Iran’s forests exist on an area spanning 3.4 million hectares on the northern slopes of the Alborz Mountains and the coastal provinces of the Caspian Sea. The area of other forests that are scattered throughout the country is up to 3 million hectares.
Iran’s Environmental Protection Agency has divided Iran’s environmentally valuable areas into 4 areas:
- 16 national parks
- 13 national nature parks
- 33 national wildlife sanctuaries
- 94 protected areas
The country has a variety of climatic conditions. Of the 13 types of climates around the world, 11 are known to exist in Iran.
Unfortunately, at present, Iran’s environmental sustainability indicators are in poor condition. Iran’s ranking is 132 among 146 countries in environmental sustainability indicators.
The environmental impacts for animals and plants have also been catastrophic. In the last 70 years, various species of animals have become extinct in Iran.
The Iranian lion’s’s race who lived in the provinces of Fars, Kohkiloyeh, and Boyer Ahmad and Khuzestan has been completely extinct, or the Tiger of Mazandaran (Caspian tiger) has also been extinct. Now the Persian leopard and cheetah, the Pallas cat, the Persian fox or Turkmen fox, the Persian Lynx (Caracal), Persian fallow deer, Blanford’s fox or Persian fox king, Persian boar, and Iranian zebra are in danger of extinction.
Status of vegetation and forest cover of Iran
According to a research conducted by Iran’s Natural Resources Engineering Technical Bureau in 1965, the country’s forests were about 18 million hectares, which had decreased to about 11 million hectares in 2010, according to the Environment Agency. These forests are classified into five areas:
- Caspian Hyrcanian forests
- Western and southwestern forests (Zagros)
- Central and Iranian plateau forests
- Persian Gulf forests
- Arasbaran forests
The northern forests of Iran, known as the Hyrcanian forests, are among the oldest plant resources in the world. Remaining from the Ice Age, these forests are home to many valuable plant species. Eighty tree species (mainly broadleaf), four native coniferous species and fifty shrub species have been identified in these forests, most of which are beech, hornbeam, oak, maple and alder.
Between 1975-2002, country’s northern forests had decreased by 22 percent. In 2014, the area of Hyrcanian forests in the north of the country reached one million six hundred thousand hectares. In a nutshell, between 1975 and 2014, the forests of Iran in the north of Iran have decreased by 47%, 25% of which occurred in the last 12 years. During this period, Golestan province had a decline of 27 percent, Gilan 22 percent and Mazandaran 21 percent.
The forests of the west and southwest of Iran are part of the Zagros forests, which date back 5500 years and absorb moisture from the Mediterranean Sea.
The area of these forests has been around ten million hectares in the past but has been reduced to less than six million hectares due to irregular deforestation and is the most important (dominant) tree species in this area. Eleven provinces are located in the Zagros habitat area. Zagros forests has formed over 42 percent of the country’s forests, scattered over an area of 31 million hectares. More than 41 percent of the country’s freshwater and 51 percent of the nomadic population is located in Zagros. Over 151 species of trees and shrubs have been identified in these forests, which represent the genetic value of these forests. The Zagros area is an oak tree, but other tree species such as wild pistachio tree, almond tree, Arjun tree, maple, wild pear tree, etc. are also found in this area.
Most of the Zagros forests were destroyed during 2004 to 2014 due to excessive grazing, fire, rainfalls, pests, especially loggerheads, increasing the distance of trees due to irregular cuts as a result of reduced fertility, reduced rainfall, tree seed collection by locals, the change in forest use has been due to dryland cultivation. Lack of sufficient funding, lack of scientific scrutiny, and inaction by officials have led to the complete destruction of the western and southwestern forests of Iran. If the trend continues in the region over the next 35 years, we will the face a national environmental disaster.
The forests of the next three areas, which comprise a small proportion of the country’s forests, are also in poor condition, and their degradation process is not less than the Zagros and Hyrcanian forests.
The Status of Environmental Pollutants in Iran
One of the most important environmental pollutants in the past two centuries has been greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, methane, and so on, resulting in severe global warming and severe plant degradation. Interestingly, Iran has the one of the highest greenhouse gas emissions in the world so that in 2005 Iran was ranked 17th in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. This is a big number, which means polluting the environment and wasting resources.
Regarding waste and waste generation, despite Iran not being a major producer of waste per capita, the rate of waste recycling in Iran is not satisfactory. According to the 2013 statistics, waste recycling rates in Germany exceed 70%, Switzerland around 50%, in the US 28%, in Japan 20%, while in Iran, if very optimistic, it is 10%. Which is unacceptable.
Environmental protection after the 1979 revolution
The Iranian government does not fundamentally attach much importance to the environment and is more concerned with domestic and international crises, which has led environmental managers and experts making decisions not based on principles and professionalism.
During the past 40 years, the negligence in the long-term impact of major national projects has exposed Iran’s environment to destruction. These projects include dam-buildings, non-standard construction of roads, highways, power plants, factories, and industrial settlements.
Additionally, appointment of non-experts in the Iranian Department of Environment (IDE) and imposing pressures on the Organization of Forests, Rangelands and Watersheds of the country for issuing excessive and unstudied permission of using the non-renewable and groundwater resources resulted in a huge wasting. On the other hand, the government despite extra revenues of oil sales didn’t specify adequate budget to protect the environment and improving the supervising, managing, and researching affairs.
Also, the Iranian government doesn’t support the IDE’s plans about decreasing the air pollution, preserving the forests, environmental habitats, etc. Notably, implementation of the scheduled programs of the IDE could prevent the destruction frosts particularly in Hyrcanian forests and Zagros areas which were dramatically able to decrease the level of airborne particles across the country.
Meanwhile, extensive user change of national lands and habitats, as well as selling them is several cases such as Sorkheh Hesar lands have exposed the regions’ ecosystem to elimination. The negligence over soil erosion, creation centers of producing airborne particles inside the countries, and importing non-standard pesticides through informal gates resulted in severe air, water, and soil pollution which have deprived many citizens of their health.
Iran’s non-compliance with international conventions on the environmental affairs and the lack of a plan to counter airborne particles have put the country’s ecological status in a hazardous orbit. Also, government apparatuses harshly harmed the natural environment by issuing noxious permissions for producing and distributing of the low-quality gasoline, unconventional licenses for hunting, non-pursuing of environmental crimes, etc. All of the mentioned factors caused to decline of Iran’s rank in International environmental index. Remarkably, During the ninth and tenth administrations of the Islamic Republic, Iran has stood in 57th rank globally.
According to statics of the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) that are published every two years by Yale and Colombia universities based in the U.S., Iran has gained 53rd rank in 2006, 67th in 2008, 78th in 2010, and 114th in 2012.
Based on international studies conducted in 2013, Iran’s environmental status was disastrous. The government excessively failed in managing aquatic ecosystems including wetlands, beaches, rivers and groundwater ranks 130th among the 132 countries. Notably, in the same year, several members of the Parliament [Majlis] intended to dissolve the IDE by submitting a plan and approving it, however, that approved plan was eventually remained undone.
Regrettably, over the years, the government’s attention to the environment has declined. Mismanagement, incompetent officials, ethnic conflicts, sociopolitical crises, and unaccounted industrial activities of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) caused to an excessive inattention to Iran’s environment, which brought the country in terms of environmental affairs to an ominous fate.