Bulgarian government silently moves to open almost half of Pirin National Park to construction despite public concerns
The current management plan of Pirin National Park expired in 2014 but remains in place while the new draft plan awaits a court ruling on its roll-out. WWF and other NGOs of the For the Nature coalition filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Administrative Court of Bulgaria in March 2017 following the environment and water ministry’s decision that the new draft management plan did not require a Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment.
“The new draft management plan for Pirin National Park is bad and highly contentious, but the changes to the current management plan are worse. The draft plan, for example, envisages construction on an area that is 12.5 times larger than the currently permitted area while the changes to the current plan open up 80 times more area for construction,” said Katerina Rakovska, protected areas expert, WWF-Bulgaria.
A letter sent by the Bansko Ski Zone concessioner Yulen AD as part of the public consultation for the new draft management plan, seen by WWF, outlined intentions for enlarging the ski zone to 333 km of runs and 113 km of ski lifts. While the current management plan only allows for construction in 0.6 per cent of the park’s territory, with the new changes approved yesterday, such an extension could now be possible.
“These amendments allow for even bigger construction in Pirin than the draft plan,” added Rakovska. “It is very concerning that the government has moved to approve these changes, without any transparency on the public consultation and while the new draft plan is blocked by the country’s administrative court precisely over concerns on its potential environmental impact.”
In November 2016, WWF launched an international campaign in support of Pirin National Park to highlight the importance of the site to people in Bulgaria and globally. Currently, over 108,000 people have signed the petition, urging Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borisov to protect the World Heritage site and its pristine wildlife.
Pirin was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. However, in 2010, UNESCO excluded the ski areas above the towns of Bansko and Dobrinishte from the World Heritage site, identifying them as part of the buffer zone due to the damages and destruction caused by construction around the Bansko ski zone. The installation of the facilities led to the clearance of more than 160 ha of forests, including old-growth trees aged between 120 and 300 years.
Pirin is also a part of the Natura 2000 network of the European Union and WWF, together with other partner NGOs of the For the Nature coalition in Bulgaria, will signal to the European Commission the latest decision which violates European legislation on Natura 2000 areas. The coalition will also be appealing the decision in national courts.
In November 2017, an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report stated that the conservation outlook of Pirin National Park in Bulgaria is of "significant concern", just one step prior to the final, "critical" stage. The report underlined the threats of disturbance and fragmentation of the site associated with the exclusion of the skiing areas as incompatible with its World Heritage status.