Overgrazing is a major cause of forest degradation in Ajara region as in many other parts of Georgia. FLEG II will support forest restoration works in Ajara region. WWF-Caucasus will purchase wooden poles, barbed wire, forest restoration tools and mechanisms and transfer to the Forestry Agency of Ajara (FAA) to contribute to fencing of about 100 ha of degraded forest to protect it from cattle grazing. The actual fencing work will be conducted by the FAA by end of July – August 2015.
Last week Ilia Osepashvili, FLEG II Country Program Coordinator in Georgia visited the potential forest restoration site together with two local rangers. He held a meeting with the residents of village Bodzauri in the town of Khulo, Ajara Autonomous Republic, Georgia, on 5 May 2015.
Main objective of the meeting was to discuss and agree upon the key aspects of forest restoration planned by FLEG II near that village. Fencing should allow rapid natural recovery of the degraded forest stands. It is very important to reach an agreement on the location of the fenced area, in order to avoid blocking of the cattle movement paths and any other restrictions in forest use by the locals.
At the beginning of the meeting, Ilia Osepashvili informed the villagers about FLEGII Program, its scope and main objectives. The ecological and socio-economic importance of forest restoration was also explained. Mr. Renar Bolkvadze, the Director of Khulo Forest Administration, described the planned location of the forest restoration site in detail and emphasized, that socio-economic interests of the locals would be duly considered. This also includes the employment of the community members in forest restoration (fencing and protection) works.
After the introduction, active discussion followed. The locals emphasized that they strongly support the idea of forest restoration. They understand negative consequences (such as soil erosion) which deforestation and forest degradation may cause in the area. They agree that cattle grazing and, to some extent logging, had contributed to the diminishing of forest cover. The elderly villager, Mr. Shio Shantadze, said: “We strongly support forest restoration activity near our village; there was a good natural forest here in the past; we want this forest to be restored and will support WWF in these efforts”. The only request made by the villagers was not to block major cattle moving corridor. This corridor is used by community for moving their cattle from the winter (in lowlands) to the summer (in uplands) pastures. It is located in the vicinity of potential forest restoration site. As long as this request is fulfilled, no further obstacles would exist to the forest restoration.
Another issue is the vigorous growth of rhododendron in the southern part of the potential forest restoration site. All open areas within the forest canopy are occupied by dense rhododendron cover. Natural regeneration of forest is not possible in these areas, because the dense cover of rhododendron will not allow the tree seeds to reach the soil and germinate. The removal of rhododendron, planting forest tree seedlings and aftercare, would be very costly.
In these circumstances, a possible solution would be to shift the restoration site northwards, to incorporate openings in the forest canopy, which have not been taken over by rhododendron yet. This will need additional surveys, queries and planning, in order to ensure that the new areas: a) will not block cattle movement corridor and b) belong to the state forest fund. These surveys will be conducted within the next few weeks. Potential additional reforestation sites will also be explored in Ajara.
Activity is conducted in the framework of The “ENPI East Countries FLEG II Program – Complementary Measures for Georgia and Armenia”, supported by the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) with funds of Austrian Development Cooperation,supports Georgia and Armenia in strengthening forest governance through improving implementation of relevant international processes, enhancing their forest policy, legislation and institutional arrangements, and developing, testing and evaluating sustainable forest management models at the local level on a pilot basis for future replication. Program complements the on-going ENPI East Countries FLEG II Program, funded by the European Commission in seven countries, including Armenia and Georgia.