Neither shower, nor cabbage soup, nor any other natural or artificial means of mitigating hangover could have served as a better refreshment for the persevering few than Mr Frantisek Urban’s lecture on the last working day of our camp. ’What was his secret recipe?’ you may like to know. Well, the ingredients I noticed were certainly his expertise and experience, to which he added a large amount of factual knowledge combined with an overview of factors, all this methodically prepared to be digestible for even newcomers in the green movement.
Mr. Urban, on behalf of the Agency for Conservation of Nature and Landscape, set out to inform us about the history and the composition of forests in the Czech Republic, as well as the ecological changes and development that took place in the Sumava area. He highlighted some questions concerning the necessity of establishing national parks presenting views both against and in favour, and outlined the consequences of both options He also mentioned specific ecological and socioeconomic problems concerning the Sumava area, and plausible ways of solving these problems.
First of all we learnt a few details about the history of the park. We got to know that the Sumava National Park was established in 1991 on 69.000 acres as part of a larger area called the Sumava Mountains, which had been protected since 1963 for its scientific values. The area was at first scarcely inhabited and thus remained relatively undamaged. Its vicinity to the border and the iron curtain also contributed to its undisturbed state. It was not until the 18th century that intensive land cultivation had started to reshape the landscape. By 1945 timber industry had begun to flourish, there were intensively managed fields, sawmills and cattle grazing. Massive colonization resulted in an energy crisis, so much so, that the first forest protection laws came out in the 1750’s. Fields were forbidden to break the forest area. Spruce and pine were planted for their qualities of fast growth and multiple usability. These species had been native to the area, but they were quite scarce. Originally, they constituted less than 20% of the total forest population. Today they form 80% of it. Mr. Urban continued by explaining the consequences of this reshaping. He explained that spruce was excellent for economic purposes, but that a forest needed to provide for other needs as well, such as recreation, or serving as a watershed or giving shelter to animals. The natural composition of this area would be only 15 to 20% spruce, 5% fir, 60-70% beech and 5% other species. So if we were to re-establish the native composition of trees, what paths could we follow? Mr Urban outlined two possible solutions: Proponents the „no forest management” side would prefer to leave the forest as it is. After a certain time spruce would die out due to fungi, diseases and the bark beetle, and a new, native forest would replace it. Supporters of the „pro forest management” group would actively intervene by establishing national parks, where beetle damage could be controlled. Attacked spruce trees would be cut down and debarked to stop the spread (read about the Bark Beetle on pages 8 & 18). Native beeches, sycamores and ashes would be introduced and protected from animals. In a few decades the forest composition would resemble the native one. Besides ecological problems, Mr. Urban mentioned some social ones as well. The decline of timber industry since the establishment of the park has led to unemployment in the area. How could this be solved? One suggestion Mr. Urban proposed would be an investment in recreation. New facilities (accommodation: hotels, hostels; restaurants, etc.) should be introduced. For this woodcutters would need to be retrained in service industry. To stop money flowing out into the investors’ pocket, tax laws would need to be modified, as well. The economical benefits of toursim could certainly be carefully exploited. This, Mr. Urban hinted in his finishing words, could be one noble task for the new young green generation.