Row blows up over management of Šumava National Park

A row over the management of the Czech Republic’s biggest national park and forest has blown up. Political leaders in the regions which the park straddles have accused local managers and the environment ministry of failing to curb the tree damaging bark beetle. And they have warned they are prepared to take drastic measures unless there is a departure from methods allowing the beetle to thrive in areas where forests are allowed to develop naturally.

Šumava's Plešné lake in 2006  (left) and in 2009,  photo: CTK
The leaders of the South Bohemian and Pilsen regions this week launched a damning attack on the current management of the Šumava National Park, the Czech Republic’s biggest forest and a UNESCO classified natural site.

South Bohemian regional leader Jiří Zimola says the park is facing what he described as a bark beetle ‘pandemic’ because park authorities have failed to take adequate steps to control the beetle.

Around a fifth of the Šumava forest is now allowed to develop naturally with trees allowed to rot naturally and the bark beetle allowed to take its part in the process.

Photo: Rafal Konieczny,  Creative Commons 3.0
Mr Zimola bases his attack on the findings of a group of experts into the state of the forest which reported back to him and his political counterpart from the Pilsen regional earlier in the summer.

Now Mr Zimola warns that they will take matters into their own hands and declare a state of emergency for the Šumava forest if the ministry and managers do not take a new course. They claim this would allow them to bring in forestry companies to liquidate trees damaged by the bark beetle even if park authorities disagree.

The environment ministry and park managers hit back on Tuesday. Environment Minister Ladislav Miko admitted the bark beetle is a problem but also stressed that it has its place in the parts of forest set aside for more ecological development.

“Currently the bark beetle is a problem in the Šumava mountains as it is a problem in all other parts of Central Europe and neighbouring countries. Nevertheless, we are pretty sure that in the non-intervention zones it is part of the natural process and should be accepted as such.”

Mr Miko believes part of the uproar over the bark beetle is a reaction to unfamiliar forestry management methods which do not just see the trees just for the wood but as part of a natural regenerating process. But he also points to commercial pressures.

“People generally in the Czech Republic are not used to non-intervention management. So they see something like dying forests and they believe this is something that is tragic, that is really bad. And it is also hard for them to accept this is a natural face of the forest development. So it is a kind of: ‘they are not used to this situation.’ Secondly, of course, the forestry companies still see the forest as a source of very important material, which is timber, and they are not very happy to see it remains for destruction for the natural process.”

The ministry and park authority say that while estimated bark beetle damage this year is high, it is far from the worst year with much worse infestation for example in 1996 and 1997. They point out that trees are growing back successfully in the areas of natural development with the added bonus that these are not just stands of commercially planted pines.