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Activists Protest Jordan Army Uprooting Bergesh Trees

A controversy over cutting down centennial trees to pave the way for building a military academy in one of Jordan’s shrinking forests is taking center stage once again.

Environmental NGOs and activists held an emergency meeting Saturday to halt what they called an illegal chopping of trees by the Jordan Armed Forces in Bergesh forest, near the city of Ajloun – some 90kms north west of Amman.

Taqaddam, an activist platform, launched an online petition – collecting signatures from supporters, and held Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour responsible for the attacks on environment and demanded that perpetrators be held accountable under Jordanian laws.

Other planned activities for the week, according to Safa’ Al Jayyousi, a regional manager at Greenpeace, an advocacy organization, includes a sit-in at the site where more than 2,000 trees were uprooted recently.

“Cutting down trees is a flagrant violation of the laws and we will escalate our measures to save the forest,” Ms. Jayyousi told The Wall Street Journal. “We demand an investigation.”

The Jordanian army, however, denied having indulged in such activities. It said in a statement the uprooted trees were the ones damaged by storm Alexa that swept the region last winter and that the army will plant hundreds of trees instead. It also said the military academy will be built on the outskirts of the forest.

But that was not the case when Greenpeace visited the site. Ms. Jayyousi said the area where the trees were uprooted was barbed with wires and that she was denied access to it because it was a “military zone.”

In 2011, JAF announced plans to build the academy. The project then entailed uprooting 2,200 trees. But bowing to pressure from a green movement, activists and protestors, the army adjusted it plants to cut down a few hundred trees instead before the project was halted temporarily.

The debate, however, emerged to the forefront last week, after a Jordanian website reported that bulldozers started uprooting hundreds of trees and prevented forest employees from entering the site.

Less than 1% of the country is covered by forest, mostly in Bergesh – virtually the last area that has an intact ecosystem.

The forest is home to over 100 plant species — 13% listed as rare, 4% as locally or internationally threatened and 13% as holding medicinal value, according to the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature.

Jordanian laws prevent chopping trees without the approval of the ministry of agriculture. The penalties include a $750 penalty for each centennial tree and a three-year prison term.

Batir Wardam, a blogger and environmental activist, said the campaign against the project is not driven by political motives. “But we want rule of law to prevail.”

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(via WSJ Blogs)