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Caspian Hyrcanian Mixed Forests
Azari.Nima
Gilgamesh Magazine
Sustainable development, as a broad definition, is the supplier of the current generation's requirements without damaging the resources needed for current and future generations. Certainly forests and vegetation play an important role in this regard. Sustainability pays special attention to the protection of Earth, and as a result its vegetation. Because forests are the main producers of oxygen in the atmosphere and are essential for the survival of living creatures on Earth, the concept of sustainable forests has become a center of attention in recent years.

The forests of northern Iran, also called Hyrcanian forests, have unique ecological properties, making them an important target for conservation and the implementation of the "sustainable forests" concept. Its characteristics include: the only humid forests in Iran (Hyrcanian), a very limited range (compared to the rest of the country which is mainly arid and semi-arid), antiquity, diversity of plant and tree species and ecological properties.
The Hyrcanian forests are stretched like a narrow band of 80 km with a width of maximum 70 km (in central Mazandaran) and minimum 13 km (in western Mazandaran) in the provinces of Gilan, Mazandaran and Golestan. As mentioned, these forests are part of the Hyrcanian vegetation, one of the five vegetation areas in Iran including Irano-Turanian, NoboSindian, Zagrossian, and Arasbaranian.
For many reasons, which will be described in the following paragraphs, this area has more humidity in comparison with other vegetation areas of Iran. The Hyrcanian forests are part of the three temperate forest areas in the Middle East including Caucasian (mainly in Georgia and Armenia) and Anatolian (mainly Turkey). These three forest areas are located in eastern Europe, Asia Minor and Central Asia and comprise the countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia and Turkey The specific topographic and geographical situation of the Hyrcanian region causes this area's temperate climate (between 30 and 60 Northern latitudes). This temperate and humid climate owes its existence to the surrounding Alborz Mountain Range (south of the Caspian Sea) and Talesh Mountains (west of the Sea) with 4000 m mountain peaks, the Caspian Sea low level (28 m below sea level) which has created a bowl-shaped depression for the area, adjacent to the Caspian Sea and strong winds from the north (from Russia and Siberia) and north-west (from Europe and the Mediterranean).

Caspian Hyrcanian Mixed Forests

The temperate forests of the mentioned areas are mostly influenced by the strong winds of the Mediterranean climate, blowing from a corridor from northwestern Europe (with an average annual rainfall of 800 mm in all of Europe) to the southeast, transferring from the Mediterranean,
Caspain and Black Seas to the northern areas of Iran. These wind currents collide with the high mountains of Azerbaijan and Talesh, preventing them from entering the inner and more arid areas of Iran. Moreover, the hot winds of Central Asia from Turkmenistan to the southeast (eastern Hyrcanian areas i.e. eastern Mazandaran and Golestan provinces) decrease the amount of humidity and annual rainfall. In general, as we go along the Caspian Sea coast and Hyrcanian forests from west (Gilan) to east (Golestan), the average amount of annual rainfall decreases. The highest average annual rainfall belongs to the western Caspian area with 2200 mm, which is interesting when compared to Europe, which is 800 mm. This diversity in humidity has created an environment for various crops in eastern and western Hyrcanian regions. For example, rice and tea with their high need of humidity are common in Gilan province in the west and citrus types with their relatively low humidity requirements are more prevalent in Mazandaran province in the east, while cotton, which requires the lowest amount of humidity compared to the other mentioned crops, is planted in Golestan in eastern Hyrcanian region.

Tooskestan Forest

the Because the humidity transferred from Mediterranean and northern areas is trapped in this area as a result of high mountains and the Caspian Sea's low level, the resulting vegetation is quite unique in terms of flora and fauna compared to the southern arid and semi-arid areas of Iran. Consequently, the temperate deciduous Caspian forests (Hyrcanian) are directly adjacent to the completely different Irano-Turanian vegetation south of the Alborz mountains. In general, these mountains form the intersection between these two vegetation zones. Travellers crossing Alborz mountain range from the sunny and arid central parts of Iran to the north encounter completely different ecosystems with a rainy, foggy and humid climate in a very short period of time. Within this region, in areas such as Sepidroud valley, Damash village (central Gilan) or Abr forest (south of Golestan and north of Semnan provinces) people are surrounded by a cascade of clouds, forming a magnificent view.

Hyrcania in History

Mazandaran Waterfall

Hyrcanians were a tribe in the current regions of Gilan and Mazandaran, giving their name to the Caspian Sea (Hyrcanian Sea).The oldest records mentioning Hyrcania are the works of Hecataeus, called the father of geography by some scholars who mentioned the area's high mountains and dense forests. Barthold believes that Hyrcania is a name with Aryan origin. Moreover, according to Herodotus and Darius the Great's inscription in Bistun, Iran had 30 Satrapies, Tapurestan (current Mazandaran) and Hyrcania (current Gorgan) among them.

Geology and Topography of the Region
The natural bed of the Hyrcanian forests is located in two low plains and mountainous tectonic regions. A large part of this area is composed of Mesozoic rock formations, most of them are sandstone and limestone. These formations are susceptible to environmental and geological events such as erosion and landslides. However, there are also other formations dating back to Paleozoic (mostly sandstone) and Cenozoic (mostly volcanic rocks). The plain region is more recent, dating back to the fourth geologic period and comprises alluvial sediments.
The mountainous part of the Hyrcanian forests includes Talesh and western, central and eastern Alborz mountains. Talesh mountains range from Astara to Sepidroud valley. Western Alborz is from Sepidroud to Chalus valleys and also includes Alamkouh, Iran's second highest peak. Central Alborz stretches from Chalus to Haraz valleys, with the capital Tehran located on this area's southern borders. This region has environmental, ecological and physical importance and value, and with its wide range and width has specific and notable conservation
value, making it a protected area. central Alborz has the highest mountains of this range and as a result, various plant and animal species each adapted to a certain altitude, can be found there. The existence of the central Alborz wild sheep (red sheep) and numerous insects and plants has added to the conservation value of the area. In central and western Alborz, more than 100 peaks with an altitude of more than 300 m exist that are the sources of main rivers such as Haraz, Chalus and Shahroud.
Eastern Alborz ranges from Chalus valley to the Golestan forests (the border between Golestan and Northern Khorasan provinces Central Alborz is both higher in altitude and is wider compared to the other two regions. Travellers crossing this area face high mountains, deep valleys and meandrous roads, but such scenes are rare when they cross the mountains in eastern parts.

Hyrcanian Vegetation Zone
Concerning the topographic, geological and environmental characteristics of this region, its vegetation covers a wide and diverse range. It can be seen in its two types of forests, Caspian lowland and Caspian mountainous forests, both temperate and deciduous. Hence, based on different altitudes, experts have proposed the following categories concerning this vegetation type: - Lowland forests, starting from the plain and up to 500 - 700 m above the sea level. - Middle forests, from 700 - 1000 m. - High forests, from 1000 - 2300 m or higher in which pastures replace the forest in high altitudes The important point is that in high altitudes we have steep slopes. Because of the inherent vulnerability of the ground to erosion and rainfalls, only the strong roots of old trees can keep this structure intact, making the conservation of this area a priority In 1999, the area comprising these toreros was 12.4 million hectares. Later, according the Food and Agriculture Organization United Nations (FAO). this number droppe to 7.3 million hectares. 0.87% of the cou IS covered by more than 90% natural fores which are of Hyrcanian type. Sino than 70% of Iran is covered by deanian type. Since more vered by desert and records mentioning Hyrcania are the works of Hecataeus, called the father of geography by some scholars who mentioned the area's high mountains and dense forests. Barthold believes that Hyrcania is a name with Aryan origin. Moreover, according to Herodotus and Darius the Great's inscription in Bistun, Iran had 30 Satrapies, Tapurestan (current Mazandaran) and Hyrcania (current Gorgan) among them.

Wooden House Caspian Hyrcanian Forests

Geology and Topography of the Region
The natural bed of the Hyrcanian forests is located in two low plains and mountainous tectonic regions. A large part of this area is composed of Mesozoic rock formations, most of them are sandstone and limestone. These formations are susceptible to environmental and geological events such as erosion and landslides. However, there are also other formations dating back to Paleozoic (mostly sandstone) and Cenozoic (mostly volcanic rocks). The plain region is more recent, dating back to the fourth geologic period and comprises alluvial sediments.
The mountainous part of the Hyrcanian forests includes Talesh and western, central and eastern Alborz mountains. Talesh mountains range from Astara to Sepidroud valley. Western Alborz is from Sepidroud to Chalus valleys and also includes Alamkouh, Iran's second highest peak. Central Alborz stretches from Chalus to Haraz valleys, with the capital Tehran located on this area's southern borders. This region has environmental, ecological and physical importance and value, and with its wide range and width has specific and notable conservation value, making it a protected area. central Alborz has the highest mountains of this range and as a result, various plant and animal species each adapted to a certain altitude, can be found there. The existence of the central Alborz wild sheep (red sheep) and numerous insects and plants has added to the conservation value of the area. In central and western Alborz, more than 100 peaks with an altitude of more than 300 m exist that are the sources of main rivers such as Haraz, Chalus and Shahroud.
Eastern Alborz ranges from Chalus valley to the Golestan forests (the border between Golestan and Northern Khorasan provinces Central Alborz is both higher in altitude and is wider compared to the other two regions. Travellers crossing this area face high mountains, deep valleys and meandrous roads, but such scenes are rare when they cross the mountains in eastern parts.

Fauna of the Hyrcanian Forests

Hyrcanian Vegetation Zone
Concerning the topographic, geological and environmental characteristics of this region, its vegetation covers a wide and diverse range. It can be seen in its two types of forests, Caspian lowland and Caspian mountainous forests, both temperate and deciduous. Hence, based on different altitudes, experts have proposed the following categories concerning this vegetation type: - Lowland forests, starting from the plain and up to 500 - 700 m above the sea level. - Middle forests, from 700 - 1000 m. - High forests, from 1000 - 2300 m or higher in which pastures replace the forest in high altitudes
The important point is that in high altitudes we have steep slopes. Because of the inherent vulnerability of the ground to erosion and rainfalls, only the strong roots of old trees can keep this structure intact, making the conservation of this area a priority
In 1999, the area comprising these toreros was 12.4 million hectares. Later, according the Food and Agriculture Organization United Nations (FAO). this number droppe to 7.3 million hectares. 0.87% of the country IS covered by more than 90% natural forests, which are of Hyrcanian type. Since more than 70% of Iran is covered by desert and semi-desert lands, these forests have a great deal of importance and are a main focus for conservation as sustainable forests. In the following, we mention a few important species in these forests: - Hedge maple: a tree with a height of more than 25 m that usually grows within the range of 1100 - 2600 m above sea level. -
Parrotica persica: this species has a unique ecological role among forest communities. It is a remnant of the third geological period with different and beautiful colors during autumn. -
Zelkova carpinifolia: a beautiful species with a wide range of industrial applications.
 - Qureus (oak)
- Alnus (alder)
- Fagus orientalis (beech) - Italian cypress - English yew
It has also been stated that the high Hyrcanian forests are one of the most ancient forest vegetations in the world, dating back to the third geological period. As a result, this region has paleontological value as well, but unfortunately it is suffering from deforestation and industry development.
The transitional vegetation areas are also important because they are located between the Hyrcanian and Irano-Turanian zones, representing both of them in one place. This has also been an important factor in making central Alborz a protected area.

Fauna of the Hyrcanian Forests

Fauna of the Hyrcanian Forests
Considering the area's dense and deciduous forests, various species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians have adapted themselves to this environment; such as: red deer, roe deer, central Alborz wild sheep, wild goat, brown bear, wild boar, Persian leopard among mammals and various birds of prey, Passeriform and Galliform birds, etc.
However, the most prominent animal in this region, the Caspian or Hyrcanian tiger, unfortunately went extinct a long time ago. The Caspian tiger was the third biggest tiger subspecies after Siberian and Bengal tigers. Its length was recorded to be 2 - 3 m and even 4 m (!) with a weight of 250 kg in adult males. The tiger's territory was around 60 square miles. Being an elusive species, their preys were large mammals and domestic animals. Once widespread across Asia, its range was recently reduced to northwest China,
Southern Russia, northern Iran, Afghanistan and eastern Turkey. After decades of absence in these areas, we can now be certain that the Caspian tiger is extinct. In Iran, the tiger's habitat extended from Astara in the west to Turkmen-sahra in the east. It is said that the last tiger was shot in 1332 in the current Golestan province. Since then, there have been many reports of the tiger's sightings in different countries of its former area, but later studies and searching projects did not confirm the tiger's existence. In Iran, hunting the tiger and its prey, together with habitat destruction, ultimately led to its extinction. The Hyrcanian tiger was frequently present in Gladiatorial combats in ancient Rome and for centuries it was the only known tiger type in the west, so that eastern subspecies were rarely mentioned in historical texts. Perhaps this is the reason why Shakespeare has used the term "Hyrcanian tiger" in Macbeth. The hunting expedition of the Qajar Prince Zell-e Soltan in eastern forests of the Caspian Sea and killing of 35 tigers among hundreds of other animals is considered an environmental disaster in the natural history of Iran.

Fauna of the Hyrcanian Forests

Local Communities in Hyrcanian Region
Concerning the environmental and physical structure of the region, including the mountainous part, 4000 m above sea level, and the alluvial or plain area with its dense forests and the existence of the Caspian Sea in its vicinity, the people and communities of the region have peculiar characteristics that are reflected in their lifestyle and culture. The economy of the villagers and locals is mainly dependent on natural resources in the forest and sea. Fishing by nets and angling has been common for a long time and logging is also a prevalent activity. Hunting was a source of income in the past but has been reduced as a result of controlling measures; however, illegal hunting persists.
The local people of Gilan, Mazandaran and Golestan provinces have their distinct dialects and accents with different rituals and lifestyles. The
foods and cuisines are so diverse that Gilan has been called a paradise of local foods and food tourism thrives in the area. Moreover, the unique architecture found in these provinces is also a major feature, especially in the form of cottages with open balconies above the ground level. Local handicrafts such as mat weaving and traditional music represent the cultural diversity of local communities in the Hyrcanian region.

Hyrcanian Forests and Sustainable Development
Regarding the importance of Hyrcanian forests as the only dense and humid forests of Iran (in an arid and semi-arid climate country) and their narrow and small range, any destructive activity can have a negative impact and pose a threat to their existence, Unfortunately, this has been the trend in recent decades and logging, illegal hunting and land use changes have had such a damaging effect on this area that it has been called "the ancient forests of the North, soon to be lost forever".
Given its unique fauna, flora and the culture on its local population and communities, it is necessary to implement conservative measures to protect the environment of the Hyrcanian forests. These forests are close to be registered as a UNESCO Natural Heritage Site, making immediate conservative measures absolutely necessary to materialize the concept of sustainable forests and preserve them for future generations.