War and Trees
If you were to walk today through the treelined parks and boulevards of Sarajevo, you wouldn’t know that just 13 years ago the entire city was devoid of trees—lost as collateral damage in the 44-month siege by Bosnian Serbs.
Igor Lacan, a postdoctoral researcher in environmental science, policy, and management, has found that wartime damage to the urban forest during the Sarajevo conflict was different from that of previous wars. For example, in World War II, the urban forest was destroyed en masse by shelling, air raids, and bombs. During the siege, the trees were gradually cut down by city residents desperate for fuel. It's an increasingly common pattern when regional conflicts turn citizens into urban refugees.
But even in the midst of war, Sarajevo made plans to replace its green canopy. When the fighting ended, the city was able to mobilize and replant the groves and boulevards that had once been the pride of the nation. Lacan found that collaborations between academic experts and municipal arborists were key to the successful replanting. Under the guidance of forestry professors, the city accepted donations of climatically appropriate tree species previously unknown in Sarajevo, such as the Chinese tallow tree Sapium sebiferum, resulting in a more diverse urban forest.
“Today, Sarajevo does not look like a bombed-out city,” said Lacan. “It’s just a bit odd, to see neighborhoods that are very old, but where all the trees are very new. That is really the only sign that the trees were all lost.”