Jordanian forests are in danger, and so are their rangers

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AMMAN — Forests and green spaces are protected by rangers belonging to the Forestry Directorate of the Ministry of Agriculture and inspectors of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), many of whom are subjected to attacks by illegal loggers, including being shot at.اضافة اعلان

I was shot by illegal loggers more than once,” said a ranger who works for the Forestry Directorate in the Northern Jordan Valley and preferred anonymity.

He urged intensified cooperation with the environmental police to secure greater protection for rangers.

“The absence of directorate patrols in the region, in many cases, makes us more vulnerable to attacks,” he said, adding: “No serious legal action was taken against some of the aggressors who were arrested; they were only fined and made to sign a pledge”.

The ranger complained about the long working hours and the small number of rangers in the area where he works, with two having to cover an area of 500 dunums per day.

The Ministry of Agriculture does not provide motorcycles, so “rangers use their own,” he said.

A forest ranger is an employee who enjoys the capacity of judicial police and who carries out inspections, monitors forests or reserves, and protects them from any violations regarding trees, such as cutting, sabotaging, or hunting endangered animals, said RSCN Protected Areas Manager Othman Altawalbeh.

“The number of RSCN inspectors ranges from 80 to 90,” he said, adding: “Rangers and inspectors are exposed to many threats or attacks while doing their work. For example, as they go out on tours to protect their work areas, they may be subjected to physical or verbal abuse by lumberjacks, or hunters. Sometimes they are shot at or attacked with white weapons.”

Jordanian law protects employees during their work in the event of any assault, he said, adding that “as soon as the perpetrators are arrested, legal measures are taken against them”.

At the same time, “citizen’s awareness is very important, and is an integral part of maintaining security and reducing crimes and attacks”, he stressed.

It is important to partner with the Environmental Police during inspection tours, “to secure the necessary protection for rangers, especially in dangerous places, like, in the Anjara and Ajloun regions, where there are dangerous gangs, and people with criminal records”, said Altawalbeh.

With forests and green spaces declining — the forest areas are currently less than 1 percent of the total area of Jordan — and climate change affecting the forest wealth and plant diversity in Jordan in a negative way, he stressed the need to protect green spaces through “intensified efforts among the responsible authorities, with a focus on citizen awareness of their importance”.

The entire Forestry Directorate personnel ranges between 1,000 and 1,200; 600–700 of them are rangers, distributed in all governorates, covering almost one million dunums of forest areas, said Khaled Al-Qudah, director of the Forestry Directorate.

The Ministry of Agriculture tried to recruit more rangers, but with the advent of COVID-19, “the process was stopped, and so far, no new rangers have been appointed”.

When rangers are attacked, an official complaint is submitted to the administrative governor or the judge in the region to take the necessary measures against the aggressor, Qudah said.

In some cases, conciliation happens in an amicably way, but these are few, he stressed.

The patrols activities are monitored by the Forestry Directorate three times a day via the wireless device and GPS.

“There is continuous cooperation between us and the Environmental Police, so that we move at a close pace in protecting the forests,” Qudah said, adding that Forestry Directorate and Environmental Police patrols carry out tours together if necessary.

Rangers are supervised to ensure a better workflow and that they do not make any mistakes, he said, adding that “periodic motivational and awareness meetings are being held for them”.

“Jordan’s forests are scattered and intertwined with villages, cities, and residential neighborhoods, and we are providing the elements of sustainability, from water and protection,” he said, stressing that protection “does not fall only on the Ministry of Agriculture, it is a societal responsibility in which everyone participates, from government and military institutions, civil bodies and associations, to the citizen, in the first place,” on whose awareness “we always count”.

He added: “The RSCN inspectors are specialized in protecting some areas affiliated with the Ministry of Agriculture, which is managed by the RSCN, and they control violations related to hunting and the like. In the event of harm to forest wealth, the society’s inspectors coordinate with the special rangers of the Forestry Directorate and heads of departments in the field.”

Mohammad Asfour, an environment expert and chairman of Wadi NGO, told Jordan News: “The Forestry Directorate should be empowered more, and its capacities should be improved”.

Amending laws to ensure a better protection of green spaces is also needed, he said.

“We hear about a lot of attacks on rangers, and they need more protection because they are on the front line in preserving the forests,” Asfour said.

He also stressed the importance of training Environmental Police personnel on issues related to the protection of forests and the environment.

“Forests and green spaces suffer from many violations, ranging from overgrazing, that does not allow the natural ecosystem to reconfigure itself, to unplanned and random urban expansion,” he said.

“Innovating new and nature-based solutions when solving problems is important, as they enable us to deal with the environment in a better way and improve green spaces,” Asfour said.

Awareness of communities surrounding forests is very important, as they are an integral part of solutions to preserve green spaces in Jordan, he stressed.

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