- Bulgarian protected nature is threatened by the amendment of the recently adopted Forests Act

  • No boxes are present

 

Background paper, January 2012 , Neli Doncheva, Vitosha Nature Park Directorate

 The new Bulgarian Forests Act came into force in April 2011. It includes many progressive ideas such as opportunities for payments for environmental services and forestry certification. A lot of effort by WWF and NGOs colleagues was put into pressuring members of parliament into not including provisions which would allow easier urbanization of nature parks. WWF achieved this through a strong public campaign which included a petition supported by more than 75 000 people, expert meetings, protests and lobbying.

 

Nine months later, without any public discussions the Bulgarian Council of Ministers approved to submit to Parliament amendments to the Forest Act. The amendments allow the construction of ski runs and ski facilities without changing the land use and acquisition of building rights on public terrains without tender.

On the one hand,  this means easier, quicker and cheaper construction in many forest areas, but the biggest consequences will be for nature parks especially Vitosha Nature Park. Large concrete blocks at the foot of ski lift pylons and the machine-leveled terrains for ski runs will be declared forest in paper.

 

On the other hand, the public interests would be undermined not only by the environmental consequences of new construction in protected areas, but also by the economic ones. The owners of ski lifts will receive the right to construct and manage ski facilities on public forest territories without tender, which is in violation of the European  competition rules. Further, the assessments show that if all planned ski resorts are realized, this will bring at least 25 mln. € loss for the state budget from taxes not paid by the investors for changing the land use.

 

The pressure comes from the owners of the ski facilities in the existing ski area in Vitosha Nature Park. They own ski lifts  but not the land which is state public property. Their intention is to extend the ski zone three times which is in contradiction with the Management Plan of the Park. This document allows the reconstruction of existing facilities but bans the change of land use in the park, therefore - the construction of new ones.

 

Vitosha is the oldest park on the Balkan Peninsula with its designation in 1934. For decades it has been serving multiple purposes as protection of wild nature, provision of drinking water, hiking and skiing. Besides, the complex management needs balance which has already been found with the adoption of the management plan of the park and this balance should not be disturbed with construction of new facilities.

 

The company which owns the ski facilities in Vitosha is among the main proponents to the amendments. In December last year they stopped the lifts in Vitosha saying that they would not let them work until changes to the law are adopted. Thus, they deprived an almost 2 million capital from a transport service to the mountain's largest tourist centre. In 2008, they built an illegal ski run blowing up famous rocks in Vitosha with no legal consequences. All this behavior has not been sanctioned! On the contrary - the amendments are moving with unprecedented speed: the Council of Ministers violated the requirements for a 2 week public discussion of every proposed amendment and adopted these in 4 working days. If the leading institution of the state violates the law - this is a bad signal for citizens and business alike. It is a bad signal for a country not let in the Shengen zone for lack of progress in the area of law and order.

 

The amendments are now in the hands of the national parliament where the ruling party has a majority. Most probably the decision whether they will be adopted or not will be clear by the end of January 2012. The NGO coalition of which WWF is an active member organised a big public outcry with press releases, street protest and an on-line petition, which  is gaining forces.

12 February 2012