AMMAN — The controversy over uprooting centennial trees from Bergesh Forest for building a military academy resurfaced on Wednesday, after the Jordan Armed Forces (JAF) reportedly resumed cutting down trees to establish it, according to government officials and activists.
Conservationists and official sources said JAF resumed cutting down trees on Tuesday from the location where the military academy is planned to be established, but the army issued a statement Wednesday dismissing these claims as baseless.
The Jordan News Agency, Petra, quoted a senior JAF source as saying that the army is building the facilities on the outskirts of the forest, adding that the trees that have been removed are those damaged by last December’s snowstorm.
The armed forces will plant “hundreds of new trees” that are compatible with the ecosystem in the forest, the army source said.
When selecting the location for the military academy, the army adhered to all the relevant laws and regulations, the officer added.
The Ministry of Agriculture said its Rangers recorded violations over forest lands in Bergesh in Ajloun Governorate without identifying the perpetrators.
“Bergesh is a forest area and the law prohibits any violations on forests,” Ministry Spokesperson Nimer Haddadin told The Jordan Times.
A senior government official at the ministry said the Rangers registered the violations against JAF.
“The violations were recorded in accordance with the law and they were referred to court,” the government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Jordan Times.
In January 2011, the armed forces started construction of the academy in Bergesh Forest, located 90 kilometres northwest of the capital.
Following objections from the ministries of agriculture and environment, the country’s environment NGOs and activists, as well as the public, construction was halted.
In September 2011, the government decided not to allow the cutting or uprooting of trees in Bergesh Forest, saying that it will remain a forest area.
Omar Shoshan, an environment activist and member of a campaign launched in 2011 to stop the construction of the academy in Bergesh, expressed shock that the uprooting of the forest’s trees “resumed”.
“The country’s limited forests are under attack from illegal loggers and are continuously shrinking due to wildfires,” Shoshan said.
“Uprooting Bergesh trees sends a negative message that the country is not serious about protecting its forests and nature.”
Bergesh Forest, where green cover stands at 90 per cent, represents an integrated ecosystem that houses over 100 plant species — 13 per cent listed as rare, 4 per cent as locally or internationally threatened and 13 per cent as holding medicinal value, according to ecologists at the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN).
The RSCN has previously said that the project violates the 2002 temporary agriculture law. Article 28 of the law forbids the inclusion of forests within municipalities’ boundaries, unless approved by the agriculture minister. In addition, the same article prohibits dividing forest land or changing their land use category.
The society said the project will also be in violation of Article 35, Paragraph B of the Agriculture Law, which forbids uprooting, damaging or violating any centennial or rare forest trees and threatened wild plants, in any form. In addition, the terms of reference of the environment impact assessment will breach EIA regulation number 37 of the year 2005.
The army has argued that the academy is a strategic project that would bring development to Ajloun Governorate.
In 2011, a military official said JAF has taken note of the public response to the project and introduced 12 main amendments to its original blueprints, under which “no more than 100 trees” will be cut down, as opposed to 2,400 in the original plan.
In addition, 10-20 trees will be planted for each uprooted tree, the army said at the time.