Community-led protection of the endangered Cilician Fir tree
This project aims to protect the Cilician fir tree (abies cilicica or “shouh” in Arabic) in a 40,000m2 section of the Qammoua forest located in Akkar, Northern Lebanon. The Cilician fir is endemic to mountainous regions in Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey. While “near threatened” in Turkey, it is “endangered” in Lebanon, existing in just three fragmented locations that total an area of 10km2, constricted by increasing urban development and over-exploitation. The Cilician Fir’s regeneration, and specifically recruitment of saplings, is being threatened by climate change, human factors such as illegal logging, and uncoordinated grazing. Besides the necessity to preserve its own inherent biodiversity value, the tree is a dominant keystone species of the forest and provides healthy habitat for locally vulnerable flagship species such as gray wolves (Canis lupus), striped hyenas (Hyaena hyaena), and the endangered Lebanon viper (Montivipera bornmuelleri).
The proposed project revolves around creating an ecosystem management plan that is community born, led, and maintained. In the summer of 2021, five members of the Akkar el Atiqa community self-assembled and brought forth the initiative to deal with unprecedented threats to their forest along with the rural livlihoods and local identity it supports. This led to a collaboration between the team of engaged citizens from Akkar el Atiqa, the Environment Academy (EA) at the American University of Beirut – Nature Conservation Center (AUB-NCC), and two expert mentors versed in landscape studies, pasture ecology, and ecosystem management.
The project has been combining a participatory approach and attention to local and traditional knowledge to characterize the ecosystem and land use of the remaining pockets of Cilician Fir trees. Based on focus group discussions with the people who know and care most about the forest, we will conduct line transects, install wildlife cameras, delineate symbiotic grazing practices, co-create incentives for locally-driven actions to sustainably manage the forest, and develop a decision-making structure rooted in the community for the long-term implementation of the plan.
By protecting the tree in this 40,000m2 area, we will also create evidence for extrapolation to the rest of the forest — the largest continuous pine forest in Lebanon and thus an exceptionally precious habitat and biodiversity treasure fot the country. The community team has successfully involved the Ministry of Environment with the aim of improving non-exclusionary legislative protections around the forest. Protecting it through sustainable use will also protect many nature-based livelihoods in Akkar, the most economically marginalized yet ecosystem services rich area in Lebanon.