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ENVIRONMENT MINISTRY MOVE TO HARMONIZE LAWS WITH EU LEGISLATION ANGERS FORESTERS

Hunters up in arms over cull bans

A BILL that would limit group hunting in national parks in line with requirements for European Union membership has drawn fire from the Agriculture Ministry and the country's hunters, who have dubbed it "a great misfortune for the nation".
The draft law is expected to take effect as of January 1, 2003 as part of the environmental legislation that EU entry candidates must pass in order to qualify for membership in the 15-member bloc.
The hunting lobby, however, argues that what the Environment Ministry seeks to ban - a method of hunting in which groups of 'beaters' scare game into the fire of entrenched hunters - will prevent them from culling wild animals and killing dangerous or sick animals on protected park areas.

A BILL that would limit group hunting in national parks in line with requirements for European Union membership has drawn fire from the Agriculture Ministry and the country's hunters, who have dubbed it "a great misfortune for the nation".

The draft law is expected to take effect as of January 1, 2003 as part of the environmental legislation that EU entry candidates must pass in order to qualify for membership in the 15-member bloc.

The hunting lobby, however, argues that what the Environment Ministry seeks to ban - a method of hunting in which groups of 'beaters' scare game into the fire of entrenched hunters - will prevent them from culling wild animals and killing dangerous or sick animals on protected park areas.

Representatives of Slovakia's 50,000 hunters, backed by the Agriculture Ministry, also say the law may increase state liabilities.

If hunters, who work according to plans designed by regional state offices, fail to clear forests of sick animals or overpopulated species, land owners and animal farmers can demand compensation for damaged property.

Populations must also be limited among wild animals which can spread disease, such as wild pigs (swine fever) and foxes (rabies).

Pavol Cpin of the Slovak Hunters' Union said banning group hunting was a mistake: "If you have to radically reduce the number of animals, it can't be done any other way."

Otto Štroffek from the Agriculture Ministry's forestry section also argued that the EU had never said that the hunting law had to be passed by a certain date. "Let's not make a scapegoat of the EU," he said. "It's as if someone were aiming to complicate the lives of hunters and erect bureaucratic barriers to their work."

But Environment Ministry spokesperson Katarína Kubíková said that the ministry did indeed face a hard deadline. Although the EU-related environment dossier was completed in December 2001, she said, the passage of the new legislation in parliament and enactment in real life must be complete by 2004.

"The EU is watching the implementation process. It's not enough that we've designed the laws, they must take effect in real life," she said.

Environment Minister Lázsló Miklós added that his ministry did not aim to set an absolute ban on group hunting.

"If there's a threat to health or property, it will be possible to grant an exception," the minister said.

Nature protection groups also stand behind the Environment Ministry proposal.

"There aren't many national parks where group hunts are organised, and the law would affect only a small group of hunters. We therefore think there is no valid reason why the law and effectively the country's EU integration should be held up," said Rastislav Rybanič, director of the Bird Protection Association.

Kubíková said that the ministry would do its best to get the law passed in parliament during the ongoing May parliamentary session.

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