"Once 60 percent of the country's total area was covered with forest but now it has declined," Yaregal Aysheshim, president of the regional state, said. "Nowadays cutting trees for various activities is increasing."
According to Yaregal, of the 50,380 sqkm comprising Benishangul Gumuz, 60 percent is still covered with forest. But there are concerns that the bamboo, eucalyptus and rubber trees, incense and gum forests, as well as the indigenous trees of Wanaza, Sholla, Dokima, Sessa and Tikur Enchiet, could be threatened.
"Deforestation is becoming one of the burning issues in Benishangul Gumuz," he said at the launch of a campaign to plant 1.5 million seedlings in the next two months of the rainy season. "This plan will help to recover our forest asset that is being depleted at an alarming rate."
The exercise is part of a national tree-planting initiative that aims to plant 52 million trees before Ethiopia's year-long millennium celebrations in September. Each Ethiopian is expected to plant two trees.
"Deforestation is bringing climate change to my region and the rest of the country," Yaregal explained. "This is seen from the heavy floods that occurred in Dire Dawa, Omo and nine other regions.
"Previously, the rainy season lasted for seven months but nowadays the rainy season of Benishangul Gumuz is changing. The amount of the rainfall is also changing. Sometimes there are heavy floods in some areas of our region, damaging crops and properties."
The wet season runs from April to May and October to November.