Battle rages over future of Czech national parks

Photo: Jan Rosenauer

Czech national parks look like they will be governed by a framework of new rules that will boost their ecological development and protect them against commercial activities, but the battle is not yet over.

Photo: Jan Rosenauer
The Czech Republic’s four National Parks cover just 1.5 percent of the Czech Republic but they have become the focus for a fierce fight over their future.

On one point there is perhaps agreement: that the parks are and should remain the country’s prime natural conservation areas. But the means for achieving that and especially where to draw the line between conservation and the economic development of local communities has been the subject of bitter discussion and deep divides for decades.

The arguments flared up again this week and took the form of a face off between the two houses of the Czech parliament.

The lower house has championed a new set of rules for national parks which put the main goal as safeguarding or recreating a natural ecosystem. It creates four zones, including one where human intervention is limited to emergency access and intervention and commercial forestry activities are banned. Much of the inspiration comes from the way that national parks have evolved in Germany.

Richard Brabec,  photo: Filip Jandourek
That was apparently one of the biggest problems for Senators from the upper house of parliament as they tried to leave the door open for forestry activities even in this most protected zone. Their swathe of amendments pushed in the opposite direction, calling for more powers and economic development opportunities for local communities and councils.

The directors of all four national parks had come out against the Senate amendments saying that they threatened to transform park authorities into sorts of regional development agencies. They added that the proposals represented a 30 year step back into the past.

And on Wednesday after burying those Senate amendments, a convincing majority of lower house lawmakers, 117 in total, voted for their original version which largely stems from two years of preparations at the Ministry of Environment. Environment minister Richard Brabec did not hide his satisfaction:

“I am of course pleased, but tired. We will see if this is this is the last word on this. The lower house version above all offers stability.”

But as the minister probably suspected, this is not the last word on the subject. President Miloš Zeman had already spoken up a week ago for the Senate framework for the national parks’ future. And soon after the final vote he renewed his threat to veto the alternative lower house version.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“Both the Pilsen and South Bohemia regions are against this law. I think that it’s necessary to respect the rights of regions as well as local councils and not to try to solve everything out of Prague.”

The oldest and biggest national park, Šumava, straddles the Pilsen and South Bohemia regions and has been one of the biggest hotspots in the fight over the parks’ future.

In the face of the presidential veto, the lower house should, on recent past performances, be able to muster the required majority to sideline that objection and the new law should be able to take effect later this year.