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Water mismanagement destroying steppe ecosystem in Turkey, expert says

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 2/2/2011 12:00:00 AM | SERPİL YAVUZ

Damaging water management policies, forestation practices and error-ridden irrigation methods have irreversibly destroyed Turkey’s steppe ecosystem, an expert says.

Damaging water management policies, forestation practices and error-ridden irrigation methods have irreversibly destroyed Turkey’s steppe ecosystem and the habitat of many endemic species in Turkey, according to an expert on the issue.

Scientific studies indicate that hydroelectric stations, dams and certain irrigation methods are great threats to biodiversity in the steppe areas, meaning that “we are mismanaging our water,” Turan Çetin of the Southeast Anatolia branch of the Doğa Association recently told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

Turkey is located where three continents meet, and many species unfamiliar to most people live in the steppe areas of the southeastern and eastern Anatolian regions, according to Çetin.

“But these areas have been constantly shrinking due to human-induced activities such as clearing land for agricultural activities, erroneous irrigation methods and building dams on rivers which would otherwise continue to sustain life where they flow,” he said.

“People have the misconception that steppe areas are arid or denuded and they tend to plant trees in such areas. But steppe ecosystems have their own flora and fauna,” he said.

The forestation of steppe areas results in an economic loss and is waste of time because trees generally cannot withstand the climate, he said, adding that even if they grow, they cannot provide seeds.

Çetin also said planting trees in the framework of social responsibility projects had become harmful for fragile steppe ecosystems.

Noting that such misconceptions stem from the education people receive at very early ages at school, Çetin said: “We subconsciously believe that nature should consist of green forests. But such endangered animals as bald ibises, striped hyenas, monitor lizards, leopards, vultures – the wingspread of which reaches to three meters – and cobras are endemic to steppe ecosystems. They can only live in these areas of Anatolia in Turkey.”

Forestation and the introduction of other nonnative plants and species cause such steppe habitat to shrink gradually, Çetin said; if such practices continue, species that are already endangered will become extinct.

Touching on the other reasons the population of these species has been reduced, Çetin said: “Local people used to hunt and kill some of these species, such as monitor lizards, on the grounds that they were frightening. Therefore we’ve started education programs at local primary schools and in villages to raise awareness about the importance of these species.”

Experts are only able to reverse the situation by establishing cooperation between villagers, Çetin said. “This huge lizard lives on mice and poisonous snakes; it is in fact a great help to farmers. After realizing this, they’ve started to protect the animal.”

The bald ibis is endemic to the steppe ecosystem and faced the threat of extinction a couple of years ago, but now number 112 following joint efforts from the Environment and Forestry Ministry and the Doğa Association, said Çetin, who has been keeping track of the birds with transmitters on their legs since 2005.

“In the framework of the bald ibis project, we are struggling for bald ibises to continue their lives without people’s support. In fact, what we should do is to let nature take its course and accept it as it is,” he said.

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