This story was originally published by Meta.mk. An edited version is republished here under a content-sharing agreement between Global Voices and Metamorphosis Foundation.
As civil society organizations from North Macedonia appealed for better conservation of protected areas and for increased state support for institutions that manage them in order to preserve battered biodiversity, the country is nearing the launch of a new national park that is set to become a part of one of the largest protected areas in Europe.
Civil society organizations warn that illegal logging, poaching, dumping enormous quantities of waste and jeopardizing the wildlife are the greatest threats to the areas with the country’s greatest natural treasures.
The environmentalists used the occasion of World Environment Day (June 5), and other international days that celebrate biodiversity, like the European Day of Parks (May 24), World Turtle Day (May 23) and World Bee Day (May 20), to appeal that the protected areas need continuous conservation.
North Macedonia has great and varied, but seriously endangered, biological diversity. According to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list data, the world has lost hundreds of species since the 19th century due to loss of habitat, overexploitation, invasive species and climate change.
According to environmental activists, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected the protected areas in North Macedonia, and most dramatically affected the income of national parks. Association Eko-svest, or Eko Consciousness NGO, warned via public announcement:
The decreasing number of tourists can generally be considered a positive influence on mitigating the pressure on the environment. Still, the change in the structure of visitors and a large number of irresponsible tourists, in combination with the manager’s inability to provide a regular presence in the areas, has resulted in more negative examples of jeopardizing the animals, destruction of biodiversity, destruction of the infrastructure in the area, enormous quantities of waste, illegal hunting and illegal logging.
Eko-svest appealed to the government to compensate for the negative effects of COVID-19 pandemic by providing increased and systematic financial assistance to the protected areas, in a way similar to other countries from the Balkan region.
According to Eko-svest, today there are around 22,000 species in North Macedonia, out of which 1,000 are endemic species in the country. There are 82 species of mammals, 332 species of birds, 32 reptile species and 15 species of amphibians. There are 3,200 plant species, over 2,000 algae species and 500 species of moss. Tens of species are on the red lists, Eko-svest noted.
The best known endangered birds nesting in North Macedonia, threatened at country level are the griffon and the Egyptian vulture, while the black and the bearded vultures are extinct.
Endangered species include four types of turtles which are all on the red list of reptiles. The most common threat is the loss of their habitats due to intensified agriculture and use of chemicals, the excessive collection of plants and their trading, and in the case of water turtles, the drying out of their habitats.
A new protected area
Meanwhile, an initiative for establishing a new national park on Šar Planina, or Šar Mountains, a range between North Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania, has been under way and is nearing completion. The protected area, seen through by an informal group of civil society organizations, would connect with protected areas across the borders in neighboring countries, providing safer habitat for animals like the endangered Balkan lynx.
A law that ushers the creation of the national park, which is to become a part of one of Europe's biggest protected areas, has been submitted to parliament and has passed all deliberations except for the final vote of the assembly. The Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning Naser Nuredini announced that they expect that the parliament would enact the law on the session scheduled for June 15.
Passing of the Šar Mountain National Park Law seems imminent, as latest reports revealed that an investor who was supposed to build a small hydro plant in the area has canceled the project. Fueled by government subsidies, there has been a boom of building small hydroelectric plants in the Balkans in recent years, severely damaging the natural habitats.
Frosina Pandurska-Dramikanin, representative of the informal group Friends of Šara Platform that supported the process of establishment of the national park by working with all stakeholders, stated on June 9:
Сметам дека прогласувањето на Шара за НП ќе отвори позитивни можности за локален рурален развој, туризам и реално ќе го подобри животот на локалното население. Денес претставниците на турстичкиот сектор потврдија дека туризмот на Шара се развива постојано во последните 10 години. Националниот парк ќе биде врската меѓу туристите, понудувачите на услуги и локалното население. Проектите што ќе се спроведуваат во идниот национален парк освен за заштита на природа ќе бидат и во насока на подобрување на меката инфраструктура, поставување на стандарди за туризам во заштитено подрачје и едукација за одржливо користење на природните ресурси во паркот. Процесот ќе биде долг но можностите за развој се огромни бидејќи со прогласувањеото на Шара ќе добиеме прекугранично заштитено подрачје од околу 240000 км2 што е добро и за природата и за луѓето.
I reckon that declaring Šara Mountain national park will create positive opportunities for local rural development, tourism and that it will significantly improve the lives of local population. Today, representatives of the tourist sector confirmed that tourism in this area continuously grows during the last 10 years. The national park will serve as intermediary between the tourists, service providers and the local population. Future projects under its administration will deal with nature protection first, while improving the infrastructure, setting standards for tourism in the protected area, and education for sustainable use of park's resources. The process will take time, but the opportunities are huge, because we will get a cross-border protected area of over 240,000 square kilometers, which is good for the nature and the people.
Anela Stavrevska-Panajotova, an IUCN national expert, explained to Meta.mk that a priority of the process was to address the need of people from the rural areas within the confines of the soon-to-be declared protected nature area.
Последниот Национален парк во државата бил прогласен пред шеесет и три години во едно сосема поинакво општествено уредување. Најголемиот предизвик со кој се соочуваме е недостатокот на општествена меморија за водење на целата постапка. Во овој долг но и историски процес сите локални чинители, локалното население, има ургентна потреба од одговори бидејќи живее со и од планината. Сите одговори како во иднина ќе функционира националниот парк, од сите аспекти, ќе бидат детално разработени во менаџмент планот кој моментално го подготвуваме и се очекува да биде завршен до ноември. Се обидуваме во процесот на подготовка на овој документ максимално да ги вклучиме сите засегнати страни но и да ја искористиме уникатната можност за воведување интернационални практики и иновативност кои ќе бидат пример за добро функционирање на нов современ парк.
The last time a national park in this country has been declared was 63 years ago, in a completely different political system. The biggest challenge we face is lack of institutional memory for implementing such a procedure. In this long and historic process, all local stakeholders, local population living with and from the mountain, expressed the need for institutional response. We are now working together on preparation of management plan for the national park that will provide all these answers. It is due to be completed by November. We are attempting to include all stakeholders in the preparation, and to make use of this unique opportunity to introduce international practices and innovativeness that would serve as example of proper function of a contemporary national park.