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Author Topic: THE SAHARA  (Read 4726 times)
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« Reply #15 on: May 16, 2009, 11:02:18 pm »

There are also more local problems. According to Abdoun’s complete tree census, conducted between 1997 and 2001, the cutting of branches and roots for firewood, and the damage to trees from grazing goats are thought to be responsible for the death of eight percent of the trees first counted in 1972. What she hopes is that the tourism industry “will involve itself more in the protection of the trees and of the area in general,” she says, “for its prosperity comes from the appreciation and conservation of the region as a whole.”

She notes that Henri Lhote, who popularized the region’s prehistoric art in his 1959 book The Search for the Tassili Frescoes, wrote of having to burn newly cut cypress wood in order to cook his expedition’s dinners. “One might almost deduce from this,” she says ironically, “that it was really the tree that discovered the frescoes, and not a man.”

Surprisingly, there is also a threat to the trees from flooding. Wadis, dry most of the year, can run fast and high one minute and go back to dry the next. The cypress’s roots meander wide and shallow—the better to grab diffuse, infrequent surface moisture—but lack a firm-footed taproot. As a result, like other cypress species, the tarout often twists above and among stony streambeds, and is vulnerable to upsets in floods. Such flash floods are as common here as they are in the American Southwest: In June 2005, the popular Tuareg singer Osman Balli was killed when his Land Rover overturned in high water at a wadi crossing in the middle of Djanet, and in January 2006 the northern Tassili town of Illizi was severely damaged in a flood.

A further threat to the tarout comes from African emigrants on their way toward Europe, whose crossings on foot often take them from Djanet to the Libyan border town of Ghat. They must often burn wood to stay alive on winter nights when temperatures can drop below freezing. So many have passed this way that the direct line between the two towns is now denuded. Carpentry is a historical use of tarout wood, but is now less of a threat: An Italian–Libyan archeological expedition examined some cypress-plank doors in Ghat and determined through carbon-14 analysis that the wood was cut at least 500 years ago. Local carpenters now work with other, introduced species, such as eucalyptus.
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