Politicians wade into bark-beetle fray

Foto: ČTK

A continuing standoff between ecological activists and loggers in the Šumava National Park is continuing to heat up. For more than a fortnight now activists have been chaining themselves to trees slated for felling – stressing that logging commissioned by the park in protected areas is illegal. Under existing regulations, they have argued, trees in the nature reserve must be allowed to decay naturally. The park management has countered by saying that only felling will prevent further locations from being devastated by the bark-beetle. The dispute has now divided senior politicians, some of whom are calling for immediate talks to try and resolve the dispute.

Foto: ČTK
For more than a fortnight protestors in Šumava National Park have drawn attention to logging in sensitive areas, refusing to depart and chaining themselves to trees, even as the park’s management has pushed ahead. The management insists some 4,000 trees must be felled in the coming days to prevent the spread of further devastation by the bark-beetle. On Monday, some politicians exasperated over developments – or the lack of them – said ‘enough was enough’. At a press conference by TOP 09, one of the parties in government, leader Karel Schwarzenberg fired a ‘shot across the bows’ by charging that the environment minister – a member of the senior Civic Democrats – had done nothing to diffuse growing tension.

Karel Schwarzenberg, foto: ČTK
“He’s played dead in the hope that the bark-beetle will just go away.”

The Environment Minister, Tomáš Chalupa, is currently on vacation and did not respond directly to the TOP 09 charge; he did say in a press release that he welcomed any dialogue with politicians and stressed that only new legislation being prepared would solve the problem of Šumava National Park.

For now, though, the stand-off continues: ecological activists have made clear they won’t call off their blockade and won’t come to the table until the loggers go home. By contrast park management under Jan Stráský, says it is ready to talk but made clear it won’t allow pre-conditions to any negotiations.

Foto: ČTK
Opposition politicians, too, have also gotten into the fray: the head of the Social Democratic Party Bohuslav Sobotka charged on Monday that the standoff showed clearly that both the environment minister and the park head had lost control of the situation.

On the ground, meanwhile, the felling continues and loggers are simply trying to do their job – without anyone getting hurt. Forestry worker Adam Kološ spoke to Czech TV:

“You have to keep checking what’s going on in the protected area, because you never know who might jump out from behind a tree.”

The situation at Šumava National Park has seen intervention by police and already sparked numerous lawsuits; what’s more the developments have come to the attention of Brussels. The ČTK news agency reported that the European Commission has already asked for an explanation by Czech officials over what was happening in Šumava National Park – part of a network of protected nature areas in Europe.