Lebanon’s cedar forests threatened by climate change

Lebanon, cedar forests, climate change,
Seen in this photo is one of the cedar forests in Lebanon. (C) CC WIkiMedia.

Strolling in the cedar forests of Lebanon’s mountainous slopes is such a relief since it transports you away from the misery of everyday life. Many of these trees have been here for more than 1,000 years. The moisture on these mountains tops as well as the cool temperatures enable them to flourish and thrive here.

Apart from the threat of ever-expanding human habit, these ancient forests now face the twin threats of climate change and global warming. These deadly combinations could result in the destruction of this entire forest range by the end of this century.

As temperatures go up, the ecological comfort zone of these cedar forests keep moving up as they chase colder winds to survive. But in the Barouk forest, which is part of the Shouf Biosphere Reserve, there really isn’t much farther they can climb. According to scholars, if the climate continues to warm at its current rate due to greenhouse gas emissions, the only place cedar trees can thrive will be in Lebanon’s northern tip where the mountains are higher.

However, there too, they face challenging conditions. The cedar trees of the Tannourine Cedars Forest Nature Reserve, have diminished by more than 7% due to insect infestations that have been directly linked to the drying climate.

Throughout history, the wood from these cedar forests have been prized for buildings boats and residences. Their history can be traced back to the temples of ancient Egypt and Jerusalem. While they have outlived kings and empires, the challenge thrown by our economic impact on the climate, viz, global warming and climate change, could delivery them a death blow.

Of the thousands of square kilometers of forest that was once spread across the bulk of Lebanon’s highlands, only 17 square kilometers remain in scattered groves. Thankfully, Lebanon’s most famous cedar patch, the Cedars of God, has been fenced off since 1876 and has been declared a world heritage sites since 20 years. However, the forest is isolated and its ability to expand is very limited. It is among the sites that are most vulnerable to climate change, said UNESCO.

“Climate change is a fact here,” said Nizar Hani, the Shouf Biosphere’s director. “There is less rain, higher temperatures, and more extreme temperatures,” both hot and cold, he said. “The cedar forests are migrating to higher altitudes,” he said. And it is unclear, he added, which of the species that usually live alongside the cedars will survive higher up, further changing the ecosystem.

So as to protect them from total annihilation, many Lebanese conservation groups are trying to diversify their locations and expand their populations in order for them to become more resilient to environmental changes.

The next time you come close to a cedar tree, do come closer and appreciate its majesty. Known that you are next to a being that has seen many civilizations boom and wane. Now, it is watching you.