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Rehabilitation of arid areas in Turkey

Based on a paper submitted to the 11th Congress of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations

by FRANZ HESKE, Professor at Hamburg and Istanbul Universities

Natural distribution of high forest in Asia Minor is restricted to the coastal areas under the influence of wet sea winds. The interior is, and always has been, a treeless natural steppe where even salt efflorescence occurs as a result of seriously decreased precipitation.

The steppe conditions of the interior are induced by the topography, in that the high mountain ranges frequently, and particularly in the north and the south, run parallel to the coast and so intercept much of the moisture from the sea. This is also reflected in the forest cover on those mountains and its composition. On the windward side, the forest is fresh and essentially humid, while on the leeward side it is markedly dry. This is particularly noticeable in the coastal mountains along the Black Sea.

Transition from the natural woodlands on the coast to the natural steppeland of the interior is gradual. The forest proper is restricted increasingly to the higher altitudes (hill top and ridge) according to the distance from the coast. It thus tends also to come closer to the timberline and meet the limits of alpine vegetation so that the forest is limited to a diminishing space.

Naturally, transition from forest to steppe is not abrupt, but extremely gradual. Drought-tolerant species gain the upper hand, stand density declines and over large areas the forest steppe becomes dominant, with open stands of trees and shrubs singly or in groups, until at length the last stunted outposts of the woods give way to treeless grassland.

This primeval landscape and plant association have, in the course of the long history of the region, been considerably modified by the hand of man.

Uncontrolled land use, particularly in the more heavily populated areas, relentless exploitation of the forest even to the final uprooting of tree stumps, particularly for fuel and charcoal, as well as incessant forest grazing, especially by goats, sheep and camels, have led to widespread deforestation. Wars and constant migrations, as well as heavy shipbuilding needs throughout the centuries, have been conducive to the destruction of the forest. As a result, the wooded area has declined to some 10-11 million hectares, of which only some 3-3 ½ million hectares can be regarded as woodland in the accepted sense of the term. The rest is poor scrub at various stages of degradation. With the enormously rapid increase in population and the ever greater devastation of the forest due to the continuance on an extensive scale of primitive land use practices, it must be reckoned that the forest in Asia Minor may disappear completely within the next 25 or 30 years.

Results of forest destruction

Destruction of the forest has been generally speaking, catastrophic for the whole region. Intense soil erosion due to uncontrolled runoff and top soil removal by water in the mountains, and wind in the devastated forest steppe, is already a feature of the Asia Minor landscape. As a result of almost ceaseless clearcutting and uprooting in the forest steppe, the original protective windbreak has disappeared; dry continental winds have unrestricted access, with a consequent exceptionally high rate of evaporation and these accentuate considerably the arid character of the area with its already relatively low rainfall. In consequence, there is a rapid farming-out of the steppe toward the coastal areas; the dessication of the land and its conversion into steppe proceeds apace as a result of the combined force of these destructive factors.

Soil erosion and unimpeded runoff, due to the destruction of mountain forest, have had an adverse effect on the streamflow of the large Anatolian rivers. Catastrophic flood regularly alternates with periods of low water and dry river beds. Fertile valley bottoms are covered over with sterile sand and debris, and millions of tons of the most fertile soil are lost every year.

In view of the increase in population, such a progressive lowering of the production potential must be regarded as quite disastrous. It is also noteworthy that Anatolia, together with many other parts of the Near East with similar conditions, used originally to be very fertile and was known as one of the granaries of the Old World. The present condition of these areas, with the increasing drop in production potential combined with misuse of the land and the poverty and backwardness of large sections of the population, is largely the fault of man.

Economic and social rehabilitation of the Near East presupposes reclamation of those areas degraded by man as an essential prerequisite to more intensive land use. Restoration of the biological-ecological balance is essential if the land is to be properly watered, since thereby runoff and unnecessary evaporation can be reduced over wide areas, and, as a consequence, a maximum part of the rainfall can be made available for plant production for the use of man and beast. In the absence of glaciers and permanent snow fields, the maximum utilization of precipitation is of vital importance. Irrigation works and artificial reservoirs alone cannot solve the problem any more than can the mere utilization of ground water.

Such constructive improvement is not only a decisive element in the fight against hunger and poverty in the areas in question, but also a matter of international significance in the light of the growing between population increase and food availability throughout the world.

Forestry measures required

The following forestry measures are of outstanding importance in the restoration of the biological-ecological balance:

1. General recognition in principle of the prime importance of the forest as a promoter of well-being as against its importance as a source of raw materials. In areas such as the Near East and Anatolia the indirect benefits of the forest are of major significance.

2. As the destruction of the forest is an automatic result of primitive land use practices and uncontrolled occupation of land, it cannot be remedied merely by legislation. What is required is a plan for the complete change of land use practices supplemented by land settlement arrangements. The growing pressure of the rapidly increasing population and the industrialization trend make this particularly urgent.

3. Drought control by biological means, systematic soil erosion control, the prohibition of nomadic stock raising, steppe-forest regeneration projects and the introduction of intensive soil conservation measures on selected plots of steppeland protected from the wind, are important parts of such a program. This is not a program which can be carried out piecemeal; it requires broadly planned integration of all the essential measures to be taken Integration is necessary because land use reform has a vital impact on the way of life of rural populations and will consequently affect all the major social and economic sectors of national life. Finally, integration is necessary because land use practices must be synchronized with the progress of the country in other fields. This aim can only be achieved by means of a national plan for forest conservation, drought control and land settlement.

4. The purely forestry items of such a national program include: strict forest conservation in all those parts of the country that are important primarily for agriculture from the standpoint of the beneficial effects of their forests; reforestation of denuded true forest land with priority for areas threatened by erosion; systematic reclamation of water-eroded land; systematic planting of shelterbelts in the Anatolian steppe, giving priority to the original forested steppe that has become arid steppe through the destruction of the stands by man; intensification of agriculture in such reclaimed steppeland, with a view to fodder production, the introduction of stall feeding and with it the production of manure, and the resultant lessening of pressure on the forest range. The conversion of the now treeless steppe into wind-protected copse land will solve the fuel problem in these parts; and it may also prove possible to burn dried cattle dung instead of using it as manure. In line with this extensive reclamation of the man-made Anatolian steppeland, the internal land settlement measures mentioned above should be introduced to ease population pressure by diverting it to the newly opened-up land.

Action being taken

Such a comprehensive program has been developed in Turkey with the encouragement and support of the Turkish Government. A research institute for the study of forest geography in the Near East and its attendant economic problems has been set up at the University of Istanbul. The institute's main task is the scientific study and devising of forest practices for arid regions. The head of this institute also occupies a chair recently created at the University for the purpose of giving instruction to students in all matters appertaining to the program. Classes and examinations in the field of forest economics have been made compulsory in the University curriculum. Translations of specialized and scientific literature bearing on the Near East are being prepared in Turkish and one widely used language. These are to be published by, the Scientific Publications Department of the University of Istanbul's Forestry School. Experimental plots for steppeland afforestation have been laid out in suitable parts of the Anatolian steppe; their main purpose is to help determine the most suitable tree and bush species for planting as windbreaks on the Asia Minor steppe and the best planting techniques. Contacts have already been made and exchange of experience effected with the forest authorities of research institutes of other Near East countries.

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