including deforestation, the overuse of resources like water, and development of land that provides habitats for plants and animals. The new Red Book includes information about 452 plant and 40 fungus species that are rare, along with information on 223 plant species that are in danger of extinction.
“In response to the concern over the loss of native plants,Armenia Tree Projecthas a policy of growing only indigenous trees in its three nurseries,” explained Samvel Ghandilyan, ATP’s Nursery Program manager. The only exception to this is “naturalized” trees, which were introduced long ago, have not been observed to have a negative impact on the local ecosystem, and provide an added benefit of food security (fruit and nut trees).
“An ecosystem is a community of plants, animals, and smaller organisms that live, feed, and interact within the same physical components of an area or environment, including the soil, water, and sunlight. When you introduce plant species that are not native to the area, there is a risk that the local ecosystem will be negatively affected, creating a less suitable environment for local species,” Ghandilyan added. “In recent years we’ve noticed that many native species that comprise our local ecosystem have either vanished or drastically reduced in numbers. Native and naturalized species possess certain traits that make them more likely to thrive under local conditions without negative impacts, which is why ATP has made this a priority in our nursery and tree planting programs.”
“ATP started to pay special attention to the propagation of endangered species of plants at our nursery in Karin. These include nine trees and shrubs that are registered as rare in the Red Book, and two that are in danger of extinction,” Ghandilyan said. “These are Alpine Maple or Acer Thrautvetteri, and Halfsphere Rose or Rosa Gaenuspherica.”
“Our nurseries serve the communities of Armenia by providing fruit and decorative trees to more than 900 planting sites,” explained Areg Maghakian, ATP’s deputy director of operations. “As a result of this work, we will soon be able to observe some of the species included in the Red Book in the parks, churches, and schools throughout Armenia.”
ATP’s next ambitious initiative is the restoration of Armenian Heritage Fruit Trees. In the past, Armenia had numerous varieties of apple, peach, and apricot trees. These fruit trees are now rare and measures are being taken to preserve the heritage trees from disappearance.
“Last year we started to produce Heritage Fruit Trees at ATP’s Karin and Khachpar nurseries,” Maghakian said. “In 2010, we successfully grafted Parvana and Shaqareni apple, Malacha and Dzmernuk pear, and Yerevani and Sateni apricot trees, which will be delivered to community planting sites in coming years. As part of our mission to re-green Armenia, ATP has a commitment to preserve our precious biodiversity by planting native and endangered trees all over the country.”
ATP’s mission is to assist the Armenian people in using trees to improve their standard of living and protect the environment, guided by the need to promote self-sufficiency, aid those with the fewest resources first, and conserve the indigenous ecosystem. ATP’s three major programs are tree planting, environmental education, and sustainable development initiatives. For more information about ATP, visit www.armeniatree.org.