Habitat conservation

Forest conservation

The Bulgarian Forest has been known as the Great Bulgarian Forest (Magna silva bulgariva) since Antiquity and the Middle Ages. It used to cover the area from the Black Sea to the Adriatic Sea and from the Danube to the Rhodopes.
At present, forests cover some 30% of the territory of the country, being the most important national resource. In addition to their great significance for biodiversity, forests provide vital economic benefits. Half of the population of Bulgaria is directly dependent on forests and forest resources as sources of incomes, drinking water, and firewood. In addition, the status of the Bulgarian forests is directly affecting the climate and the water reserves of the neighboring Balkan countries and determines the quality of life of eight million Bulgarians and more than fifteen million inhabitants of the Balkans.

Today, this strategic resource is exposed to ruthless destruction. Bulgaria is one of the few countries in Central and Eastern Europe, where forest areas are decreasing at an alarming rate. Every day, a forest patch the size of 100 football playgrounds is cut in Bulgaria. Only in the period 1992-2005, the area of plain forests has decreased by some 15%! About 80% of the riparian and plain forests have been destroyed for a period of 15 years only! Hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest areas have been reduced to ashes in 1999–2001. According to WWF experts, over two and half million cubic meters of timber is being produced every year.
Therefore, the destruction of the Bulgarian forest is among the most significant ecological problems at present.
The state budget and the society lose tens of millions of levs every year, not considering the losses for nature. The later losses are irreversible!

Improvident management, illegal felling, and corruption are among the main reasons for the destruction of the Bulgarian forest.


Our work aims at:

• Improving the legislation and normative base related to forest management;
• Participating in the formation of new forest policy. Improving the forest management – adopting a sustainable model for forest development and multifunctional forest economy;
• Participating in the preparation of strategic documents for forest conservation and management;
• Expanding the system of existing protected areas and the national ecological network;
• Restoring the flood-plain forests on the Danube islands;
• Building foresters’ capacity for biodiversity conservation;
• Implementing actions and campaigns for extinguishing forest fires, restoring habitats and planting trees;
• Establishing partnerships with state institutions;
• Attracting financial resources from national and international institutions for forest conservation and sustainable management;
• Controlling and combating poaching and violations in the forest sector. Investigating violations and corruption cases in the forest system;
• Establishing a voluntary system for forest protection all over the country;
• Carrying out information campaigns related to the significance and the threats to the Bulgarian forests;
• Supporting the development of a timber certification system.

Activities and results

In the period 1988-2008, Green Balkans has implemented over 100 actions for the protection of forests and forest habitats. In addition to single actions, eight national public campaigns have been held, which have led to numerous results, most important of which are:

• Early 90s – national protest campaign in protection of the so called “closed areas”. These were areas which were isolated during the totalitarian regime and therefore have preserved high conservation value. 6,000 signatures were gathered as a part of the campaign. The society also organized mass protests in front of the Ministry of Environment and Waters and the Houses of Parliament. As a result of the exerted public pressure, тhe Minister of Environment and Waters issued a decree for solving the problem.
• 1996-1997 – campaigns in support of the new forest legislation. Green Balkans organized two press-conferences and two national round tables where suggestions for amending the Bulgarian Forest Act were systemized. 10 of the formulated proposals were supported by the Parliament. Unfortunately, many key suggestions, such as introducing limitations on the use of alluvial and riparian forests, were not approved.
• 1996-2000 – national protest campaign in support of flood-plain forests. 40 articles and interviews were published in mass-media, two declarations were sent to the Parliament and the Government, and two lawsuits were initiated. Public demonstrations were held and a public subscription list was set and signed by over 3,000 citizens and 100 legal entities. The campaign gained partial success. Valuable riparian forest habitats were saved along the Maritsa River.
• In 2000, Green Balkans’ Management Board voted for the organization of a public campaign in support and promotion of the independent system for forest certification - FCS. Several public presentations focusing on the advantages of introducing the FCS were organized for private forest owners. The main activities of the campaigns are still pending.
• 1996-2003 – national campaign against poaching. The imperfections in the legislative normative base as well as the inefficient forest policies lead to mass poaching and forest destruction. Green Balkans has been acknowledged as a national public advocate for the citizens who signal for violations in the forest sector. The society established a voluntary system for the protection of forests, which sent over 300 signals for illegal felling only for the period 2002-2005. Some of the violations, which proved to be of extremely large-scale, were referred to the Prosecutor’s Office.
• In 2004, Green Balkans initiated an Anti-Corruption Coalition, involving the organizations For the Earth, Eco Rila, and Bio-B – Borino.

• 2005-2008 – for the past three years our team received, examined and proceeded over 300 signals for violations of the forest and nature conservation legislation (Svoge, Kurdjali, Borino, Plovdiv, Chirpan, Ivailovgrad, Stara Zagora Spa Resort, Orizare, Dybrava, Radnevo, Stara Zagora, Krumovgrad, Kazanlyk, Silistar Reserve, Bansko, Samokov, Panagyurishte, Trigrad, Pomorie, etc.). Our team covered tens of thousands of kilometers and met hundreds of people. Hundreds of pages of documents, expert statements, and letters were compiled.

- over 100 internal examinations and tens of joint examinations with representatives of the SFD and RFB have been carried out.
- 50 copies have been forwarded to the Prosecutor’s Office (including the Supreme Prosecutor of Bulgaria, Supreme Cassation Prosecutor’s Office, District Prosecutor’s Office – Kardjali, Pazardjik, Smolian, Plovdiv and the Regional Prosecutor’s Office – Plovdiv).
- 10 legal proceedings have been initiated and a violator has been convicted.
- The Supreme Prosecutor’s Office of Cassation has initiated examinations on 12 companies improperly privatized in the period 1998–2001 (the companies: "Sredna gora" EAD, "Goroprom" EAD, "Privabel" EAD, "Rojen" EAD, "Persenk" EAD, "Dobrudjanska gora" EAD "Lesprom" EAD, "Parangalica" EAD, "Perivol" EAD, "Aida les" EAD, "Dospat les" EAD, "Elina" EAD)
- 25 administrative punishments have been imposed and 9 foresters have been fired.
- 54 deeds for poaching and violations of the forest and nature conservation legislation have been compiled on the basis of the signals sent by Green Balkans.
- 40 activists of the voluntary forest protection system have been trained.
- the establishment of a Coalition for saving the Thracian field has been initiated (including citizens, NGOs and mayors from 6 settlements and 2 municipalities united against the corruption practices perpetrated by the MoEW when granting concessions for inert material extraction)
- the activities of other NGOs and initiative committees working on these issues have been supported (For the Earth, Eko Rila, Bio-B Eko, Borino, Tetida, etc.)
- participation in national and regional councils and working groups at the MAF (National Consultancy Council on Forest Protection, Regional Consultancy Councils - St Zagora, Plovdiv, Kardjali, and Haskovo, the National Working Group on forming new policies in the forest sector, etc.)
- Numerous press-conferences have been held on the issues (the team has taken part in many programs and releases in various media)
- violations worth hundreds of thousands of levs have been revealed with the support of various state institutions.
- three posters promoting the activity of the voluntary forest protection system, leaflets and other advertisement materials have been issued
- a Collection of “Management and Policy Documents” has been issued (addressing state and local institutions working in the field of forest protection and nature conservation).
- “The Bulgarian forest – present, but obscure future?” film has been develped

 
How can I help?
- Send signals for detected cases of poaching and other violations in the forest sector
- Become a part of the voluntary forest protection system and assist our examinations of violations
- Promote the significance of the Bulgarian forest and the related threats
- Organize or participate in information and afforestation campaigns
- Use products made of certified timber and recycle waste paper

Our activities for forest conservation are supported by: USAID/DPК Consulting, the Democracy Commission of the USA Embassy in Bulgaria, the PHARE ACCESS Program, and the Bulgarian Partnership Foundation.

More information about Bulgarian forest, the threats and our work for its conservation can be found on the page devoted to the Coalition Against Corruption in the Forest Sector.