National park protection divides ministry, municipalities

Sumava

What is more important: protecting nature or protecting municipal property? This question is at the heart of a dispute between the Ministry of Environment and municipalities bordering on the Šumava National Park. Environment Minister Martin Bursík this week confirmed his decision to keep the most valuable parts of the Šumava National Park untouched, declining an appeal filed by 15 local municipalities for him to allow trees to be cut down and other measures. They argue that leaving the forest untouched may cause an epidemic of bark-beetle.

Last year, the Šumava National Park was hit by a devastating windstorm, which left around 800,000 cubic metres of fallen trees in its wake. Some of the areas were cleared, but the ministry decided to leave untouched some 150,000 cubic metres of timber in the most valuable zones letting Nature take its course. Municipalities bordering on the park don’t agree. They argue that letting fallen trees lie may lead to the spread of bark-beetle in the surrounding forests. Jakub Kašpar, the spokesman for the Ministry of Environment, explains the reasons behind the ministry’s decision:

“The ministry’s idea is to raise the Šumava National Park to European standards. A national park is not intended for timber production. We shouldn’t interfere with the natural processes. The function of a national park is to let people see these natural processes and see how Nature works.”

František Nykles, chairman of the association of municipalities in the region points out that towns and villages are legally bound to look after their property, and that property includes forests.

“This decision can lead to bark-beetle infestation and endanger the surrounding forests. Since municipalities in the area own parts of these forests, they have to look after them. So naturally they don’t like this decision. People have been living here for ages and they know what a bark-beetle calamity is like.”

Jakub Kašpar of the Environment Ministry admits that municipalities have a right to oppose the decision, but he is confident that the ministry would win the case if it was brought to court. But what would happen if the bark beetle infestation crossed over into Germany? Jakub Kašpar says there is no reason to worry, since the German authorities have taken similar measures:

“The German attitude is a good example. The Bayerischen Wald, the national park on the German side of the border, leaves the first zones of their national park untouched. This is a good policy. It is also recommended by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and therefore we think it’s a good decision.”

The fifteen Šumava municipalities have now taken some time to discuss the matter with lawyers, but they say they are ready to fight for their cause.