Can 'Ecological Exploitation' Save Teghut Forest?

teghut forest northern armenia photo

The Teghut Forest in northern Armenia. Photo via ArmeniaNow

Supporters of protecting the Teghut Forest in northern Armenia from a company's plans to build an open-pit copper mine there have an uphill battle to fight against the perception that mining will bring direly needed income to the region. Which is why entrepreneur Ruben Shakhkyan's concept of a kinder, gentler "exploitation" of the forest's resources just might work.Producing Local Vodka, Wine, Honey, and Jam
Shakhkyan, who lives in the village of Teghut, envisions expanding production of local vodka, wine, jams, and honey using plants from the forest as a commercially attractive alternative to mining that wouldn't threaten the area's rare species of flora and fauna -- or pose a risk to public health. Activists working to save the forest support his "Teghut for the Generations" initiative and hope to eventually replicate it in other forested areas in the country, ArmeniaNow reports:

The project drafted by Shakhkyan includes woodworking free of wastes, centralized collecting of edible plants and herbs, their drying and sale, gathering of forest fruit, production of mixed feed, foundation of hotbeds for silver firs and rare decorative trees, [and] gathering of raspberry and blackberry... He estimates that up to 3,000 people could be involved in the sale of forest material wealth, and during seasonal works this number may grow.

An Appalachian Model
The idea is reminiscent of the work some activists in Appalachia are doing to create economically viable alternatives to coal mining. One group, Appalachian Sustainable Development, has created businesses selling sustainably harvested lumber and local, organic produce as a way to "redefine what a healthy economy is and what economic development is," executive director Anthony Flaccavento told PBS. The businesses pull in a million dollars a year.

Any such effort, of course, must be mindful of not over-harvesting natural resources, but it's a promising alternative to the mine, which would destroy more than 1,500 acres of Teghut's forest habitat, dump toxic ore waste in a nearby river gorge, and leave locals with no continuing source of income once it's extracted the 1.6 million tons of copper said to lie beneath the forest.

More about mining:
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Indonesia to Allow Underground Mining in Protected Forests
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