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Environmental Resources

Environmental Overview





The country of Georgia is smaller than Ireland, about half the size of the American state that shares its name, but great diversity lies within its borders. The dominant feature of the country, the High Caucasus Range, is one reason: in Georgia alone three peaks top 5,000 meters (16,400 ft) and several higher ones are found just to the north, including Mt. Elbrus, Europe's highest peak at 5,642 meters (18,510 ft). The presence of these towering snow-capped peaks is balanced by the 3,000-meter (9840 ft) high Lesser Caucasus range along the Turkish border to the southwest.

In the High Caucasus region are found many different climates and life zones, with regional subalpine forests of birch, oak and conifers giving way to alpine communities of herbacious plants and flowers. Near-barren nival (snow-dominated) landscapes crown the 1200-kilometer (750 miles) long range, with over 2,000 glaciers scouring its granite, andesite, and slate ridges. By contrast, the Lesser Caucasus of the southern border are largely treeless rounded ranges of older stone and sediment, covered with grasslands, meadows and steppes. Here warmer continental climates and only moderate precipitation create a distinct set of ecological conditions.

The forested 40% of Georgia's territory is highly diverse, with nearly 5,000 species of vascular plants (trees and flowers) and twice that number of cryptogamous species (fungi, mosses, algae and ferns). About 9% of these are endemic, a high proportion for so small a country. Despite the large percentage of forested lands in Georgia, population and economic pressures have cut into the viability of these plant communities: A significant number of endemics are now rare or endangered, and a few extinct in Georgia's forests, including the Georgian elm, the Transcaucasian poplar, and the Eldari pine.

The fauna of Georgia present similar diversity and vulnerability: of the 100-plus species of mammals, 330 species of birds, and 63 reptiles and amphibians, the rare, threatened or endangered lists total 21 mammals, 33 birds, and 10 reptiles and amphibians. Some of the signature animals of the Caucasus region - four species of wild goat, the Persian gazelle, the striped hyena and the Caucasian leopard - are extinct or nearly-so in Georgia. Others, such as red deer, lynx, wolves and many smaller mammals such as wildcats, squirrels, even voles, hamsters and mice, are also diminishing.

Georgia's situation between Asia and Europe, the Black Sea and the Caspian, makes it a natural funnel for bird migration, and there's a number of interesting migratory species and raptors found here. Several vultures -- including the griffon vulture, the black vulture, and the bearded vulture or lammergeier -- vie for prey and carrion with numerous eagle species and falcons. Yet several of these are endangered as well, along with storks, cranes, ibis and woodpeckers. Interesting, the common pheasant, Phasianus colchicus, which has spread around the world since Greek invaders took a fancy to its flesh in the millennium before Christ, is endangered in its land of origin.

While threats to Georgia's natural resources are very real, it is still a country of great charm and beauty, and if the efforts of its dedicated environmental community are successful, it will stand as a model of ecological management and conservation.

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