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close this bookCERES No. 135 (FAO Ceres, 1992, 50 p.)
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A management plan for the Bohemian forest

For the first time in history the mayors of the Sumava region in southern Czechoslovakia have made a public appeal to protect the Bohemian forest, the largest unspoiled tract of woodland in Central Europe.

In a formal petition issued to the Czechoslovakian Prime Minister, 21 mayors representing the citizens of the entire Sumava biosphere reserve announced their support for a locally-produced management plan for their newly-created Sumava national park.

"We were delighted to take part in the discussion on the future of our region, a pleasure which has not been granted to us before", stated the mayors in their petition to the federal government. Formerly, emphasized the mayors, "we have always been bypassed and forgotten.... Access at last (to our forests) has been restored. Our question is, how can this be utilized to the economic advantage of our people? How can we economically advance without destroying our national endowment?"

The management plan, developed with support from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), is ground-breaking scheme that gives varying degrees of protection to the 70 000-hectare Sumava national park, an integral part of the 162 000-hectare biosphere reserve. The park, which straddles the eastern side of the former "iron curtain" between Czechoslovakia and Germany's Bavarian forest national park, was for decades a military-patrolled border zone. It was also a favored hunting ground of the elite.

When the "iron curtain" went up tens of thousands of people were removed from the zone, and the population in the region was reduced from around 150000 to 60000 people today. Four inhabited villages will remain in the park, and several abandoned enclaves of cultural value will become park centres.

Already the citizens of the Sumava have torn down miles of barbed wire fences and have left the region to the lynx, wild boar, roe and red deer that have made the forest their homes for centuries. Tourists are exploring the inner reaches of the park. Otters and freshwater pearl mussels are still found in the rivers, while the forest harbors around 10 pairs of eagle owls, black storks and black grouse as well as the capercaillie.

In former no-entry zones, these first tourists are discovering the park's primeval forest where trees thirty metres tall are over 400 years old. They also encounter glacial relics including the crowberry, dwarf arctic birch and dwarf pine, species which have survived since the Ice Age 10 000 years ago.

Unwelcome discoveries also occur: some of the trees have been affected by air pollution, although favorable winds have spared the Bohemian forest from serious damage in this country where leaf and needle damage was recently measured at 35.5 per cent, among the highest in all of Europe.

Large tracts of uncleared forests where war-games were played with Russian-made tanks and other weapons also mar the landscape. And the sound of petrol-powered chainsaws still breaks the stillness in the core zone, where the military is reluctantly giving up its right to log. Local villagers whose economy has been depressed for years and whose situation has worsened are still being hired to cut trees in the protected zone. Park authorities patrolling the territory and informing the Ministry of Defence that the cutting must stop.

"Until 1989, it was forbidden for anyone but the military to enter a 10-km zone from inside the forest up to the border itself", explained Jiri Kec, director of the Sumava national park. "Now 600 people will live inside the protected area in what we define in our management plan as a traditional use zone. The core area should be around 20 000 ha and the traditional use zone around 45 000 ha, representing nearly 70 per cent of the park".

Sumava national park's protected zones include the core area (full protection), the recuperation zone (removal of roads and electric power lines from the main areas of former military presence), the traditional use zone (agricultural use that does not diminish biological diversity) and public use zone (environmental education and eco-tourism).

WWF project leaders, Frantisek Krejci and Vaclav Franek point out their concept for this park is a departure from strictly traditional definitions. "This concept employs a new philosophy", Franek said. "We need people to continue living here in the Bohemian forest. We want to create conditions for people to live near the park in harmony with nature".

Compromise was the key to the success of the park. The Ministries of Defence, Agriculture and the Environment recently hammered out an agreement over the size of the core zone. As could be expected, the Ministry of Environment wanted the zone - where hunting, forestry and agriculture would be prohibited - to be as large as possible.

"Not one minister in Czechoslovakia would say no to environmental protection", said Pavel Trpak, Deputy Minister of the Environment of the Czech Republic and former WWF project leader for Sumava national park. "It is only a matter of what degree of protection each ministry believes is needed. Agricultural development is the biggest threat to the park, but two years is a short time for this new doctrine of nature protection and sustainable development to get into the blood".

Trpak, one of a handful of people who first conceived the idea of the Sumava national park 30 years ago, said: "I am happy that the dream of my youth has been realized and the vision of Ladislav Vodak, one of the founding fathers of the park who is now 70 years old, has also come true".

Elizabeth Kemf