“Ask not what your country can do for you
–ask what you can do for your country.”
John F. Kennedy
BY Z. S. Andrew Demirdjian
Since prehistoric times and down to modern days, forests have been a great source of essentials of life such as clean air (oxygen), food, shelter, reaction, and sustainability of our wildlife friends such as birds, animals, and a host of other mammals. Simply put, forests have been the communal home of all living things on the planet Earth. Despite these advantages, humans are destroying forests around the world at an alarming rate. For example, in ancient times, Armenia was covered with thick forests of Armenian and Georgian oak trees. According to a study in 2005, Armenia’s estimated forests covered 11.2 percent of its total land area, dropping to 8.2 percent by 2000. Sadly enough, in 2012, the Armenia Tree Project (ATP) reported the country’s forests had dwindled to only 7 percent. In the aftermath of the 44-Day War with Azerbaijan, through the indiscriminate shelling of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh), the enemy has destroyed many parts of the Armenian forests, as well. Many of the planet Earth’s most beautiful areas are in danger of destruction. Oceans, seashores, rivers, forests, and other regions are being overused and spoiled by people. Fumes from factories, power stations, and car exhausts contain dangerous chemicals. Some lodge in our lungs, others rise into the clouds, and later fall as acid rain. This form of pollution can be very harmful to life on Earth including to trees in the forest. Factories are not the only culprits pumping waste gases into the air and toxic liquids into rivers; most of the pollution comes from people trying to save money, instead of spending more to keep the planet clean. On a daily basis, people are chocking up the environment with plastic and other wastes that are either not biodegradable or very slow in disappearing from being part of the world’s landscape. The tragedy of COVID-19 (the Chinese Virus) is the result of unsanitary methods of handling food. Automobiles are mushrooming in Yerevan, (Armenia), at an increasing rate to the extent that it has turned into a paralyzed traffic mess in any direction one would like to drive, resulting in toxic air for the inhabitants to breathe. Almost a third of the Earth’s land surface is covered with forests. The taiga is the world’s largest forest, stretching 6,000 miles (10,000 km) across northern Russia. However, the taiga is very cold during the long, dark winters, and summer in the forest is short and cool. As a result, it has a comparatively limited number of wildlife habitats. Some countries are lucky to have kept the major part of their forests, such as Sweden. Others, for various reasons of necessity or poaching, have depleted their forests such as, unfortunately, Armenia has done. The rain forests, the “lungs” of the planet Earth, are in danger of depletion as well. The three largest rainforest areas are found in Brazil (the Amazon), Congo, and Indonesia. Deplorably, these forests are being cut down in clearance for farming or for profitable lumbering. In no uncertain terms, the world is heading toward suffocation from lack of oxygen and the destruction of the habitat of our animal friends that live there. The Amazon rain forest is the biggest in the world. Parts are being cut down at an increasing rate. In addition to giving us pure air to breathe, millions of creatures live in the rain forests. Unlike the taiga, in the Amazon rain forest there is plenty of warmth, water, and food. The Brazilian government has been unable to curb poaching and the cutting down the rain forest trees by the primitive hunter-gatherer tribes who are becoming farmers. In 2019, Brazil’s land clearance skyrocketed 29 percent in just one year. Fortunately, Google Earth has worked with the Brazil’s native tribes to pinpoint destruction of the planet’s largest rainforest, which produces over 20 percent of Earth’s oxygen; this is an effort that can also be repeated in Armenia to impress upon the people that “no tree, no oxygen to breathe” reality. It is great for all of us to plant new trees. The world will be a better place. Trees give out oxygen and so help make the fresh air that we need to breathe. Reforestation or afforestation (i.e., planting of trees where no trees existed before) is good for the socioeconomic progress of Armenia. Forests are recognized to be a boost for the economy and also a deterrent to soil erosion just to mention two major benefits. We can do a lot to help Armenia. The government cannot do this alone. We need to get the community somehow involved in the reforestation of Armenia. I am a “gentleman farmer”. I do it as a hobby, though. So, I know that one can get attached to a plant as much as to a pet. So, I have an ax to grind. In this article, after a brief discussion on the criticality of forests and Armenia’s plans for reforestation, I shall present a proposal for young students to participate in the reforestation or afforestation efforts of the Armenian government. As you well know, ideas have changed the world; it will also change Armenia. So, let us give this idea a chance. The idea is simple. Give school kids (up to high school) the opportunity to adopt a seedling and care for it, say for two or three years until it becomes a sapling. Then organize a school trip to the designated place to plant it. The government will have the technology ready for digging a hole for it. Each kid will plant his or her adopted tree in the hole and throw the dirt in the hole and pack it well, but not forgetting to create a berm around it as a basin to catch more water. While getting students of various public and private schools involved in reforestation or afforestation is not new, but the idea proposed here is somewhat completely different, though. Anyway, it will be new to Armenia. The traditional approach to get students interested in helping out with the planting of trees is based on orientation of the benefits of reforestation and once a year the volunteer students would participate in planting of trees with their classmates under the supervision of their teachers. This kind of projects involve field trips and students relish the opportunity to participate. Unlike the traditional approach to getting students participate in planting trees every year, the idea being proposed in this article is as the title indicates: “Adopt a Tree for Armenia,” like adopt a child or adopt a rescue dog, etc. In adopting a tree, the student would have physical possession of a seedling to take home and to take care of it for two or three years, depending on the selected tree or cultivar to reach a sapling stage. Then, the sapling is planted in designated areas for reforestation or afforestation. I am sure young students will become fond of the seedlings. So, I know that one can get attached to plant as much as to an animal. Additionally, Armenian teachers are known to be professionally dedicated and nurturing. Once they accept the idea, they would work wonders to make it a success by sparking enthusiasm in their students to carry out a community project for the government or ATF cannot do it alone. The main agenda of the Forest Summit: Global Action and Armenia conference held in Yerevan in 2019 was to address the plight of Armenia’s endangered forests. The event was attended by a number of international experts. In his welcome speech, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated that his government had allocated 424 million drams (US$890,000) to launch a massive reforestation undertaking to save Armenia’s forests. He sounded so passionate about covering Armenia with trees that he promised to double the extent of forests of Armenia by 2050. In other words, Armenia would end up with 14 percent covered with forests. What a grand project, but he would need help. To realize PM Nikol Pashinyan’s resolve to double forests in Armenia is a tall order. To make it achievable, people have to rally to his side to make it possible to tackle such a Herculean project. Here are the steps for the “Adopt a Tree for Armenia” program to mitigate the task at hand to reforest parts of Armenia: Step One. The government of Armenia and ATP (the Armenia Tree Project) should get enlisted to participate into the program. ATP has done wonders to reforest Armenia. Dr. Carolyn Mugar is worthy of the Nobel Prize for environmental protection work. They would jump at a viable idea to increase the forests of Armenia. Arrangements should be made as which organization will provide the seedlings, who would handle the distribution, etc. Step Two. Before asking for volunteers in class, the teacher or an invited speaker would talk about peoples’ responsibilities and benefits of reforesting Armenia for the government alone cannot do everything for the people of Armenia. Select benefits relevant to kids, such as trees shield children from ultra-violet rays, trees provide food, trees clean air, trees cool the streets and the city, trees provide shade to cool a playground, trees makes us healthier and even improve our academic performances, and “forest bathing” practice of staying about 20 minutes in an environment surrounded by forest like trees is becoming widely accepted as beneficial to humans physically and mentally, etc. Benefits should be explained without getting too deeply into ecosystems and biodiversity. Power Point presentations would focus on the vibrant life of birds and animals in the forest including those of residing at the canopy of the forest. Step Three. Parents also should know about “Adopt a Tree for Armenia” program through teacher-parent conferences or by means of a letter of announcement. If a parent is amenable to the idea, then he or she should submit their approval to the teacher through their kids. Parents may want to have their kids adopt more than one tree and that should be OK, provided the school gets enough seedlings for distribution. Once the idea becomes operational, “Adopt a Tree for Armenia” program can be applied to different populations such as college students, government employees, ordinary citizens, etc.
Step Four. The government or a not-for-profit organization like ATP or Hakopyan Environmental Studies center should provide seedlings to the volunteer students to take home and to see that they grow healthy. A native tree species would be the best for this project, but not a fruit tree which needs a lot of watering and care after being planted. Information on the specific tree culture should also be given to students to take home for proper treatment. Step Five. The native tree should survive on its own when planted right before the rainy season begins. Although mixing up different trees is recommended by some, esthetically speaking, people relate more when the trees are alike and look like a forest rather than a backyard orchard. Thus, the same kind of tree should be given to students rather than a potpourri of different species. In my opinion, a forest would look better as a forest when it is populated en mass with the same kind of native trees or cultivars. Besides, it would facilitate learning the culture of the tree care and make the management of the forest easier. Step Six. When the seedling becomes a sapling within two or three years, the school organizes a day for the volunteer students to bring their adopted trees to be planted in designated area for a forest. As you know, students would love the field trip and mark the event unforgettable on the walls of their memories and capturing the moments on their cameras as cherished mementos of their growing up years. Step Seven. After successful planting of trees, each volunteer student should receive a token of appreciation ceremoniously, such as a certificate signed by PM Nikol Pashinyan commending them for being good citizens of Armenia. Armenian kids would feel proud to have contributed to the wellbeing of the country where they were born. Our Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s government plan for reforestation and afforestation is a win-win project. The environment of Armenia would benefit by turning those vacant lands into vibrant forests. As a direct consequence of this project, it would also provide many jobs for the people to work at the accomplishment and management of this noble project. Like being the first nation to teaching chess at school, Armenia received a lot of positive reviews from other countries. Likewise, when “Adopt a Tree for Armenia” program is implemented in schools to engage students in teaching them civic responsibility toward nature and country would be the “first” of its kind. The proposed idea has two major advantages: PM Pashinyan’s Armenia benefits from increasing the size of the forests in certain localities. Moreover, the students would get engaged in experiential learning project with an ulterior motive of helping the country achieve the re-greening of the Armenian Highlands. The high-involvement, hands-on learning potential of such a project is immense for the very impressionable students to be participating in doing something for the common good. When kids get involved in the environment and conservation of our natural resources, recent scientific studies suggest that students are better able to concentrate, complete tasks, and follow directions after playing in natural settings. Another study reported that self-discipline in young girls can be achieved through increased exposure to settings where nature prevails. School programs that get kids involved in tree planting, foster in them everlasting environmental stewardship. Tree planting is a great way to increase student interest and involvement in their local environment and achieve academic goals better. “Adopt a Tree for Armenia” program would provide educators with the opportunity to inspire school administrators, faculty, and students to affect positive change at their schools and in their communities. Students become aware that they can play an important role in protecting the environment through personal involvement. Hopefully, when they grow up the experience of “Adopt a Tree” will help them make intelligent decisions about conservation and use of Armenia’s valuable natural resources by learning that without plants, there would be no animal life on our planet Earth. Like boy and girl scouts, allegiance to the country’s destiny is grasped at an early age that unless we all collectively contribute toward the advancement of our Homeland, we would regress. The only way we could improve conditions for our country is to believe in the philosophy that each and every one of us can make a vast difference because the sum total of all of our synergetic efforts would enable us to move mountains. P.S. When I was late to dinner at one of my relatives’ house, I explained to the host that I had to finish an article. In response to her request to know about the subject matter, I briefly described the “Adopt a Tree for Armenia” idea. She seriously stated: I like the idea, but not your approach to let only school kids adopt a tree. How about me? I would like to adopt one, too”. Come December 2023, this lady will be 95 years old!