Georgian authorities are developing a plan based on FLEG II reports to stamp out forest pests and diseases
Two reports issued, new areas examined, action plans being devised… The Forest Law Enforcement and Governance Program (FLEG II) and the Georgian forestry authorities are putting together their efforts to eradicate a real threat to forest ecosystems: forest pests and diseases.
It all started in 2009, when the first distinct signs of boxwood forest degradation were detected. The situation worsened when a box blight broke out in some protected areas of the country. This new disease – caused by a dangerous invasive insect species called Calonectria preudonaviculata – caught the Agency of Protected Areas (APA) unprepared.
“In 2014, APA contacted me as the IUCN FLEG Coordinator in Tbilisi for help” said Marika Kavtarishvili, FLEG II Country Program Coordinator for IUCN in Georgia, “The authorities lacked specialists in forest pathologies and could not adequately address this pandemic. For this reason, they turned to IUCN and we began a very fruitful collaboration to stem the spread of the disease, also thanks to our expertise and international network of contacts”.
A significant relationship with APA was developed and this collaboration helped APA to better face this challenge. Together APA and FLEG II were able to build a strategy that led them to Dr. Iryna Matsiakh, Assistant at the Forestry Department of the Ukrainian National Forestry University in Lviv. Dr. Matsiakh is a specialist in pest management and forest pathology, and conducted several field trips in three areas under APA’s management. These areas are Mtirala National Park, Kintrishi Protected Areas and Ajameti Managed Reserve. The samples collected on spot by Dr. Matsiakh were then analysed in laboratory.
Following this successful cooperation, Mr. Tornike Gvazava, Head of the National Forestry Agency (NFA) and FLEG II Focal Point in Georgia, asked the FLEG II team to undertake another series of field research in areas under the jurisdiction of the NFA. Thus, in summer and autumn 2015, Dr. Matsiakh carried out the same sort of investigations and analysis in five regions under the NFA control affected by box blight, i.e. Samegrelo-upper Svaneti, Kakheti, Guria, Imereti and Racha-Lechkhumi Lower Svaneti, as well as in Ajara Autonomous Republic.
“We were not fully aware of the gravity of the spread of pests and diseases in our forests” said Ms. Natia Iordanishvili, Head of the Forest Protection and Reforestation Department of NFA, “FLEG II made available to us a great amount of information which is indispensable to proceed with the next steps”.
The collaboration between FLEG II and the agencies APA and NFA resulted in the publication of two ground-breaking studies, Assessment of Forest Pests and Diseases in Protected Areas of Georgia and Assessment of Forest Pests and Diseases in Native Boxwood Forests of Georgia.
The outcomes of the studies provided a solid foundation on which to build a national plan to stamp out forest pests and diseases. The plan outlines specific activities to be implemented in 2016-17 and will soon be submitted to the Georgian government for approval.
In spite of the numerous challenges, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Protection of Georgia (MoENRP) has devised a strategy to intervene in the areas at risk needing special treatments. Upon FLEG’s input, the MoENRP is now seeking funds to establish a Ministry-owned laboratory. Another key action undertaken by the MoENRP is the launch of the video campaign “Save the Box Tree”, aimed to prevent the heavy harvesting of boxwood by the population during Easter time1.
The eradication of invasive species threatening forest ecosystems is a difficult goal to achieve. The protection and conservation of boxwood requires a series of joint actions, from laboratory analysis to preventive forest management practices.
“The path to save boxwood is long and winding, but of course, FLEG II will remain a key partner in this process” said Ms. Kavtarishvili.
Links to the campaign “Save the Box Tree”:
1 In Georgian culture, boxwood is considered a sacred tree and its branches are collected and sold in occasion of Palm Sunday, a Christian feast that falls on the Sunday before Easter. Every year, this tradition leads to the cutting of a great amount of boxwood, whose transport favours the spread of the blight.