Inside the Gate
  Views from Campus
Peter Dorman, AUB’s 15th president
Presidents of AUB
The Green Issue
Saving the Cedars: The Tannourine Project
It’s War on the Environment
IGESP: Finding Solutions for the Earth’s Problems
Is AUB Green?
Alumni Profile
Maingate Connections
Alumni Happenings
Class Notes
AUB Reflections
In Memoriam
From the Editors
Letters to the Editors
Presidents of AUB
New Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service
Coming to Your Own Back Yard: Seeds of Hope
Three Words...
Nostalgia and Hope: Greater Washington Chapter Exhibition
Randa Khalil: Platinum Green LEED in British Columbia
Remembering Iliya Harik (BA '56, MA '58)
Hostler Green Initiatives
Between Bahrain and AUB

Spring 2008 Vol. VI, No. 3

The Green Issue

Saving the Cedars: The Tannourine Project

In 1996 an urgent campaign was launched to save the Tannourine cedars from a mysterious blight that was devastating Lebanon’s national treasure. Today it looks as if the evil beast has been beaten.

“I was attending a conference in West Hall in 1996 when Dr. Henriette Tohme, who was then a biologist at the Lebanese University, walked up to me with a twig in her hand. She explained that the twig was from one of many cedar trees in Tannourine and asked me, ‘Why does it look like this?’” recalls retired AUB Professor Nasri Kawar. That meeting in West Hall was the beginning of a tenyear mission to save, protect, and preserve the cedars of Tannourine in north Lebanon that continues to this day.

Kawar—who recently retired after spending 45 years at AUB as an FAFS professor of pesticides—has played a central role in this project. He is widely respected for his expertise in Lebanon’s cedars and is the person who discovered the insect that attacked the Barrouk cedars more than 30 years ago, in 1975. Even so, he remembers being stunned by the appearance of the twig that Tohme handed him. “It had a reddish coloration. I knew right away that this was not a healthy twig. I also knew that the coloration was not the result of the insect we had discovered in Barrouk so many years earlier,” he says. His curiosity piqued, he decided to travel to Tannourine that weekend to see the damage for himself. Although he was able to confirm that indeed something was devastating the Tannourine cedars, he could not tell what it was. He could tell, however, that if something were not done, more than half the trees would die.

It was only after several trips over the period of a year that Kawar and his colleagues—including one of his former students Nabil Nemer—were able to observe the larvae that was causing the infestation attacking more than 70 percent of the Tannourine forest.

“It turns out that we needed to be there at precisely the right time in the larvae life cycle to be able to observe them,” says Kawar. Dr. Khuzama Knio, an entomologist at AUB, was able to identify the larvae’s family of sawflies. Specimens were then sent to Dr. Henri Chauvin in France, a specialist in sawflies, who described the new species of Cephalcia, and adopted the name C. tannourinensis, by which the species was already informally known.

Having identified the cause for the pest outbreak that was devastating the Tannourine cedars, Kawar and Nemer shifted their focus to pest management. Despite the risks of using even “safe” insecticides, everyone agreed that it was the only way to treat this problem. Kawar remembers those days. “I told everyone jokingly that if we don’t do something quickly, we would have to replace the cedar on the Lebanese flag with this insect!” While researchers at AUB were considering various options, so too were the people who lived in Tannourine. They contacted Dr. Guy Demolin, an entomologist from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in Paris. Demolin worked closely with Nemer to select the best way to treat the pest outbreak. After considering many options, they chose the insect growth regulator diflubenzuron. Nemer explains that diflubenzuron, which is an environmentally friendly insecticide that is widely used to spray forests throughout Europe and the United States, “works best in the early larval stages of the insect and has a more or less good adhesion to the needles of the trees due to its use with a special kind of oil.”

The AUB-led team of scientists faced a number of challenges as they considered ways to treat the pest outbreak including the presence of mines

in some parts of the forest that were left over from the Lebanese civil war. Looking back, Nemer describes how he and his colleagues “were working in the forest at our own risk” because no one knew exactly where the mines were. Because of the presence of unexploded land mines and the nature of the forest topography, they decided that aerial spraying by helicopters that would be able to get down close to the trees would be the most effective way to treat the cedars. Unfortunately, spraying the forests would also be an expensive undertaking: the price tag for three days of aerial spraying by a helicopter from a French company was $100,000. After a sustained effort, the AUB team was able to convince government officials to fund the first spraying of the Tannourine cedars in 1999. They sprayed again in 2000 with funding provided by the Ministry of Agriculture. In subsequent years, with support from the Lebanese Army, they were able to spray a much larger area at considerably less cost.

Although the spraying was successful in stopping the attack, Kawar and Nemer agreed that it was not a good long-term solution to the problem. They noted that C. tannourinensis had already started to attack the nearby cedars of Bcharreh. Because of the possible hazards to the forest ecosystem, it was critical that they develop some other strategy for managing the insect population than aerial spraying. Between 2001 and 2003 AUB worked with the Ministry of Agriculture on a two-year FAO-funded project to develop an integrated management plan for the pest infestation. Nemer, who has been the point person “on the ground” in all efforts to save the Tannourine cedars, worked closely with other AUB scientists to develop a methodology to monitor the insect populations, organize training and workshops, and develop outreach materials.

In recent years, Kawar and Nemer have led an even larger and more comprehensive initiative—a $1.2 million project entitled Integrated Management of Cedar Forests in Lebanon in Cooperation with Other Mediterranean Countries. The project was funded by a grant from the Global Environment Facility-United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to the Lebanese Ministry of Environment and implemented by AUB. President John Waterbury described the project as a “wonderful example of hard core scientific research with a very high pay-off in practical terms.”

The group of AUB-led scientists has identified the cause of the appearance of C. tannourinensis in the Tannourine Forest, developed an action plan for the integrated management of cedar forests in Lebanon and the region, coordinated activities among scientists in Lebanon, Algeria, Cyprus, Morocco, and Turkey to assess the risk of a future attack, and arranged for all cedar forests in the region to be surveyed for C. tannourinensis and its natural enemies. The project has also generated some enormously successful outreach materials including an 18-minute DVD that has been shown to audiences in Lebanon and other countries that participated in the project.

Throughout all these efforts, the team has worked closely with the people who live and work in the region. “Our efforts to protect Lebanon’s cedars will not succeed unless the local community is actively involved and has a stake in these efforts,” Nemer says. “Although our priority is to protect and preserve Lebanon’s cedars, we recognize that people need to make a living.” In addition to being trained on invasive species control, forest management, flora and fauna monitoring, and the use of GIS and GPS, members of the community are also being helped to prepare traditional processed foods that they can sell to visitors to the Tannourine Cedar Forest Nature Reserve.

Although the $1.2 million project to save the Tannourine cedars ended on December 31, 2007, AUB’s involvement with Lebanon’s cedars continues. Nemer is currently involved in a $3 million project to support five of Lebanon’s nature reserves in Al Shouf, Tannourine, Horsh Ehden, Bentael, and Kfar Zabad. In addition to ongoing efforts to monitor the insect population, particularly in the cedar forest stands in Al Shouf, Tannourine, and Horsh Ehden, the project will tackle other biodiversity problems as well.

“Working on this project has taken over our lives at times, but it has also been very rewarding,” says Kawar. He stresses that the effort would not have succeeded without the coordinated and sustained involvement and cooperation of scientists, funders, and policymakers in Lebanon and the region, and, most importantly, the support of the people who live among Lebanon’s cedars.

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