HUNDREDS of foresters protested outside the Government Office on May 16, claiming they were being discredited by environmental activists for removing thousands of cubic metres of fallen trees from the Tichá and Kôprová valleys in the Tatras National Park. Thus might wolves protest against sheepdogs, or thieves against door locks.
Not only do foresters and their political masters richly deserve criticism for their actions in one of Slovakia's - and Europe's - most protected areas, but their 'arguments' in support of logging in the High Tatras should be exposed for the fibs they contain.
The most common argument in favour of logging in Tichá and Kôprová valleys is that it is necessary to prevent an insect infestation. "There are many reasons that we regard the regulated actions of the foresters as necessary," wrote Environment Minister Jaroslav Izák in the May 16 issue of the Pravda daily. "The most important is that it is necessary to stop the uncontrolled spread of bark beetles."
In fact, the Forest Protection Service reported in 2006 that 70 percent of the bark beetles in the two valleys had already left their host trees. Peter Liška, the director of the forestry service in the park, also said in September 2006 that: "It no longer makes any sense for us to insist on the issue of exceptions allowing us to process the windfall logs in these areas. It only made sense to quickly get rid of the damaged wood as long as the bark beetles were under the bark. Now that they have already flown away, there's no point in dragging these logs out."
Other reasons advanced for the removal of the logs include the need to protect against forest fires. This is clearly absurd, as the foresters only remove the main logs, and leave combustible twigs and small branches behind.
In fact, the only sense of removing the logs may have been profit; according to a report published on May 15, foresters have earned a profit of Sk640 million (€20 million) on the logs they have removed following the November 2004 windstorm inso far (revenues of Sk1.2 billion, costs of Sk620 million).
On the other hand, logging in the Tichá and Kôprová valleys began in April at a time when the ground was wet and vulnerable to the heavy tractors, bulldozers and trucks used. It was accompanied by insults from state officials against environmental protesters (Agriculture Minister Miroslav Jureňa called them "paid movie extras"). It continued despite protests from over 100 academics from universities and research institutions, and even from about 150 of the Environment Ministry's own employees. It has now drawn a threat of legal action from the European Commission (the Tatras are part of the EU's Natura 2000 protection system).
The term 'national park' describes different models of protected areas throughout the world, from huge areas of uninhabited wilderness in the US, to smaller and lightly populated areas in Europe. But they all attempt to preserve natural areas. By their behaviour, the Tatras foresters have harmed one of the nation's most precious natural reserves under the cover of spurious 'scientific' arguments. They have also opened the door to developers by desensitizing the public to the sound of chainsaws and the sight of heavy equipment under Mt. Kriváň. And yet they protest the bad name they have earned.
As Irish reporter William Russell of The Times told British General Lord Lucan during the Crimean War in 1854, "if you don't like what you're doing being reported, my Lord, my advice to you is not to do it!"
By Tom Nicholson
21. May 2007 at 0:00