Mohammad Hashim, a 50-year-old environmental activist and forest expert, has been working on climate education in Ziarat Valley for the past 10 years. Ziarat Valley is located about 130 kilometers from Quetta and is known for its juniper forests. Juniper is locally known as obashta and is also seen as a symbol of resilience and endurance.
Hashim is concerned about the deterioration of juniper forests, which have been severely affected by natural disasters and the actions of local residents. He believes climate education could help preserve what he calls the second largest juniper forest in the world. The government declared Ziarat Juniper Forest a national park in 2017, but its management plan remains unclear.
The Juniper Forest of Ziarat is considered one of the oldest forests on earth and covers an area of 112,185 hectares. In 2013, it was designated a Humanity and Biosphere Reserve under the International Coordination Council of the Humanity and the Biosphere Program of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
There are at least 50 species of juniper in Europe, North America, North Africa, West Asia, Central Asia, and South Asia. Six of them are found throughout western Pakistan.
The world’s second-largest juniper forest, located in the Ziarat Valley, has been developed over thousands of years and faces threats from both climate change and human activity.
According to Hashim, Ziarat’s juniper forest is located in the arid temperate zone of northeastern Balochistan, about 7,000 feet above sea level. This forest is adjacent to Mount Khalifat, his second highest mountain in Balochistan. It is home to a wide variety of plants, including olives, wild ash, pomegranates, figs, wild pistachios, wild almonds, and local medicinal plants (saltweed, mahei, zulalga).
Hashim explains: “The juniper forests of Ziarat, the pine forests of the Sulaiman Mountains, and the mangrove forests of the coastal zone play a vital role in carbon sequestration. Forests and their associated plants and wildlife constitute a unique ecosystem. .”
The diverse ecosystem of the Juniper Forest also supports a variety of wildlife, including the right-horned markhor, wolf, hill fox, jackal, Cape hare, porcupine, Afghan hedgehog, Afghan pika, and brown marten. Birds such as red-footed partridges, Sissy partridges, kestrels, starlings, magpies and golden eagles can also be found, as well as reptiles such as Afghan tortoises, agamas, brown cobras, sawnake snakes and dwarf darkheads. Racer and Levantine Viper.
Forests play an important role in the region’s ecosystem as they maintain the local climate, prevent soil erosion, and provide habitat for a variety of species of plants and animals. Additionally, forests absorb carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, and are therefore important in curbing extreme weather events and other problems related to climate change.
Juniper forests are called “living fossils” because of their incredible life cycle. It is an important carbon sink and stores large amounts of carbon in all its pools. Environmentalists estimate that a single juniper tree, as an evergreen conifer, releases about 50 tons of oxygen per year, while also absorbing other harmful gases from the atmosphere.
Juniper trees are considered to be highly tolerant of harsh conditions because they are drought-tolerant trees that reduce desiccation through transpiration, prevent soil erosion, increase soil fertility, and provide pasture. Masu. It also improves the water table.
Nevertheless, climate change poses a major threat to the region.
According to the Journal of Biodiversity and Environmental Sciences, devastating winds in February 2015 severely damaged juniper forests in Ziarat. Nearly 132 trees were damaged in his four ranges of juniper groves in Ziarat district before the canopy vegetation opened up.
Climate change is also affecting the amount of snowfall in Ziarat. Hashim said Ziarat used to get 8 to 10 feet of snow during the winter, but now it’s down to just 8 inches. As a result, juniper trees receive less water, which has a negative impact on their health.
“While it is clear that the drought has further reduced groundwater levels, solar-powered pumps are also making the situation worse,” Hashim said.
Juniper regeneration faces many challenges, including slow growth rates, but climate change is a major factor. For example, the parasitic disease dwarf mistletoe recently infested juniper trees extensively. Damping-off and fungal diseases also negatively impact the health and productivity of juniper trees.
Ziarat Haseeb Kakar, acting forest conservator, said: The hard coat becomes soft under snow. In spring, the seeds will sprout. Now that there is less snowfall, the seeds have come out of dormancy. ”
The parasite also causes the migration of wild birds, locally known as Obasht Kwara, which consume juniper berries and play an important role in the regeneration of juniper trees.
Deputy Commissioner Ziarat Muhammad Ramzan Paral added that temperature fluctuations will affect juniper forests. People are currently facing an uncertain future, suffering from droughts and major floods. Rising temperatures, extreme weather events, and ecosystem destruction have far-reaching impacts on humans, animals, and the environment.
Paral points out that Pakistan contributes only 1 percent to global carbon emissions compared to countries like China and the United States, which are the biggest contributors. “The juniper forests of Ziarat are our precious assets and national heritage. They play an important role in mitigating the effects of environmental pollution and global warming and must be protected,” Paral said. say.
deforestation and degradation
But climate change is not the only threat to juniper forests. Population growth is also having an impact.
Natural gas supplies in the region are scarce, so local communities cut down trees for use as fuel during the winter. Trees may be an asset to governments and international organizations, but they are often more important to local people as a source of livelihood.
Haseeb Kakar says, “As the region’s population grew, the forests faced many pressures: insufficient regeneration, deforestation, overgrazing, expansion of agricultural land, canopy dieback, mistletoe attack, periodic drought is a contributing factor to forest degradation. These factors not only destroy regeneration capacity and vegetation cover, but also make the soil more susceptible to erosion.”
Amjad Khilji, a researcher at Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences (BUITEMS), explains: In some areas, people are using forests for agriculture and expanding orchards. Urbanization is displacing not only forests but also agricultural land. ”
As in other regions, various environmental factors are also affecting juniper forests in Ziarat, which currently face both anthropogenic and natural threats.
Despite being protected, juniper forests face challenges today. Community involvement is essential to ensure the protection of this unique natural treasure.
Under the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami programme, cluster, woodland, block and street tree plantations were carried out on 275 acres of land. In addition, potted and bed nurseries have also been established in Ziarat Valley.
According to forest officials, “A notification for construction of a 16,000 hectare national park (the third national park in Balochistan) was issued in 2017 under the Balochistan Wildlife Protection, Conservation, Conservation and Management Act, 2014. The Park at Ziarat project is finalizing the management plan for the national park.
“The central purpose of establishing national parks is to strengthen forestry and protect wildlife.”
Juniper forests like Ziarat take thousands of years to develop. Planning to maintain them cannot wait until the trees are gone.
The author covers climate change in Balochistan. Contact him at email@example.com.
EOS, published at dawn on December 31, 2023