The European Wilderness Society and Slovak Paradise National Park have a successful partnership for several years. Slovak paradise proved that they do not only commit to manage this iconic protected area well, but are also enthusiatic to protect Wilderness. Wilderness in Slovensky raj (Slovakian for Slovak Paradise) is inherited from the previous generations of land owners and foresters. Small fragments of self-willed land survived, while people living in this part of Slovakia significantly impacted the land for the last four to five centuries.
These fragments of Wilderness survived thanks to the remoteness of the areas and their inaccessibility. People exploited the majority of land in this area by intensive logging. Often, clearcutting and subsequent intensive grazing by domestic animals were the tools of choice. That was the typical way of life for people in the Carpathian Mountains for centuries. Over time, people invented more and more sophisticated tools, which allowed a more intensive use of forests. Native forest literally survived only in narrow, steep canyons. These canyons were impassable barriers for woodcutters and their horses. People passed many canyons for the first time at the end of 19th century.
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After the Second World War, when communism took over Slovakia, land owners were not the main forest users anymore. Over the years, state forestry took over and became responsible for forest management on behalf of the government. During that time, dynamite and strong machines were already easily available. So, bulldozers and dynamite opened up many formerly inaccessible corners of Slovak Paradise. They widened narrow rocky gates in the bottom of canyons. Only rocky walls, which were tens of meters high, could stop the bulldozers. Nevertherless, the first protected reserve in Slovak Paradise was founded already in 1890. The name Slovenský raj first appeared in 1921. In 1964, the first protected landscape area in Slovakia was established in Slovak Paradise. The area was recategorized into a national park in 1988.
At the beginning of the nineties, when communism in Europe collapsed, heirs of the original land owners gradually reclaimed their property. At this time, Wilderness areas were already legally protected. So, the land was returned back to the original landowners with some limitation to its use. Landowners could not do extractive logging in areas designated as core zone of national parks. This rule is still valid for private and state ownership. Nevertheless, in some specific situations, authorities allowed extractive logging by issuing exceptions from the nature conservation act.
It is urgent time to replace the old communism era model of protected areas management by the new model as was done in Poland, Czech or Bulgaria already several decades ago.
Management challenges in Slovak Paradise
Since the collapse of communism, land that was nationalised almost 40 years ago, was returned back to the former landowners. After this process, about 30% of national park area became private land again. The state forestry service still manages the other 70% of land. In practice, that means that not nature conservation legislation, but commercial interests drive forest management. Park managements are just one of many unheard voices promoting nature conservation in forests.
This management model inherited from the communism era is still in power. And it seems that it will be in the coming years, too. Even after 30 years of discussion, ministries and the Slovakian parliament are not brave enough to fix this problem. Even a recently approved update of the national nature conservation law did not deal with this subject.
Contradiction of the objectives
The result is that two different state agencies manage state owned land in national parks. The forest service manages forests according to forestry law. Parallely, national park managements guarantee biodiversity conservation following nature conservation law. National parks are also responsible for the fulfillment of a number of international agreements.
The result of this model is that the management of Slovak Paradise National Park has very limited management options. It is missing effective tools to achieve objectives defined in legislation and international agreements. The management is still in the role of a beggar to implement long-term objectives. Instead of implementing international commitments, it must daily negotiate compromises with the land owners (private or state forestry).
Knowing the situation in Slovakia, I am astonished to learn that Slovak Paradise National Park managed to finally implement a new modern zoning system. It is currently the only protected area in Slovakia with such a success. All these achievements were made thanks to strong personal commitment of the management.
Surprise of international experts
International experts visiting this area have a challenging time to understand why this controversial model of management is still in practice. State forestry even manages land officially designated to fulfil nature conservation objectives. Hence, forestry legislation drives daily activities. In reality, all nature conservation achievements are results of endless meetings and compromises.
All around the world, governments spend a lot of money and resources to avoid this kind of conflicting model. They either buy land they want to protect or pay compensation to fulfill nature conservation objectives and international commitments. Neighbouring Ukraine shows how large protected areas and Wilderness can be managed effectively.
Wilderness has a difficult position in Slovakia
In Slovakia, state-owned forests, even areas crucial for nature conservation, are often managed with focus on profit. All nature conservation achievements are results of long and demanding negotiations between state forestry and the management of the protected area. The majority of fundamental conservation issues such as strict conservation (without legally approved exceptions) are very challenging. The result is that only commercially uninteresting land is offered for protection. Wilderness and nature conservation has thus a difficult position in Slovakia.