Ski resort will devastate Unesco world heritage site in Bulgaria, says WWF | Environment

A budget ski resort expansion is poised to carve 333km of new slopes and 113km of ski lifts through a Unesco world heritage site of “outstanding universal value”, according to documents obtained by WWF in a lawsuit.

The 400sq km Pirin national park in Bulgaria is one of Europe’s best preserved homes for large mammals such as brown bears and wolves, which roam its glacial lakes, alpine meadows and dense forest.

But commercial logging may also soon be allowed in a zone stretching across nearly 60% of the park, under a draft management plan that WWF says would enable a 12-fold expansion of the Bansko resort, dubbed “Europe’s budget ski capital”.

Katerina Rakovska, a WWF expert in Bulgaria, said the new documents showed the government had aligned its draft to “exactly” fit the zoning regime requested by the prospective ski resort builder, Ulen.

“This disastrous plan would open the door for the clear cutting of centuries-old forests, causing grave damage to biodiversity,” she said. “Research already shows that brown bears, chamois and capercaillie are avoiding areas of mass tourism. Under this proposal, they would literally have nowhere else to go.”

Last month, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature declared the south-west Bulgarian park a site of “significant concern” because of the potential ski development and associated logging.

2957 - Ski resort will devastate Unesco world heritage site in Bulgaria, says WWF | Environment



WWF says the expansion of the budget ski resort Bansko would ‘cause grave damage to biodiversity’. Photograph: Joerg Reuther/Alamy

WWF says that the 10-year management plan would give a green light to resort construction across 7.5% of the park – compared to 0.6% at present – and bring in a new zoning system that could permit widespread logging under the guise of maintenance and restoration actions.

Another government document released in the WWF lawsuit says that “timber logging for the needs of the park, the local communities and the local small business has to happen under an approved forest management plan”.

Miroslav Kalugerov, the director of Bulgaria’s nature protection service, denied that the planned new park regime would harm Pirin’s nature or biodiversity, calling fears of commercial logging “unjustified and groundless”.

The development blueprint was intended to “remove diseased and injured individual [trees] and groups of trees”, by selling them to local people for a nominal fee, he said.

“Because of the prohibition for construction of new roads and clearings in the draft new management plan, most probably, maintenance and restoration activities in future will be carried out on 5% of the park’s territory,” he said.

However, a ministerial position paper seen by the Guardian describes the plan as “a radical change” from current rules which “gives grounds to expect a high level of impact on the natural habitat types, and habitats of species of conservation importance”.

The draft proposal was funded by the European commission and could become a running sore for Bulgaria as it prepares to take up its six-month presidency of the EU. Pirin overlaps with two Natura 2000 sites that are protected by the bloc’s birds and habitats directive.

An EU source said: “It is for the Bulgarian authorities to ensure that the conservation measures and management plans adopted meet the EU rules on the Natura 2000 sites.”

Any activities that could affect protected areas would have to undergo appropriate environmental assessments, the source added.