WWF appeals in court an alarming government decision on Pirin National Park
The current management plan of Pirin National Park expired in 2014 but remains in place while its replacement awaits a court ruling on its roll-out. In March 2017, WWF and other NGOs of the For the Nature coalition filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Administrative Court of Bulgaria following the decision of the Ministry of Environment and Water that the new draft management plan did not require a Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment and Appropriate Assessment for Pirin, which is part of the EU’s Natura 2000 network of specially protected sites.
“The changes of the current management plan breach three different Bulgarian laws on nature protection. The government may now withdraw in court its decision to change the current management plan or go through the whole court process. The changes to the current plan open up 5 times more area for ski facilities and create a legal loophole for unspecified construction in almost half of the park,” said Katerina Rakovska, protected areas expert, WWF-Bulgaria.
A letter sent by the Bansko Ski Zone concessioner Yulen AD as part of the public consultation for the new draft management plan, seen by WWF, outlined intentions to enlarge the ski zone to 333 km of runs and 113 km of ski lifts. Currently, there are 70 km of runs and 25 km of lifts.
In November 2016, WWF launched an international campaign in support of Pirin National Park to highlight the importance of the site to people in Bulgaria and globally. Until now, over 120,000 people have signed the petition urging Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borisov to protect the World Heritage site and its pristine wildlife.
Pirin was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. However, in 2010, UNESCO excluded the ski areas above the towns of Bansko and Dobrinishte from the World Heritage site, identifying them as “buffer zones” due to the damage and destruction caused by construction around the Bansko ski zone. The installation of the facilities led to the clearance of more than 160 ha of forests, including old-growth trees aged between 120 and 300 years.
In November 2017, an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report stated that the conservation outlook for Pirin National Park in Bulgaria is of "significant concern", just one step prior to the final, "critical" stage. The report underlined the threats of disturbance and fragmentation of the site associated with the exclusion of the skiing areas as incompatible with its World Heritage status.