Environmental activists losing ground at Šumava National Park

Photo: CTK

The number of environmental activists holding a blockade in the Modrava region of Šumava National Park to prevent felling of bark-beetle infested trees swelled on Tuesday morning in reaction to Monday’s forced evacuation by police. However logging continues and the protesters have been losing ground, both literally and legally as a regional court and the Czech Environment Inspection Office found nothing amiss with the management’s policy.

Photo: CTK
After a period of deceptive tranquility, loggers arrived in force at the Modrava site on Monday and the 27 activists holding an 11-day vigil there were only able to put up a brief passive resistance before the police stepped in to evacuate the area, by force where necessary. The park’s management was well prepared for the confrontation. It had a court order for evacuation stating that the blockade was illegal and moreover a green light for logging by the Czech Environment Inspection Office to whom the group of environmental activists had turned for help. Mojmír Vlašín, the groups’ spokesperson said on Tuesday morning that the blockade would continue despite the fact that activists were now outnumbered by police.

“Yesterday the blockade started for real. We did our best to prevent logging and we aim to continue today but there are more than 60 policemen here from a special unit and we are not really able to stop logging in all places. So we are trying to hold it off for as long as possible and if we can’t do it 100 percent, which is absolutely clear now - we’ll try for 50 percent.”

Mojmír Vlašín,  Šumava National Park director Jan Stráský,  photo: CTK
Have you exhausted all the legal means?

“Of course, we first filed complaints to the Czech Environment Inspection Office, to the European Union and others. But as things stand now we have no other option but a civic protest.”

The park’s management, which thanks to environmentalists is now under intense media scrutiny, is nonetheless determined to push ahead with logging as a means of fighting bark-beetle infestation, a method complemented by debarking infested trees and using powerful anti-insecticides in places. The park’s spokesman Pavel Pěchousek said the drive to eliminate the bark-beetle would continue:

“Work on this bark-beetle infested area is fully in accordance with the law and will continue as planned.”

Photo: CTK
The park’s management says that this particular area, which was formerly part of the no-intervention zone, is badly infested and presents a serious threat to still healthy Nordic spruce in the vicinity. It claims that for every tree it cuts –and it has 4,000 trees marked -it may be saving eight to ten others, and that another 30 to 40,000 trees would otherwise be in danger. Neither the Czech Environment Inspection Office nor the Environment Ministry have moved to stop the felling, although the latter advised the National Park to apply the debarking method over felling wherever possible.

Contrary to that is the stand of environment activists who, while conceding the degree of infestation, say that Nature should be left to run its course at least in the protected nature reserve and that, in time, it would regain its balance. Playing into the hands of the park’s more radical-minded management is the fact that the owners of forests in neighbouring Austria have warned the Czech side that they would demand up to 1 million euro in compensation should the bark beetle calamity cross over to their territory. Mojmír Vlašín says this is still no excuse for felling on the Czech side.

“This is a different problem. Because on the Austrian side there is -let us say - a common forest largely belonging to the Schlegel Monastery. There is no national park on their side in which case it is understandably necessary to mitigate the bark-beetle problems in this area. We have repeatedly asked the Czech national park authorities to debark trees close to the border which we consider far less damaging to the eco-system than felling.”

Photo: CTK
On Tuesday events, at Modrava followed pretty much the same scenario with activists chaining themselves to trees marked for felling and the police cutting the chains and carrying them off. At this point even Mojmír Vlašín admits it is more a question of slowing down the logging than stopping it. But he says he and his friends are there to stay for as long as there are any trees left to defend.