Tatras plan attracts more opposition

ACTIVISTS camping out in tents on a Bratislava square, scientists crying “bunk”, and an environmentalist’s house burned to the ground: these are just the most recent headlines associated with the proposal to reclassify land in Slovakia’s oldest national park.

ACTIVISTS camping out in tents on a Bratislava square, scientists crying “bunk”, and an environmentalist’s house burned to the ground: these are just the most recent headlines associated with the proposal to reclassify land in Slovakia’s oldest national park.

Scientists are warning that the proposal yields to commerical interests at the expense of many biotopes of national significance. Around 400 environment activists occupied 40 tents on Bratislava’s SNP Square to protest against the plan and to collect petition signatures against the scheme, drafted by the Environment Ministry, to modify protected areas in the Tatra National Park (TANAP).

While the Environment Ministry said that it has an open ear for comments and recommendations that surfaced during the review of the ministerial draft, opponents of the plan said that what the ministry called a “review process” is merely a “joke”.

The environment watchdog group Vlk (Wolf) initiated a petition against the zoning plan in late March and managed to collect 8,800 signatures, which for the environmentalists bears symbolic significance because 8,800 hectares of forests in TANAP would be stripped of the highest level of environmental protection if the plan is approved.

Meanwhile, the Sme daily reported that a wooden house belonging to environmentalist Braňo Baláž burned down overnight on April 24 while he was sleeping at SNP Square during the protest. Baláž is convinced that someone intentionally set fire to his house in Beňušovce, near Liptovská Mara. Neither firefighters nor police have yet stated what they believe was the reason for the fire. Baláž is known as one of the most active environmentalists in Slovakia, Sme wrote.

Vlk has insisted that “squeezing the range of areas in TANAP with the strictest protection at the expense of the biotopes of chamois, marmots, wood grouse, wolves, lynx and bears is unprecedented in Europe”.

On April 28 Environment Minister Jozef Medveď met dozens of scientists to discuss their objections to the scheme. They politely describe the plan as “professionally indefensible”. Nevertheless, Medveď has said that when the ministry submits its final document to the government cabinet it will have a “scientific consensus”.

The new zoning would take effect in June, defining four zones – A, B, C and D – with descending levels of environmental protection. There will also be a subzone, Cr, specifically permitting the development of tourism.

TANAP covers 74,277 hectares and the ministry’s proposal defines 40,137 hectares as zone A, 11,613 hectares as zone B, and 20,211 hectares as Zone C. Subzone Cr covers 1,470 hectares and zone D is 846 hectares.

The critics say one of the biggest problems with the Environment Ministry’s plan is that it moves more than 1,200 hectares of forests within the Tichá and Kôprová valleys into a zone where harvesting of timber would be allowed. The scheme also moves 128 hectares in the same area into subzone Cr. Zone D and subzone Cr are where construction of tourism facilities would be permitted.

The spokeswoman of the Environment Ministry, Jana Kaplanová, said on April 28 that “after the submitted analyses, it is already clear today that there is going to be a shift when compared to the original proposal and that the zoning commission has re-evaluated the territories intended for social-economic activities and moved these to a higher level of protection,” according to the SITA newswire.

“I will do my best so that we do not complicate the state administration with a badly adopted law,” Medveď said. “I am convinced that the goal of the zoning [change] is to increase environment protection, not to contribute to devastation.”

Environmentalists said the way in which the Environment Ministry treated their objections was a joke. “They summoned us, let us speak, and then without further arguments said our proposals were unacceptable,” said activist Robert Oružinský.

On March 29, leading experts in the spheres of ecology, geography, environmental sciences and environmental protection associated with the Slovak Academy of Sciences and other academic institutions sent an open letter to Prime Minister Robert Fico, his deputy Dušan Čaplovič, and Medveď calling on the government to scrap the draft scheme.

Hoteliers and representatives of the tourism industry, however, have said they are comfortable with the proposed plan. The Association of Slovak Mountain Resorts (AHSS) “supports the High Tatras zoning scheme as it is currently proposed”, said the chairman of AHSS, Ján Mokoš, as quoted by TASR.

“Along with property owners, we’re only asking for minimum conditions to boost tourism – not aimed at building hotels as such, but focused rather on development of leisure and sports activities, and, of course, tourism and health-care facilities, too,” said Mokoš.

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