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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Juniper Forests At Ziarat

Ziarat valley, situated in the north-east of Balochistan, possesses one of the largest and finest examples of rare forest type i.e. arid juniper forest. This forest is scattered over an area of 50,000 ha. The trees are growing under extremely harsh conditions at elevation ranging from 1 800m to 3000m, in poor soils. The average annual rainfall is 200 to 250mm.
The growing season is 5 to 6 months per year. Growth of juniper is extremely slow, perhaps slowest in the world i.e. only one inch per year. In 100 years, the tree would become only 8 feet high and 3 to 4 inches in diameter. The existing trees are thousands of years old.
Apart from their aesthetic value, the biggest contribution of these forests is their watershed value. These forests absorb the rain and snow and slowly release water throughout the year in the form of springs and karezes in order to sustain the famous fruit orchards of Ziarat district. These fruit orchards give highest per acre annual income in the world, which ranges from Rs. 100,000 to Rs. 500,000 depending upon variety, age of trees, fertility and insect control measures adopted. In order to maintain these orchards on thousands of acres, these juniper forests must be protected.
Due to increasing human and livestock population, there is tremendous pressure on these forests. It has been estimated that one family burns 150 years growth of a juniper tree in one day for cooking their food. Unfortunately, the natural regeneration of juniper forests is diminishing due to lack of fertility in the seed and non-availability of soil on the forest floor. Therefore, total volume of tree consumption by the people dependent on the forests exceeds that of growth. The growing stock is on the decrease day by day. It is imperative to not only conserve the existing juniper forests, but to adopt measures for improvement and restocking of blank areas within the juniper tract. Systematic supply of LPG and building materials on subsidized rates is expected to alleviate pressure on these forests to a great extent.
Unfortunately these beautiful forests has been attacked by a parasite plant called Mistletoe. it is a flowering plant which grows on juniper. The forests in Sasna Mana valley, north of Ziarat valley, has severe infestation of Mistletoe and large number of trees have been killed.
The spread of the parasite is generally from tree to tree through forcibly ejected seeds which can reach to a distance of 1 km. Old trees are more attacked as compared to young ones.
Mistletoe has been reported in USA in the States of Arizona and Minnesota on pines. There is no chemical control available in the world. The only method of control is to remove infested branches or - in severe cases - the whole tree in order to save rest of branches and trees from the mistletoe attack. In the Sasna Mana valley the control operation was carried out from 1979 to 1983 by the Pakistan Forest Institute, Peshawar. During that time 11,000 trees were felled and 14,000 trees were pruned. The disease remained under control for 8 years. Last year the parasite has again erupted and many trees have been killed. The Pakistan Forest Institute scientists have been requested to come for rescue. They are expected shortly and will start control operation from September, 93.
The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has surveyed the forests in 1989 but so far no financial assistance has been provided by it for control of Mistletoe or conservation activities in Juniper forests. The Dutch Government was requested for assistance but they have also declined to help.
Due to their great ecological importance these forests must be saved from all sorts of damages and destruction. Plantation of substitute species such as Arizona cyprus, Gleditsia and Wild almond needs to be undertaken. The juniper natural regeneration which is available in moist nullahs be protected. Legislation for control on juniper damage exists which needs to be enforced strictly. The forest can be developed for recreation for which great opportunities exist. Awareness campaign for arousing the importance of juniper among the local inhabit must be launched as early as possible. The Mistletoe attack is to be kept under control in order to prevent it spread beyond economic level. By adopting these measures it can be expected that we would be able to pass on these living fossils to our future generation.
The conservation and management of these forests requires heavy monetary inputs, which is not possible without foreign donor assistance. In this regard the World Bank has agreed to sponsor the Balochistan Natural Resources Management Project amounting to Rs. 340 million out of this five sub-project programme the share of Ziarat Juniper Forests component would be Rs. 107 million. The project is likely to start next year.
(Contributed by: Chief Conservative, Forest Department, Quetta)
To draw public attention to save Juniper Forests at Ziarat Pakistan Post is issuing a special postage stamp of Rs. 7/- denomination on September 30,1993.