Proposed amendments to Bulgaria's Forest Act might bring environmental and economic losses
The proposed amendments, pushed through Bulgarian Parliament at the very end of 2011 without any public consultation, would allow for the construction of ski runs and ski facilities without changing land use. Furthermore, they would allow the acquisition of building rights on public land without tender and for an indefinite period.
“If all planned ski resorts are realized under this amendment, the state would lose at least 25 million Euro from taxes not paid by investors for changing land use”, said Andreas Beckmann, Director of the WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme.
“The public interest in this case is undermined by the ruling centre-right party, Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) not only by the incalculable environmental losses, but also by the economic losses”, Beckmann said.
If the amendments are accepted, this would mean easier, quicker and cheaper construction in many forested areas with huge consequences for Bulgaria’s protected areas, which cover just 5% of the territory of the country, and especially for the emblematic Vitosha Nature Park.
The pressure on the government for the proposed amendments comes from the owners of the ski facilities in Vitosha Nature Park, Vitosha Ski. The company owns the ski lifts but not the land which is state public property. Their intention, which has been widely communicated in Bulgarian media, is to extend the ski zone three times.
“This would represent a violation of the Management Plan of Vitosha Nature Park”, Beckmann added. “The plan allows for the reconstruction of existing ski facilities, but bans the construction of new lifts and pistes.“
Vitosha is the oldest park on the Balkan Peninsula, designated a protected area in 1934. Located right at the edge of the Bulgarian capital Sofia, Vitosha attracts between 2,5 and 4 million people each year who trek and ski on the mountain. For decades Vitosha has been serving multiple purposes – apart from being an area for recreation, it has protected wild nature and provided drinking water. This delicate balance should not be disturbed.
“Ski tourism in Bulgaria could be assisted in many other ways while avoiding the creation of monopolies”, said Lyubomir Popyordanov, chairman of the managing board of the Bulgarian Association of Alternative Tourism.
The European Commission has initiated several penalty procedures against Bulgaria because of violations of environmental law, amongst which for the case of the ski resort Bansko in Pirin National Park. Last summer the government stated that the concession holder was using illegally 65% more territory than the agreed but no action was taken against the offender.
About Bulgaria’s Forest Act
The new Bulgarian Forests Act came into force in April 2011. It is a good basis for ensuring sustainable management of Bulgarian forests. It takes into account the complex set of ecosystem services that forests provide and clears the way for creating mechanisms for valuing and payment for such ecosystem services. Furthermore, the law stimulates forest certification as a means of ensuring responsible forest management. The Forest Act was adopted in April 2011 under considerable public pressure and following the signing of a petition in support of sustainable forestry by more than 75,000 people.
About Vitosha Ski
From the very beginning, the company which owns the ski facilities in Vitosha Nature Park has been pushing for the ski zone expansion in a way that is in breach of a number of Bulgarian laws, not only environmental. In December 2011 Vitosha Ski stopped the lifts to and in Vitosha Nature Park, claiming that they would not work until the proposed amendments were adopted. In effect they deprived the 2 million capital city of a transport service to the mountain. In 2008, they built an illegal ski run blowing up emblematic boulders of Vitosha with no legal consequences. Instead of being sanctioned, Vitosha Ski are now on the fast track to receive the amendments they need. In late 2011, the Council of Ministers even violated the requirements for a 2 week public discussion of every proposed amendment and adopted the amendments in 4 working days.