Notes From Hairenik
October 26, 2005
Winter is already approaching in Armenia. What a better time to start pruning trees throughout the country’s capital?

The first sign of tree vandalism, also known as pollarding, has been seen already, beginning on a short stretch of Tumanian Street alongside the “Brambion” building on the Abovyan Street corner. About five full-size trees and a few saplings have been pollarded—in other words their limbs have been completely cut off. It is a matter of time before the rest of trees on the same side of the street are pollarded, probably around the Opera House as well. I have heard various theories for the reasons behind this sadistic method of pruning, one of them being that it is a form of disease prevention, in this case unnecessary for otherwise perfectly healthy trees. It is also a way to make the trees look “pretty” once small thin offshoot branches grow to a reasonable length in five years time and hang down to resemble an umbrella. This is an odd explanation as well.

According to an entry on the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, pollarding can be defined as follows:

Pollarding is a woodland management method of encouraging lateral branches by cutting off a tree stem two meters or so above ground level.

If pollarding is done repeatedly over the years, a somewhat expanded (or swollen) tree trunk will result, and multiple new side and top shoots will grow on it.

The main reason for this type of practice, rather than coppicing, was in wood-pastures and grazing areas where growth from the ground upwards was less practicable, due to the required area for grazing which would have been reduced by thickets of low tree growth. Pollarding above head height also protects valuable timber or poles from being damaged by browsing animals such as rabbits or deer.

Unless Yerevan residents can sometimes enact the foraging rituals of rabbits or deer, pollarding doesn’t seem to be necessary. At most, the lower branches that may get into the eyes of passers by can be simply trimmed down to the trunk, leaving the upper, solid limbs and branches alone. But this apparently is too much to ask.

In some cities, such as the new capital of the Armenian Diaspora, Glendale, California, pollarding is strictly prohibited under law. Apparently, however, pollarding is a problem throughout California, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, and it also goes on in England, where it supposedly originated, apparently for the trees’ own good.

The problems I have with city-wide pollarding can best be summed up in the following text, from the City of Rohnert Park, California Web site:

Unfortunately, the concept of pollarding has been inappropriately extended to nearly any tree that has become too large for the space allocated to it, and these trees are mercilessly headed back into large wood in the name of size reduction. This is not appropriate pruning and is certainly not good arboriculture. Here are just a few of the negative consequences of heading done in this manner: 1) Loss in aesthetic beauty associated with loss of the tree’s natural shape. 2) Loss in structural integrity leading to increased liability due to potential for limb failure. 3) An increase in pruning expense associated with the necessity for reducing the number of profuse regrowth sprouts that result from heading cuts, and from the need for safety pruning when larger sucker regrowth develop mass and begin to fail. Couple this with the need to repeat the heading process at frequent intervals just to accomplish the original intent, which was size reduction. There have been many that have abandoned this treadmill and simply cut the too-large tree down and replanted with an appropriately sized tree for the area, a more sensible approach in the first place.

Indeed, just by strolling around the city’s center (as well as along Gomidas Street in the Arabkir district, on which all the large, gorgeous trees were cruelly pollarded only a couple of years ago) you will notice upon examining the trees that many have formed bulbous growths at the stubs of limbs from which branches grow straight but in all directions, resembling a star shape. After a few years of growth the new branches start competing with one another and they grow crooked. Before you know it, the city municipal workers without understanding what they are doing and how to do it properly cut all the new limbs, and the process starts again. I have also noticed that some trees have simply died from repetitive pollarding practices.

I want to argue that lopping off entire tree limbs is not being done for the sake of preserving perfectly healthy trees. This excuse is a disguise for illegally collecting and selling wood during the winter months. From my past experience with learning about tree cutting en masse throughout Armenia by writing about it as well as discussing it with people—some of who are environmental protection advocates—cutting is a way to make money in this country. According to various sources, at the turn of the 20th century about 11 percent of the landscape in Armenia—I am assuming the area sometimes referred to “Russian Armenia” which for the most part is what we have today—was covered by trees. Today’s estimates of tree coverage are as low as 6 percent, not very high for a mostly arid, rock and sand-covered country.

In other words, businessmen are doing everything they can whether in the city or the forests to make money by selling timber—some of the trees being rare and indigenous only to the Caucasus regions—exporting it to mainly European countries like Spain and Italy. Thankfully, the Armenian Forests NGO—perhaps the leading organization in Armenia striving for forest protection founded only a few years ago—is working to start reversing this trend, putting pressure on governmental agencies such as “Hayandar” to do their intended job by regulating or prohibiting cutting. From what I understand it has been speaking out against pollarding as well.

Let’s not forget that people are also cutting trees down to stay warm in the winter, which naturally is understandable. But there are alternative, very inexpensive alternatives now, such as gas heating. This is slow coming in Armenia’s rural areas, but for the most part there is little excuse in most of Yerevan. Another practice of heating during the winter that I noticed is practiced in Javakhk especially, namely burning dried dung chips, is not widely enacted in the villages here, which I think is strange. Thus people have cut down the windbreaks along main roads that were used to protect their own farmland in order to use the timber for fuel.

Again, so long as “vochinch” continues, unnecessary, drastic tree pruning and widespread cutting will continue unless citizens of Armenia start waking up and demand that the government do something to prevent it. We saw that protest worked in the case of preserving the Shikahogh Reserve in the Syunik Region in June. Now we have to ensure that environmental protection—not to discount the protection of human rights—
is enforced throughout the country.


Blogger Christian Garbis said...
Speaking about protesting, see the following artice titled "Yerevan Population Has No More Air To Breathe" by going to:

Anonymous Anonymous said...
From what I have seen, dung is used a lot for winter heating in the villages north of Aparan, between Aparan and the mountainpass down towards Spitak. I always see large piles of "dung-bricks" in those villages on my way to Spitak. I don't know about other rural areas, though.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
The use of dung as fuel became widespread during the early 90-s. Before that it was mainly used by the Azeris, and the Kurds in the Aparan area.

I haven't seen it being used but the smell is not disgusting at all when one drives through these villages where dung is used.

It's probably because the cows are on vegeterian diet. I wonder how the dung would smell if these cows were fed the 'American' diet (grain, other animal parts and antibiotics).