Bulgaria’s Forests Threatened
The controversial amendments of Bulgaria’s Forest Act, which were adopted yesterday by the Bulgarian Parliament, will lead to the plundering of the country’s last significant natural resource, WWF has warned today. WWF and the coalition of environmental NGOs “For the Nature” are calling on Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev to veto the changes to safeguard Bulgaria’s forests. The environmentalists are also sending a signal to the European Commission for unauthorized governmental aid which the amendments represent.
“The amendments of the Forest Act go against the public interest and contravene EU and Bulgarian legislation on competition as well as nature protection”, said Konstantin Ivanov, Head of Communications at WWF Bulgaria. “To put it simply, the amendments mean further deforestation and building up of forest and protected areas. They practically allow for the construction of ski runs and ski facilities without changing land use and for the acquisition of building rights on public land without tender and for an indefinite period.”
A series of protests in the past six months have demonstrated massive public support for the protection of Bulgaria’s forests and protected areas. Over 1000 protestors rallied against the new law on Wednesday evening, blocking for more than an hour the traffic along one of Sofia’s busiest boulevards. The protestors, mainly young people and families with children, carried posters reading “Forests are life” and “Sorry for disturbing you, we are just trying to rescue what has been left of Bulgaria.” Public outcry however has been ignored by the ruling majority.
State forests and protected areas, the last significant public resource that has not yet passed into private hands in Bulgaria, occupy about 20% of the country’s territory.
What is wrong with the Forest Act amendments
- For the first time since Bulgaria gained its independence in 1878, the law would allow a third party to build in another party’s property without the owner’s consent and without adequate compensation.
- For the first time since 1925 riparian forests will no longer be classified as forests and it will be lawful to cut them down without any control from the state.
- For the first time since 1931, when the first protected area of the country was announced, the state will allow for private companies to build in protected areas owned by the state.
- For the first time since 1955 the law would permit the use of state forests timber twice over natural growth, which would reduce timber resources.
- For the first time since 1991, when the current Bulgarian constitution was adopted, the government will allow for farmland to be used for purposes unrelated to farming, such as the construction of ski resorts and golf courses.
- For the first time since 1991, the state is creating a sectoral aid scheme to aid the construction of ski resorts and golf courses, making them exempt from state taxes payable for change of land use.
- For the first time since 1996, when the State Property Act came into force, building rights on public land will be given without tender by decision of the Minister of Agriculture.
- For the first time since 1997 when restitution of forests started in Bulgaria, the state is allowing owners of private forests under 5 acres to cut them down without state control.
Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support.