Environment minister wants change of policy on bark beetle devastation

Pavel Drobil, foto: ČTK

The new environment minister, Pavel Drobil, went to the Šumava National Park at the weekend to get a firsthand look at a problem that has literally plagued the forest for decades – the damage caused by bark beetle infestations. After viewing some of the worst-affected areas he declared the current strategy of leaving nature to clean up after itself untenable, to the dissatisfaction of environmental groups and others, who fear increased logging.

Photo: ČTK
No sooner did Environment Minister Pavel Drobil appear on Třístoličník mountain than he was criticised for coming with an entourage of politicians rather than experts. It is a majority of local politicians however that want a change to the current strategy espoused by the experts – that is, non-intervention: leave the battle with the destructive bark-beetle alone for nature to sort out on its own. On his visit to the Šumava, Mr Drobil said he had seen forests devastated in the 70s that have never recovered thanks to that strategy.

“The fatal mistake was made by former Environment Minister Martin Bursík after Hurricane Kyril in 2007. The fragmentation of 135 non-intervention zones dotted all over the national park is bad in my opinion. We have agreed that that area needs to be delineated differently with the absolute aim of course being to return the Šumava to good health.”

Pavel Drobil,  photo: ČTK
The decision made by ex-minister Bursík was to raise the zone of non-intervention in the Šumava from 13 to 30% of the forest, which the current minister believes may eventually lead to its becoming a “dead zone”. In terms of concrete plans Mr Drobil was tight lipped but the chairman of the Šumava Park Council and former Czechoslovak Prime Minister Jan Stráský, who accompanied the minister on the trip, said there was general agreement that the method of confronting the situation must change altogether, even if that means stopping the ecological programmes that he says caused the problem in the first place.

“We also discussed the logic of a future plan for caring for the forests in the Šumava which will respect this condition and forbid the creation of any more so-called “non-intervention zones” where infested forests are left to nature. We also spoke about felling trees, but more about getting rid of the current bans on woodcutting in the non-intervention zones so that the ministry can come and make a new review and take new measures in the zones where something can be saved, even if that means felling trees.”

Already more wood is being cut this year because of the bark beetle than has ever been seen in the park. And according to environmentalists like Vojtěch Kotecký of the Duha movement, that is the thing that needs to change. He says that the Environment Minister didn’t see the effects of non-intervention because he wasn’t looking for them.

“Experts have been measuring what has happened in the forests that were left to wilderness for years, and we already know that in places that were left to nature there are about 5,000 young trees of new, healthy forest per hectare, which is much better than the huge clearing in places where the former national park administration decided to intervene. We have got a new, healthy forest growing in the areas left to nature in the Czech Republic and also in the German side of the park.”

But do you agree that something has to be done, that there has to be some kind of change in tack?

“We need to end this strategy of huge clear-cutting and continue cutting trees at the edge of the national park so that the bark beetle doesn’t spread beyond the park. But the core areas of the national park should be left to wilderness and to nature, just as they are in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy, Poland and other European countries.”

One of the starting points from which to take the bark beetle problem will be to actually define what non-intervention means. To do that the environment ministry envisions a new law on the Šumava National Forest to replace the current system of managing the park through ministerial decrees. Such a law could be in place by summer of next year.