Wilderness is under pressure in Europe

If you ever wondered what pressures exist for wilderness, here is an article, which we received from Stela Dineva, WWF Bulgarian Office. This is a reaction to our article on the threats for Tatra National Park in Slovakia! We sincerely thank Stela for sharing this news with us, which we publish without any editing.

Please also read: Wilderness Stewardship

Another example of National Park in Europe threatened by unsustainable development is Rila National Park, Bulgaria. A part of a mega project for ski facilities is already a fact – the lift to the Seven Rila Lakes (called “the eyes of Rila”). It affects not only a National Park but also a Natura 2000 site designated for the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora of Community interest – RilaSCI. Although illegal (built with decision of environmental impact assessment (EIA) which was void by prescription and without appropriate assessment (AA) it lifts enormous number of tourists to the Seven Rila lakes. These oligotrophic mountain lakes are vulnerable habitat of glacial origin and if EIA and AA were implemented for the lift in the statutory term they would have shown the devastating anthropogenic effects on the Seven Lakes.

The Bulgarian Ministry of environment (MEW) and the European Commission (EC) were aware of the negative impact of the increasing number of the tourists on the glacial lakes ecosystems in the circus of the Seven Rila lakes before and after the construction of the lift.

The negative impact of the visitors of the Seven Rila lakes figures as one of the threats for Rila National Park listed in the Management Plan (2001). The scientists, whose research on the glacial lakes ecosystems in the circus (from the late 90s up to 2001) were used for the development of the Management Plan, warned about this negative effect. It is written in the Management Plan that “the high concentration of people around the Seven Lakes (about 400 people in August 1997, about 2,000 people in 1999) affects vegetation, deteriorates the purity of water and soil, significant areas are trampled.”

According to official information from MEW only in 2011 (after the start of the lift in 2009) in the Seven Lakes area were concentrated 120,539 people. MEW was alarmed by non-governmental organizations and citizens many times for the risk of the construction of the illegal lift “Pionerska hut – Rila lakes hut”. A complaint by Bulgarian NGOs was sent to EC DG Environment in 2008, and copy of this complaint – to MEW. A quotation from the complaint:

“The flow of people (through direct pollution or waste household water, construction activities etc) will lead to: increasing eutrophication (shift from oligo- and mesotrophic to meso- and eutrophic), appearance of blue-green and green algae, change in the water flow, the level of lakes, ie. degradation and destruction of the habitat and disappearance of the characteristic species.”

“Limitation of the tourist flow in the areas of the endangered lakes“ is the “conservation measure needed” for the Oligotrophic mountain lakes according to The Red Data Book of the Republic of Bulgaria, Volume 3 – Natural habitats – joint edition of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences & MEW, 2011. It also says that tourism leads to “erosion of the banks, pollution with organic and other types of waste (metals, plastics, food remains)” and that it is a factor increasing the speed of the eutrophication of the lakes.

The report on the favourable conservation status of the habitat type of the Seven  lakes, protected under Natura 2000, was published on the website of MEW on 10 October 2013. It states that:

  • The “general assessment of the status of natural habitat 3130 in BG0000495 Rila SCI according to all the criteria” is “unfavorable insufficient status”
  • “It is urgently needed to restrict the tourist flow especially in the SevenLakes area”;
  • “If such measures are not taken urgently, the habitat will go into unfavorable bad status.”

EC requested for evidences that the increased tourists flow disrupts the ecosystem of the lakes. A Statement of independent experts (scientists in hydrobiology and algology) on the accelerated eutrophication and other negative impacts on habitat 3130 in Rila SCI was sent to the Commission in January 2013. According to this statement there are indications for advanced eutrophication in lakes which are not monitored by MEW, besides the data for the development of this process the lakes whose physicochemical parameters are monitored by MEW.

According to the scientists the camping in the area of the Lakes increased especially after 2009. At present EC requests evidences that the number of the tourists is formed by the operation of the lift. When it is necessary to decrease the tourist flow in a precious natural habitat you could not do it by allowing the functioning of a new lift, could you?! Evidences that the tourists increased after 2009 are presented to EC and are more than clear from the letters with data from the monitoring of the number of the tourists sent from MEW and its structures to Bulgarian NGOs.

Anthropogenic changes and threats to habitat 3130 related to the eutrophication of lakes due to increased tourist flow in the region of the Seven Lakes as a result of the construction and the operation of the chairlift from Pionerska hut to Rila Lakes hut.

Statement of experts

The report on the favourable conservation status of the Seven Rila lakes says that “It is necessary to take measures to build paths for the tourists to adhere to.” MEW envisages such a measure although it is obvious from the report that it is not the first and the only measure which should be taken. The scientific report underlines the urgency of reducing the flow of tourists in the area of the Seven Rila lakes.

Besides the above mentioned project in recent weeks,the government directly declared itself in favor of a new investor who wants to build 20,000 beds and 155km of ski runs in the old growth forests between Samokov and Sapareva Banya. Entering in Rila National Park will be sought again.

We do not expect excuses from the irresponsible and passive till present authorities but we do insist on taking actions:

  • The operation of the illegal lift should be stopped
  • All the illegal acts of investors and the government in the protected areas should be sanctioned
  • The impact on the environment and after this – on the economy of all the plans and projects falling in protected areas (esp. national parks and nature parks) should be adequately assessed before their implementation.

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One thought on “Wilderness is under pressure in Europe

  1. Wilderness in Europe is in constant and growing threat!!! This article is just top of the iceberg. Therefore is so important to motivate people to secure wilderness for present and future generations!

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Join more 100+ forest experts demanding a radical change in German forestry management.

Sign the Open Letter to the German Federal Minister of Forestry and Agriculture

Open Letter to the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Federal Ministry of
Food and Agriculture
Minister Julia Klöckner
11055 Berlin

Dear Minister Klöckner,

The current situation of the forest in Germany is worrying. It is a forest crisis not only driven by climate change. The current crisis management of the forestry industry is backward-looking and harmful to the forest. The declaration announced at the meeting of ministers in Moritzburg can be described as a `Moritzburg declaration of bankruptcy´. We call on the state forestry industry to, instead of expensive rushed actions, finally carry out an expert analysis of its own work and to involve all stakeholders in this process. What is called for is a consistent departure from plantation forestry and a radical shift towards a management that treats the forest as an ecosystem and no longer as a wood factory.

On 1stAugust 2019, five forestry ministers of CDU and CSU-led states adopted a so-called “master plan” for the forest in Germany, which was affected by heat, bark beetles, fire and drought. As of 2020, the federal government is to make 800 million euros available as a reaction to climate change. This money is to be used to repair the damage caused, reforest the damaged areas and carry out `climate-adapted´ forest conversion – including the use of non-native tree species that have not yet been cultivated in the forest. Research should therefore focus on on tree species suitability and forest plant breeding in the future – keyword: `Climate-adapted forest of the future 2100´.

Remarkably, the damage caused primarily by the extreme drought of 2018 is attributed solely to climate change. Climate change is meeting a forest that is systemically ill due to the planting of non-native tree species, species poverty, monocultures, uniform structure, average low age, mechanical soil compaction, drainage etc. A healthy, resistant forest would look differently! The master plan emphasizes: sustainable, multifunctional and `active´ forest management remains indispensable – and thereby means that its unnatural state cannot be changed. Reference is made to the `carbon storage and substitution effects´ of wood products. The use of wood, e.g. in the construction industry, should be increased and thus the demand for wood should be further fueled – while knowing that the forest in Germany already cannot meet this demand. In fact, forest owners are suffering from poor timber prices due to an oversupply of trunk wood on the world market.

All these demands make clear: the current forestry strategy, which has been practiced for decades, should not change in principle. The concept is simple: cut down trees – plant trees. At best, the `design´ of the future artificial forests consisting of perfectly calculated tree species mixtures, that are believed to survive climate change without damages, can be changed. In all seriousness, the intention is to continue selling the public a so-called `future strategy´ to save the forest. This strategy seamlessly follows the model of a wood factory, that is met with general rejection and must be regarded as a failure in view of the coniferous plantations that are currently collapsing on a large scale. An essential part of the forests that have currently died is exactly the part that was reestablished in 1947 as coniferous monocultures on a much larger area than today. There is only one difference to the situation at the time: considerable amounts of money are to be made available from taxes for forest owners this time.

Climate change is progressing, and this, without a doubt, has massive impacts on all terrestrial ecosystems, including forests. To pretend that the last two years of drought alone caused the disaster is too cheap. On closer inspection, the disaster is also the result of decades of a forestry focused on conifers – in a country that was once naturally dominated by mixed deciduous forests. People do not like to admit that for more than 200 years they have relied on the wrong species of commercial tree (spruce) and have also created artificial, ecologically highly unstable and thus high-risk forest ecosystems. A whole branch of business has become dependent on coniferous wood. And now the German coniferous timber industry is on the verge of bankruptcy.

It would only have been honest and also a sign of political greatness if you and the forestry ministers in Moritzburg had declared: Yes, our forestry industry has made mistakes in the past, and yes, we are ready for a relentless analysis that takes into account not only purely silvicultural, but also forest-ecological aspects. Instead, you have confined yourselves to pre-stamped excuses that are already familiar to everyone and that lack any self-critical reflection.

Clear is: We finally need resting periods for the forest in Germany, which has been exploited for centuries. We need a new, ecologically oriented concept for future forest – not a hectic `forest conversion´, but simply forest development closer towards nature. This gives the forest as an ecosystem the necessary leeway to self-regulate and react to the emerging environmental changes. We need a systemic forest management that is no less profitable than the present one, but must be substantially more stable and resistant to foreseeable environmental changes. The aid for forest owners that all citizens are now required to pay through their taxes is only politically justified in the interest of common good, if the forests of the future that are being promoted by it, do not end up in the next disaster, some of which is produced by the forest management itself.

That is why the signatories request from the the Federal Government, and in particular you, Mrs Klöckner, a master plan worthy of the name:

On disaster areas (mainly in public forests!) reestablishment through natural forest development (ecological succession), among other things with pioneer tree species, is to be brought about. In private forests, ecological succession for reestablishment must be purposefully promoted. Larger bare areas should be planted with a maximum of 400 to 600 large plants of native species per hectare in order to permit ecological succession parallelly.
To promote ecological succession, the areas should no longer be completely and mechanically cleared; as much wood as possible should be left in the stand (to promote optimum soil and germ bed formation, soil moisture storage and natural protection against browsing). In private forests, the abandonment of use in disaster areas should be specifically promoted for ecological reasons and in order to relieve the burden on the timber market.

Regarding the promotion of reestablishment plantings in private forests: priority for native tree species (of regional origin); choose wide planting distances in order to leave enough space for the development of pioneer species. For the forests of the future: Minimize thinning (low-input principle), build up stocks through targeted development towards old thick trees, protect the inner forest climate / promote self-cooling function (should have highest priority due to rapidly progressing climate change!), prohibit heavy machinery, refrain from further road construction and expansion, permit and promote natural self-regulatory development processes in the cultivated forest and on (larger) separate areas in the sense of an compound system; drastically reduce the density of ungulate game (reform of hunting laws).

Like in the field of organic agriculture, which has been established since the 1980s, the crisis of our forests should be the reason today to transform at least two existing forestry-related universities. They should be turned into universities for interdisciplinary forest ecosystem management. This is a contribution not only to the further development of forestry science and silviculture in Germany, but also of global importance! The goal must be to produce wood through largely natural forest production and to start with it here in Germany, the birthplace of forestry.


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