I am thinking of my friend Nizar Hani, who lives and works in Lebanon's extraordinary Barouk Mountains as Science Coordinator at the Al-Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve, and hoping this does not become his obituary.
Two years ago, I hosted Nizar, who was in New England on a Middle Eastern Fellowship sponsored by the Quebec-Labrador Foundation. He was the was the only Lebanese participant in a group of nine men and women - all conservation professionals from Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Egypt - who were part of an extraordinary exchange with North American counterparts in a program designed to help "develop their leadership and conflict management skills to address the difficulties that arise in the environmental and community development fields in the Middle East." Those difficulties were inescapable, even here in a neutral place. A Palestinian in the group learned while he was here that his family's home had been demolished.
Nizar was enthusiastic about his work and took the opportunity to learn all he could about the Berkshire Taconic Program of The Nature Conservancy where I was then director. The calcareous bedrock that makes our area hospitable for many regionally rare species has echos in the limestone mountains of his homeland. The WWF has identified Al-Shouf Cedar Reserve as a biodiversity hotspot in the Mediterranean and it is also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. According to the Al-Shouf Cedar Society, whose web page provides many of the images referenced here:
"The reserve hosts 32 species of wild mammals of which 12 are considered to be rare at the international level (wolves, hyenas, lynxes…). 200 species of birds 19 are considered rare at the national level, and 500 species of plants of which 10 are considered rare at the national level plus the medicinal plants (30 species), edible and aromatic plants (50 species)."
The Reserve encompasses 5% of the total national territory of Lebanon, lies along the road from Beirut to Damascus, and marks the southernmost extent of the famed Cedar forests of Lebanon. Cedrus libani trees are the keystone that holds together the remarkable ecology of this landscape. They live thousands of years and were essential in antiquity for the development of Middle Eastern architecture and engineering projects from Egypt to Babylon. They are vulnerable to unsustainable harvests, habitat destruction, and most especially fire. The casualties of an escalating conflict between Hezbollah and Israel include natural resources and World Heritage Sites as well as human lives and property.
The Al-Shouf Cedar Society conceived of the Reserve and manages it in partnership with the Lebanese government. It includes public land and villages, and relies on effective engagement with local people and community-based natural resources management to conserve such a large area. Last month, the Reserve hosted delegates to a Euro-Mediterranean Conference on Managing Natural Resources Through Implementation of Sustainable Policies, the culmination of a four year series of workshops engaging 13 nations and hundreds of participants. Perhaps Nizar accompanied the delegates and showed them some of the wonders of his place, as I did for him two years ago in the Berkshires. May he be able to do so for many years to come.