Five world “forest heroes” were announced during Wednesday's session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) meeting, being held in İstanbul from April 8 to 19.
A UNFF jury selected the five heroes for this year from 47 international activist nominees. The heroes included Turkey's Protection of Natural Habitats and Combating Soil Erosion (TEMA) founder and Honorary President Hayrettin Karaca. The other heroes chosen were Rose Mukankomeje of Rwanda, Preecha Siri of Thailand, Almir Narayamoga Surui of Brazil and Ariel Lugo of the United States.
Forest heroes have been named since 2011, which marked the International Year of Forests.
Jan McAlpine, director of the UNFF Secretariat, said the jury examined the candidates in several nights of meetings and they chose ordinary people who are not involved in a business related to forestry. He called on other nations to send more candidates for the next edition of the UNFF meetings.
Attending the ceremony in traditional attire, Almin Narayamoga, chief of the Surui tribe, which is one of many indigenous groups living in the Brazilian rainforest, said the “white men” brought illnesses to his tribe and spoiled its economic and cultural structure. Chief Narayamoga said he is working to explain to people the importance of forests and he has drawn up a 50-year plan in order to save them.
Turkey's Karaca, also known in the country as the “forest grandpa,” highlighted the fact that forests are not simply a group of trees but a living ecosystem. He criticized an incorrect perception regarding nature: “One cannot build roads in the forests; forests cannot be managed. Yet we can't explain this somehow. A man who plants 50 trees calls it a forest. This is called a plantation. This event of the UN will hopefully serve to explain this truth,” he said.
Siri has helped guide his community into a model ecosystem management village while another hero, Mukankomeje, has devoted her life to the restoration of Rwandan forests. Scientist and ecologist Lugo has worked to conserve forests around the world and is a noted expert on environmental issues.