By Armine Tokhmakhyan and Jason Sohigian

12:15, September 30, 2011

YEREVAN--The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has
been publishing its "Red List of Threatened Species" since 1963. The
IUCN is the world's main authority on the conservation status of
plant and animal species, and the Red List is published periodically
as the most comprehensive inventory available. A series of regional
Red Lists are produced by countries and organizations to assess the
risk of extinction to species within a smaller geographic area.

The Ministry of Nature Protection released its own two-volume "Red
Book of Plants and Animals of the Republic of Armenia" in 2010. "The
country's attractiveness and public welfare are directly linked
with the splendor and richness of its natural heritage," writes Aram
Harutyunyan, Armenia's Minister of Nature Protection, in the preface
to the publication. "The production of the Red Book is another step
forward in the preservation and recovery of the region's biodiversity."

There are approximately 3,600 plant species in Armenia, and 123 are
endemic or found nowhere else on the planet. According to the authors,
these plants may become endangered because of a number of influences
including deforestation, the overuse of resources like water, and
development of land which provides habitats for plants and animals.

The new Red Book includes information about 452 plant and 40 fungus
species that are rare, along with information on 223 plant species
that are in danger of extinction.

"In response to the concern over the loss of native plants,Armenia
Tree Projecthas a policy of growing only indigenous trees in its three
nurseries," explains Samvel Ghandilyan, ATP's Nursery Program manager.

The only exception to this is "naturalized" trees, which were
introduced long ago, have not been observed to have a negative impact
on the local ecosystem, and provide an added benefit of food security
(fruit and nut trees).

"An ecosystem is a community of plants, animals, and smaller organisms
that live, feed, and interact within the same physical components of
an area or environment, including the soil, water, and sunlight. When
you introduce plant species that are not native to the area, there is
a risk that the local ecosystem will be negatively affected, creating
a less suitable environment for local species," adds Ghandilyan. "In
recent years we've noticed that many native species that comprise
our local ecosystem have either vanished or drastically reduced
in numbers. Native and naturalized species possess certain traits
that make them more likely to thrive under local conditions without
negative impacts, which is why ATP has made this a priority in our
nursery and tree planting programs."

"ATP started to pay special attention to the propagation of endangered
species of plants at our nursery in Karin. These include nine trees
and shrubs that are registered as rare in the Red Book and two that
are in danger of extinction," Ghandilyan says. "These are Alpine Maple
or Acer Thrautvetteri, and Halfsphere Rose or Rosa Gaenuspherica."

"Our nurseries serve the communities of Armenia by providing fruit
and decorative trees to more than 900 planting sites," explains Areg
Maghakian, ATP Deputy Director of Operations. "As a result of this
work, we will soon be able to observe some of the species included in
the Red Book in the parks, churches, and schools throughout Armenia."

ATP's next ambitious initiative is the restoration of Armenian Heritage
Fruit Trees. In the past, Armenia had numerous varieties of apple,
peach, and apricot trees. These fruit trees are now rare and measures
are being taken to preserve the heritage trees from disappearance.

"Last year we started to produce Heritage Fruit Trees at ATP's Karin
and Khachpar nurseries," adds Maghakian. "In 2010, we successfully
grafted Parvana and Shaqareni apple, Malacha and Dzmernuk pear, and
Yerevani and Sateni apricot trees, which will be delivered to community
planting sites in coming years. As part of our mission to re-green
Armenia, ATP has a commitment to preserve our precious biodiversity
by planting native and endangered trees all over the country."

ATP's mission is to assist the Armenian people in using trees
to improve their standard of living and protect the environment,
guided by the need to promote self-sufficiency, aid those with the
fewest resources first, and conserve the indigenous ecosystem. ATP's
three major programs are tree planting, environmental education, and
sustainable development initiatives. For more information about ATP,
please visit the web site