The European Wilderness Society recently visited the Svydovets massif in the Ukrainian Carpathians. The area is currently highly disputed because of a proposed mega-ski resort, offering recreation for up to 28 000 visitors per day. Around 60 hotels, 120 restaurants and 33 ski lifts are planned for 230 km of slopes. The group “Free Svydovets” points out the disastrous consequences of this mega-project for the surrounding nature and communities . The group actively campaigns against the project. The European Wilderness Society is a partner of the “Free Svydovets” group, and strongly supports the protection of the unique Svydovets massif. Recently, EU wide campaigns started for the protection of Svydovets.
Please also read: How is Svydovets doing?
The nature of the Svydovets massif
The Svydovets massif is a home to wild mixed spruce and beech forests rich in flora and fauna. Three natural lakes are located within the massif. The massif is known for its high precipitation, about 1 400 mm per year. The source of the Tisza river, one of the region’s most important rivers and tributary of the Danube, is located here as well. As a consequence, the massif is of great importance for the hydrological regime of the Carpathians. Oksana Stahkevitch-Volosyantchouk, a transcarpathian ecologist, says about the area:
“The massif is the territory where the main tributaries of the Tisza originate. There are lakes, marshlands and streams which play a very important role for the hydrogeology of the Carpathians. These humid zones are fed by water from thawing snow and heavy rainfall. They act as a water reserve throughout the year. This strongly reduces the likelihood of catastrophic flooding.”
The proposed ski resort would include the construction of numerous other touristic infrastructure. This includes parking spots, shopping malls and even a landing strip for airplanes. This also means building a network of roads to facilitate these constructions. The project would not only destroy many hectares of forest but would lead to far-reaching changes of the hydrological regime of the area. The current touristic situation of the massif already impacts the fragile ecosystems. Uncoordinated camp sites on the lakesides, illegal cutting of fire wood and water pollution are just a few impacts.
The realisation of such a big project, in combination with the already ongoing changes deriving from climate overheating, would lead to far-reaching changes to these rare ecosystems. Soil erosion, floodings, landslides, the lowering of the water table as well as water pollution and drought would affect the local inhabitants. A group of Ukrainian scientists prepared a scientific ecological assessment of the Svydovets massif. Oksana Stahkevitch-Volosyantchouk says that,
“these valleys and humid zones are very fragile ecosystems. An excessive human intervention in this system would have disastrous consequences. All of these ecosystems are essential for the endemic species of the Carpathians.”
What about our overheating climate?
With warming temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns, building a new ski resort in such a low altitude (1 700m) is neither a sustainable nor profitable effort. Even Austrian ski resorts, mostly located in altitudes between 1 500m and 3 000m, increasingly struggle. The irregular and decreasing snowfalls make artificial snow production necessary for most ski resorts to operate. However, the high amounts of water necessary to guarantee operational resorts all winter often lead to empty water reservoirs already in January. As a result local water shortages happen more and more. Soil compaction causing erosion and a change of vegetation are other consequences of the preparation of slopes.
Ecological organisations “Free Svydovets” consists of locals from the village of Lopukhovo, from Transcarpathia, Lviv and Kiev, lawyers and the European Cooperative ‘Longo maï’ and others. The group demands:
- annul the building permits granted by the two local districts,
- call on the council of ministers to refuse authorisation for a change in land use,
- protect the summits and the natural lakes in the massif by extending the neighbouring Natural Reserve,
- impose a reduction of the maximum yield permitted per hectare for wood cuts,
- encourage stronger controls of forest exploitation by civic organisations
European Wilderness Society presence
In a recent trip with members of “Free Svydovets”, European Wilderness Society visited again the area of the proposed ski resort. First hand impressions of the nature conditions, local traditions and uses, as well as forestry developments of the area were gathered during this visit. The Svydovets massif is not only an essential watersource for Ukraine and neighbouring countries. It is also an important migration corridor for bears and other wildlife. The massif is located in close vicinity to other protected areas, such as the Carpathian Biosphere Reserve, partner of the European Wilderness Network, and Gorgany Nature Reserve. Preserving this ecosystem is thus particularly important to guarantee healthy wildlife populations. Many of the massif’s forests are dominated by natural dynamic processes and are still without any significant extraction – key indicators of Wilderness. These natural and wild forests are home to many red listed and endemic flora and fauna species. The support of international people and organisations is particularly important for the activist group to highlight the international value of the area. More than 20 European institutions, including the European Wilderness Society, have already opposed the construction of the proposed ski area. “Free Svydovets” are currently collecting statements to support their message. If you want to support them, please visit their homepage and sign their petition.
Further pictures of the trip to the Svydovets massif can be found here.
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