Climate change is destroying Lebanon’s biblical cedar trees
The cedar trees of Lebanon have survived for millennia. King Solomon is said to have used the tall, strong evergreens to build his temple in Jerusalem. The Phoenicians chopped them down to build ships, the ancient Egyptians to make paper.
But conservationists are warning the usually resilient trees are now facing the biggest threat to their existence – climate change. Today in the Chouf Biosphere Reserve south of the Lebanese capital Beirut, black branchless trunks jut from the ground where young, healthy ones once stood.
The cedars, which grow in Lebanon and a handful of other Mediterranean countries where they enjoy the high altitude and humid climate, are suffering from the longer, hotter summers and drier winters.
In the 1950s, it typically rained or snowed here 100 days a year or more. The relatively cool temperatures through winter would keep snow on the ground for months. However, the last few winters have seen an average of just 40-50. Temperatures, meanwhile, have risen 2 degrees.
The warming earth has encouraged greater numbers of sawflies, the Cephalcia tannourinensis, which burrow into the cedars’ trunks and feast on their needles. While the larvae first began to appear in the 1990s, they have previously gone unnoticed because their cycles did not interfere with the trees, now, the insects mostly target the relatively younger trees – those aged between 20-100 years. Last year, 170 trees dried up completely and died. It was like a fire had ravaged the forest.