Northern Ethiopia is hardly known for its forests. Less than 5 percent of what once stood here remains, and what’s left is under constant threat. As in so many developing countries, much of Ethiopia’s natural landscape has been cleared for agriculture, and for harvesting timber and firewood. Fortunately, there are still hundreds of notable exceptions: bright green patches of forest surrounding the country’s churches. Protected as sacred sanctuaries, some of these forests are over fifteen hundred years old. They range in size from just five acres to more than 1,000. A direct result of the Orthodox Church’s mission to retain a green necklace around the place of worship—a veritable “home for all God’s creatures”—these forests have become the centerpiece in the struggle to conserve what remains of northern Ethiopia’s biodiversity.
The threats to Ethiopia’s church forests are many. Villagers harvest timber, cattle invade and eat seedlings, and farmers till around the forest edges—often pushing across the perimeter and chipping away at the whole. In a country where resources are extremely scarce, few funds exist to buy fences to safeguard these biological treasure-troves… [read more]