From: James Calderwood, Associated Press
Published May 17, 2007 12:00 AM

Climate Change Threatens Ghaf Tree

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Twisting out of the hot sand of the Arabian Peninsula is one of nature's toughest trees. Known for its coarse bark and green canopy that provides rare shade from the sweltering sun, the ghaf tree has been a steadfast survivor in brutal desert.


But climate change, groundwater overuse, excessive woodcutting and increased camel grazing are threatening the tree's existence, environmentalists say.


The World Wildlife Fund and the Emirates Wildlife Society are launching a campaign to save the ghaf, hoping they can persuade the Persian Gulf country's government to declare it the national tree.


The WWF has set up a Web site where the public can learn about the ghaf, buy ghaf seedlings and register their support. The groups also hope to designate protected ghaf woodlands across the Emirates and plant 100 ghaf trees in a protected part of the Abu Dhabi emirate in September.


The ghaf, which also grows in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, is an essential part of the fragile desert ecosystem, the groups say. Its wood can be used for fuel, its fruit provides food and its flowers and bark are said to have medicinal qualities.


It's also a haven for wildlife. Birds build their nests in the tree's large canopies, and desert eagle owls, brown-necked ravens, gazelles and hares use the ghaf for shelter, while gerbils burrow between its roots, said Rashmi de Roy of the WWF's Dubai office.


The tree has long survived in the harsh desert -- where temperatures soar to more than 122 degrees -- and can cope with long droughts and poor soil. To extract groundwater stored deep below the surface, the tree's roots stretch as deep as 30 yards into the soil.


But environmentalists say several factors are threatening the tree, including rising global temperatures that may be making the desert too hot for the ghaf.


The tree and other sparse desert vegetation also are being overgrazed by the rising number of camels in the region, and a growing human population is pumping more water, causing groundwater to fall below the reach of the ghaf's roots, activists say.


"The main problem for the ghaf is the pollution and reduction of the ground water," said Jackie Judas, a wildlife biologist at the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi.


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Associated Press writer Barbara Surk contributed to this report.


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On the Net:


Save the Ghaf Tree site: http://www.savetheghaftree.org


Source: Associated Press


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