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Locals, directorate at odds over bird deaths

HDN | 7/3/2009 12:00:00 AM |

Wildlife protection or the lack thereof in Turkey came into the spotlight yet again as a local environmental agency accused the Forestry Directorate of killing thousands of birds as a result of training exercises for fire-fighting planes, but the directorate was quick to respond and deny such exercises.

Wildlife protection in Turkey came into question yet again as a local environmental agency accused the Forestry Directorate of killing thousands of birds as a result of training exercises for firefighting planes. The directorate was quick to respond and deny such exercises.

According to the Doğan news agency, Lake Bafa, which is located in both the Aydın and Muğla provinces in the Aegean region, was chosen for the training exercises. The planes dropped tons of water collected from the lake two weeks ago back onto the lake and Menet Island, which houses the birds, destroying the birds’ nests and killing the young. However, officials from the directorate denied the existence of such a drill, speaking to the Anatolia news agency.

Local villagers reported the incident to the Ecosystem Protection and Nature Lovers Foundation, or EKODOSD, which in turn applied to the Kuşadası Directorate of Natural Parks to stop the exercise. Following that, the drill was moved to Güllük Bay near the town of Bodrum. However, it was claimed that the damage was already done during the more than four days that the exercise continued.

The EKODOSD team carried out inspections on the island and reported that dozens of young birds were killed and that there were no nests that were unharmed.

Bahattin Sürücü, president of EKODOSD, said the adult birds managed to escape when the planes started to drop water on the island but the young ones in the nests could not. “We inspected the scene and have seen that many young birds have died. The young birds died by being flattened against tree branches. Some gray herons broke their wings after falling off their nests,” he said. Sürücü added that although such exercises are very important for success in preventing forest fires, the lake and its very delicate ecosystem is a shelter to many endangered species of birds and definitely not a suitable location for a procedure like that.

Following the publication of this story in newspapers on Friday, officials from the Forestry Directorate spoke to the Anatolia news agency and denied all claims.

The officials accepted that sometimes they take water from the lake to intervene in forest fires but said they never dropped water over the lake. Directorate officials added that firefighting exercises have not been organized of late. The claims about planes dropping water over an island on the lake during training exercises are imaginary, the officials said. The Forestry Directorate also commented on the photographs of dead birds supplied with the story and argued that they must be file photos. The photographs are probably of birds that died a few years ago, the officials said.

The pilots of the planes in question also commented on the issue and said the planes located at the Bodrum-Milas Airport only flew scouting missions. Ayhan Nevarsa, flight operations manager for the planes of the Turkish Aviation Board, said, “There is no question of any drill conducted in the area. Above all, we did not drop water over Lake Bafa for exercise purposes. The claims are untrue and have deeply saddened us.”

Nevarsa said that they are people fighting for the protection of nature by putting their lives on the line. “Us invoking harm on the environment is out of the question. We are environmentalists even more than the friends who came up with these allegations. There is no reason for us to harm the environment. We cannot comprehend what it is they are they trying to achieve,” said Nevarsa.

Following the denial of the claims, Sürücü still stood behind the allegations, saying all the villagers in the area were witnesses and a villager’s field was also damaged during the drill. Sürücü said once again that it was the villagers themselves who notified them of the drill. “We contacted the Directorate of Natural Parks immediately after the applications to us. The location of the exercise was changed due to their complaint. The photographs of the dead birds were taken by us during the inspections we conducted in the area,” Sürücü said.

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