Are Slovak forests being ‘overprotected’?

Slovak republic is a very diverse country, with Carpathian Mountains on the north and west, and vast lowlands on the south and southeast. Vital part of the Slovakia is created by forests. They cover about 2 006 600 ha, what represents about 40 % of the area of the Slovak republic. Although Slovakia is a small country, there are numerous types of various tree species, such as oak, beech, fir, spruce or pine. In comparison to other European countries Slovakia has a huge percentage of forest covered areas and stands at the top of the rankings (in the top ten of highest forest covered area states in Europe). We can’t imagine Slovakia without its forests as they are the source of its beauty, wealth and industry.

mapa-forest-area

Source: http://www.mapsofworld.com/europe/thematic/countries-by-forest-area.html        

 

            Important role in the Slovak forestry and forest management plays the protection of the forests. There are 9 national parks (with the biggest TANAP), about 1100 protected areas and 382 protected areas with importance for Europe. The forest protection law in Slovakia is strict and there is also an important body called Forest guard that protects the forest areas and monitor them. Protection laws include the prohibition of:

·           landscaping performance, building fences or building paths;

·           establishing or maintaining open fireplaces;

·           riding or parking a motor vehicle;

·           building houses or properties or camping outside the marked areas,…

and many others. Slovak republic realizes the importance of its forests and tries to protect them with all available sources to prevent the deforestation or biodiversity loss. But here comes a question: Could there be ‘too much’ protection of the forests? Or even better, should there be some exception in the forest protection?

 

             It is well known that without trees in the forests the life on the planet wouldn’t be possible. They provide the irreplaceable oxygen, that is used by all living creatures for breathing, they filter the air, protect the biodiversity (for instance some animal species depend on a particular tree species, also forests provide shade and shelter for the animals and plants,…) or protect the water sources. Without trees there would be a higher chance of soil erosion and some areas would be forced to be evacuated. In addition, forests are source of food, medical treatment components and also building materials. Many industrial sectors highly depend on forests as a source of natural resources (timber, energy).Wooden-based products are still in high demand as well as products made from timber (paper, cardboard, scobs). Moreover in the recent history protected areas and national parks became regular destination of tourism, providing steady inflows of profit.

 

            But every coin has its heads and tails. Too strict environmental and forest protection laws and regulations lead to clashes between the Slovak government, non-governmental organizations and interest groups that are active in the area of environmental protection. In many cases the legislation (laws and regulations) represents a significant obstacle while building new roads, tunnels, water, biomass and wind power stations, industrial parks or recreational areas. For example recent case about construction of cable car that should connect highly visited tourist destinations Skalnaté pleso (tarn) and Hrebienok (mountain range near Starý Smokovec). The core of the issue was that the area, through which the cable car should be built, is classified as the area with third degree of environmental protection. Non-governmental organizations are firm believers that this area should stay protected and untouched, what leads to a discrepancy in opinions between NGOs and the private investor supported by public and the government.

            Furthermore forests near motorways, roads, water streams and human dwellings can sometimes cause damage to property, human health or the consequences can be even lethal. How many times have we heard or read about fallen trees during heavy storms that have caused misfortune only because they were located too close to human dwellings? Moreover, heavy forests are habitats for wild animals such as bears or wild boars that we can often find roaming around trash cans and houses.

            As a last point I would mention a problem with removal of fallen and diseased trees (mainly by pine beetle) from the protected areas mostly in the High Tatras. Strict regulations don’t allow collecting such trees and that’s why the disease spreads also on healthy trees in the surrounding area.

 

            To sum up, forests are inevitably necessary not only for Slovak republic but also for humans to survive in general. As mentioned above advantages of forests are beyond compare to disadvantages. Needless to say, forests and environment have to be the concern of protection as they have impact not just on humans but also on animals and ecosystem, but from my point of view in some cases (for example the ones I have mentioned and described in the fourth section) the regulations and laws concerning forests and its protection should be supplemented by exceptions or they influence should be amended.

 

Lujza Chrvalová

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