High Tatra air no longer as healthy?

High Tatras

Air is one of the things that bring people to Slovakia's Tatras National Park. Many call the Tatras a healing "respiration resort". Walks through the forests help to get your lungs back into shape. But those forests were badly damaged in the great storm of November 2004. Can the Tatras still deliver their famous health benefits?

Driving through the most seriously damaged areas of the National Park I am surrounded by vast open spaces.

In the year and 4 months since the storm, 85% of wood and broken trees have been removed from the damaged areas. Peter Fleischer, from the research station of the National Park says this was a necessary step to prevent serious ecological changes to the forest. However some environmentalists see this step as the cause for many negative changes in the areas where the forests have been cleared. Maria Hudakova is from the "Wolf" forest protection movement.

"Animals lost their natural habitat and had to leave the area. Micro-climatic changes occurred due to the fact that the trees were removed. If at least some of the trees had remained, some thirty percent, the climatic changes would not have been so bad."

Climatic changes are one thing. But as you walk through the open wasteland around Stary or Dolny Smokovec, you can't help wondering whether the famous healing air is still there.

"The air quality has probably not changed at all during this - there are some differences but it is not possible for humans to sense them."

Walking through Smokovec you will probably have the impression that the little town is much windier than it used to be before the storm. Although experts say this is just a feeling not supported by any evidence, it is actually the wind that makes sure that the fresh and good air comes from the forested areas to the parts where trees have fallen down.

Maria Hudakova, from the Wolf forest protection movement, also comments on the air quality in the towns of the Tatras:

"The traffic in the high Tatras is so dense that we can say that transportation is more dangerous to the quality of the air than the fact that the trees are no longer there."

Although the air quality in the parts of the Tatras where the forests have been lost has not got any worse, experts have noticed differences. Peter Fleischer, from the research station of the Tatra National Park specifies:

"After one year, it has become quite clear that in the areas where the timber was removed, quite a lot of CO2 is being released."

The increase of CO2 in the air is so small, that humans can't notice it, nor will it have any serious impact on health. As Peter Fleischer estimates, the increased concentration of CO2 in the air is already starting to go down again and in 2-3 years the devastated parts of the forest could once again reach their balance.

The storm in 2004, as well as reducing the size of the forests brought another change to the National Park. Ozone levels have been a threat to human health for quite a while. So now that the Tatras are lacking 25% of their spruce forests there is a danger that this could also influence the ozone level. Peter Fleischer:

"Some indices show that the concentration of the ozone has decreased."

Experts say that the catastrophe that came in 2004 was expected, just as are many other threats the Tatras face today. Floods, due to the lower water retention capacity of the land, fires and insect infestation are just some of the worries the High Tatras National Park has to deal with.