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Rising From the Ashes

September 16, 2008

By Ierardi, Katrina

Wildfires in the summer of 2007 transformed the ancient, beautiful landscape of Greece into a blazing inferno. More than 60 people died, and people worldwide feared the loss of artifacts at sites that date back to 900 BC. The fires covered more than half the country, sweeping through hundreds of square miles of forests, including nature reserves, ecological hotspots, and areas of great historical and cultural importance. This year, AMERICAN FORESTS teams up with Plant Your Roots in Greece to heal some of the damage. Founded in 1991 and now under the auspices of the World Council of Hellenes Abroad, Plant Your Roots in Greece seeks to involve Greeks and those of Greek descent in improving and protecting their homeland’s environment. This, it believes, upholds a philosophy that “combines the Ancient Greek principle of respect toward nature with the Olympic idea of voluntarism.” AMERICAN FORESTS’ Global ReLeaf International supports this philosophy by providing aid to plant 80,000 trees between two areas of particular historical and ecological importance: Ancient Olympia and Mount Taygetos.

ANCIENT OLYMPIA

When the 2007 fires reached Ancient Olympia, a city dating back as far as 900 BC, many feared for the historic relics there, among them ancient ruins and statues, the temples of Zeus and Hera, the Stadium, the Olympic Academy, and the archaeological museum. While firefighters were able to save most of the ruins, thousands of trees were lost and several historic sites left endangered. The Hill of Kronos, sacred to Zeus’ father Kronos and overlooking the Olympic site, was completely engulfed in flames. The original Olympic games were held there in Kronos’ honor in 776 BC; prehistoric religious rituals and oracles also took place there. Also extensively damaged was the Olympic Academy Grove, which contains the marble altar, or stele, under which is buried the heart of Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the contemporary Olympics. The first runner in the Olympic torch relay pauses at the stele to honor the Olympics’ modern founder as well as its ancient ones.

The damage in Ancient Olympia does more than simply detract from its beauty and tourism appeal. Tree roots stabilize the soil and prevent erosion. Without replacing the many trees lost, the ruins could be at risk, perhaps irreparably so. By helping to reforest Olympia and restore it to its original glory, AMERICAN FORESTS and Plant Your Roots in Greece ensure that this place of invaluable history and culture will be preserved for centuries more.

MOUNT TAYGETOS

Mount Taygetos is famous not for what used to be there but for what is there now. This haven of biodiversity is home to more than 130 species of animals, 30 of them rare or endangered, and 160 species of native plants, 21 of which are found nowhere else in the world.

After the 2007 fires, however, this important ecological site is in jeopardy.

At 7,887 feet high and 25 mues long Taygetos is the largest mountain in the Peloponnese, the southernmost portion of mainland Greece; animal fossils nearly 2 million years old have been found there. When flames swept through nearly 28,000 acres of Taygetos, they scattered wildlife and devoured forests of black pine and Grecian fir that covered the mountain.

Even now, the total ecological consequences are unknown. Many native plants were diminished to the point of near extinction. Animals were killed or lost their habitat, including the golden jackal, which, while declining in India and Africa, was considered a safe population m Greece. The fires, scientists fear, may have changed that.

Greece is home to 75 percent of the world’s population of Eleonora’s falcon, an elegant bird of prey that migrates to Taygetos in April and remains there until October. The fires destroyed many of the trees in its habitat and drove away much of its prey. Other species threatened by the fires include the Peloponnese wall lizard, lesser kestrel, Corsican red deer, and eastern imperial eagle. A rare breed of butterfly, the Taygetos blue, exists only on Mount Taygetos, living among the many plant species endemic to the area. All have been threatened by the fires in the Peloponnese, and only by replacing what we can of this once-glorious ecosystem can we hope to make progress towards restoring Taygetos.

The reforestation efforts by Global ReLeaf and Plant Your Roots in Greece are an important step in repairing some of the damage caused by the 2007 wildfires, hi time, with the combined efforts of those around the world who are willing to donate time and money to the cause, we can restore other fire-torn parts of Greece to their previous state, making them once again places of history, ecological wonder, and natural beauty.

Individuals and businesses that wish to contribute to Global ReLeaf may do so through AMERICAN FORESTS’ website, www.americanforests.org, or by calling 800/368-5748.-Katrina Ierardi

At top, Mount Taygetos and the dense forest on its foothills. Inset: The winged statue of victory in front of smoke from fires in the village of undent Olympia.

Copyright American Forests Summer 2008

(c) 2008 American Forests. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.