Over 200 thousand seedlings of walnut, pistachio, larch, pine, and the Tian Shan spruce replenished the forest fund of Aksy, Toktogul and Toguz-Toro Forestries. These are the preliminary outputs of the three-year efforts of the UNDP-GEF project to restore degraded forests and expand the forest areas of the Western Tian Shan.
Forest restoration has many advantages for safeguarding the biodiversity of the Western Tian Shan. First of all, it is important for fauna, including the snow leopard and the animals representing its prey base. Forest plantations take on a pivotal role in establishing buffer zones and corridors for the wildlife migration, thereby connecting the “Alatai” and “Kan-Achuu” Nature Parks with other protected areas of the Western Tian Shan.
In addition, the expansion of forest areas will reduce the ongoing degradation of endemic spruce and other walnut and coniferous species in the Western Tian Shan, which suffer from the uncontrolled collection of non-timber forest products and firewood.
“Forest restoration is an effective solution to combat the climate change impacts, improve the living standards of the local population, safeguard the biodiversity and prevent erosion,” Batyrbek uulu Askar, engineer at the Toguz-Toro forestry lists the benefits of the reforestation.
As of today, many forest areas do not have adequate control over livestock grazing and sanitary felling, which have an adverse effect on natural regeneration of forests and the use of forestlands for agricultural purposes. As a result, these forests are degrading incrementally due to the livestock, biological diversity is decreasing, and resilience to human activities is undermining.
The restoration of degraded forests is carried out under the five-year project on protecting the biodiversity of the Western Tian Shan, which is funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and implemented by UNDP and the State Agency for Environmental Protection and Forestry (SAEPF). With the assistance of national and local partners, SAEPF and UNDP are planning to undertake silvicultural reforestation work in the area of 500 hectares and regenerate approximately 5 thousand hectares of degraded forests in the Western Tian Shan as corridors for the wildlife, including the snow leopard and its prey base.
Involving local people in joint forest management and expanding forest areas play a key role in implementing the project. Local residents provided significant assistance in planting forest crops and fencing. To this end, the project provided temporary employment for 90 people from among the residents of the villages of Aksy district this year together with the UN World Food Program. Payment for labor was made by groceries.
“In recent years, forests have been seriously affected by overgrazing in forest pastures where unique walnut trees grow. In order to restore and increase their number, we have been planting pistachio and walnut seedlings in new areas of Aksy Forestry for the third year under the UNDP-GEF project. Despite the fact that it will take about 10 years before the fruiting of the walnut forests begins, residents of nearby villages already lease these plots for further management,” says Panarbek Zhabaikulov, director of the Aksy Forestry.
In order to better protect young seedlings from cattle, Aksy, Toktogul and Toguz-Toro Forestries fenced the forest plot with a wire. As a result, a total of nearly 170 hectares of forest range are currently fenced. In the forthcoming months, it is expected to fence the plots with a total area of 60 hectares. “If earlier we planted trees far from settlements to prevent the cattle from approaching the plots, the present walnut plots are located near the villages, since we have fenced them, and it is easier for local residents to get and take care of the trees. It is worth noting that the fence is temporary, and it can be dismantled and reused on new forest lands every three years,” says Panarbek Zhabaikulov.
The “Conservation of globally important biodiversity and associated land and forest resources of Western Tian Shan mountain ecosystems to support sustainable livelihoods” Project is implemented by the SAEPF and UNDP with the support of the GEF and aims to promote a landscape approach to protection of globally significant biodiversity, promoting the conservation of rare and endangered species of flora and fauna, as well as the sustainable management of land and forest resources of the Western Tian Shan.