Friday, 8 June 2012

Destruction in Sumava National Park

There has been quite a movement in recent years to find some level of protection for near-wilderness areas in Europe.  Actual wilderness probably does not exist anywhere in this part of the world, but there are pockets where natural processes and the range of wildlife are still extensive enough for us to consider it near enough to being wild.  I doubt there is anywhere in England that we could consider in this category – our nature reserve at “The Mens” is perhaps close, but it is still nothing like wilderness.

In some places elements of the “wild” are being recreated, such as Oostvaardersplassen in Holland, and in others, such as the Bialowieza in Poland, you can get pretty close to wild forest.  But anything near wilderness in Europe is a rare and precious thing.

One such rare and precious thing is the Sumava National Park in the Czech Republic, but this is now under threat.  A small but influential element in the new Czech administration is proposing imminent legislation that will restructure Sumava, enabling large-scale felling of forest in what is currently its core non-intervention area, and development of a ski lift with other infrastructure in close proximity.

Widely known as the “Wild Heart of Europe” this area is iconic among scientists, and in the tourism sector, for the intact state of its ecology governed by natural processes, and for the unspoiled beauty of its landscape.  It is seen as a symbol of the care which the Czech Republic extends towards its natural heritage.

Yet the actions currently planned will cause damage to this ecology that will take many decades to repair, as well as changing the character of the wider area forever.

Above all, this is a clear signal that even the best known National Parks are not protected.   Beyond being a tragedy for the iconic ‘Wild Heart of Europe’, this action poses a challenge to the protective status of National Parks everywhere.

The Czech Republic has an excellent record of caring for its national heritage, and the proposed legislation for Sumava is opposed across the Czech scientific establishment. In 2008, over 130 conservation organizations across Europe united to petition for improved protection of wilderness areas. The following year, the European Parliament passed a Resolution along similar lines, supported by a massive 538 votes.  This recent step would be a huge step backwards.

Conservation organizations are petitioning the Czech government to think again.  This petition is targeted on organizations rather than individuals but I think it is important that everyone should know of the threat to one of Europe’s last surviving near-wilderness areas.


Mark Fisher said...

You should have looked deeper into what is going on in Šumava NP. The strong message is that those successes for the protection of wild nature that are achieved in the national parks of continental Europe, happen when natural values are given high priority, and which are lost in compromises with the cultural uses of landscapes. It is a hard lesson, but which more of us need to learn.

It must be considered that since 85.6% of the park area is state owned, then Šumava NP should fulfil a significant role in the national system of protected areas in the Czech Republic, and especially on the basis of the central mission of the park to “maintain and improve its natural environment, and in particular as regards the protection and the renewal of the self-management functions of the natural systems, strict protection of animals living at large and of wild plants”. The Regulation for the NP states that economic and other uses of the national park must be secondary to the maintenance and improvement of natural conditions.

In 2009, however, another row blew up over management of Šumava NP when regional political leaders accused the park and Ministry of Environment of failing to curb bark beetle. South Bohemian regional leader Jiří Zimola said the park was facing a bark beetle ‘pandemic’ because of the failure to control the outbreak in the core area where there was a policy of non-intervention that allowed the trees to die and rot naturally. Mr Zimola claimed expert findings supported regional leaders taking matters into their own hands and declaring a state of emergency for the Šumava forest unless a new course was taken. Otherwise, they would bring in forestry companies to liquidate trees damaged by the bark beetle even if park authorities disagree.

Opposition to the park’s policy has frequently been expressed by regional and local politicians. The conflict centres on nature conservation versus economic development, and the influential position of the Šumava NP in the regional development process. The NP authority was seen to be a well-equipped and well-staffed professional administrative body that was thought to be a block on economic development of the region so that the interests of local communities were neglected. There was also a rejection by some communities of the existence and expansion of the core area with limited human intervention because it may jeopardise the surrounding commercial forests. Repeatedly, the regional authorities in Plzen and České Budejovice expressed their objections against extension of the core zone of the NP. Local authorities complained that “wilderness is invading zones where it should not be”, although wilderness is a key element in the attractiveness of the core area, as has been demonstrated in the Bavarian Forest NP, the partner park on the German side of the order.

Mark Fisher said...

This opposition from local authorities and interest groups significantly delayed or stopped the return to natural processes in the core area of the park. They got their own way after the Czech parliament elected in June 2010 no longer needed a coalition with the Green party, and a new Environment Minister Pavel Drobil was appointed. He set out to implement a radical change of direction in the management of the Šumava NP, resulting in the resignation of František Krejčí, the NP director, who stepped down under strong pressure from the minister. Drobil obviously had the support of the newly re-elected mayors in National Park communities after municipal elections in 2010, since one Tomas Jirsa, mayor of Hluboká nad Vltavou, had been seeking Krejci's dismissal for two years, and most representatives of municipalities in the Šumava region, such as Jiří Zimola welcomed Krejci's resignation. Tomáš Chalupa replaced Drobil as the Minister of Environment and in February he appointed Jan Stráský, as the new Director of Šumava NP. Stráský has been a disaster for the park, bringing in sanitary logging and the illegal use of pesticides, and the dismantling the “Wild Heart of Europe” the vision of a core area of wilderness that straddles the Czech-German border.

Last year, I wrote to Jan Stráský, Petr Necas (Prime Minister) and Tomas Chalupa, expressing my opposition to the logging that was taking place in the park. I said that my research for the Scottish Government on European wild land had thrown up the meeting hosted by the Šumava NP and Bavarian Forest NP at Srni in 2009. The conference report “Europe’s Wild Heart” had captured the breadth of enthusiasm for wildland and its nurturing across continental Europe. I noted the important principle identified in the meeting that the natural processes occurring in Primary Habitat under non-intervention management are able to meet the demands of developing or guaranteeing a favourable conservation status. I warned that the core, non-intervention areas of Šumava NP have these Primary Habitats, and are now at threat from the logging.

Mark Fisher said...

I also pointed out that this logging is in contradiction to a recent scientific study that highlighted the importance of bark beetle dynamics in the restoration of habitats that support many saproxylic species (those that thrive on decaying wood. The positive responses of abundance and composition of beetle assemblages to dead wood produced by bark beetle infestation suggested that saproxylic beetles benefited from the resulting natural dynamics. Similar diversifying effects of natural disturbance have been shown for fire and windstorms. The authors recommend that nature be allowed to take its course in strictly protected areas such as national parks, and that the amount of dead wood within these protected areas be allowed to increase. Moreover, the results demonstrated that unmanaged areas or management by ‘‘benign neglect” can be quite successful in restoring natural forest dynamics, habitats, and the organisms dependent on forest structures.

A lone voice, perhaps, from the UK, but it was in support of my friend Michal Pálka, who resigned from his job as a lawyer in Šumava National Park Administration due to insurmountable disagreements with the new park Administration over its approach to nature protection and financial issues, which he considered to endanger the very purpose of a national park, and for Jaromír Bláha in Hnutí DUHA who had chained himself to trees to prevent them from being felled. Where was the voice of the conservation industry in the UK when all this was happening?