Bad News for a Few European World Heritage Sites

Protections have been weakened for Russian natural areas like the Western Caucasus. © WWF-Russia / Sergey Trepet

Last time we mentioned UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it wasn’t good news either, when many Sites were listed as “in danger.” The places newly at risk, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), are often in the way of logging enterprises, often by the very governments who should be protecting the internationally recognized areas.  From the WWF:

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee today expressed concern over three sites facing severe pressures from harmful industrial activities, but failed to take bold action to protect them.

At the meeting, WWF objected to a sharp logging increase in the Polish portion of Bialowieza Forest World Heritage site, which also spans part of Belarus. The forest is one of Europe’s oldest, and is home to the most wild European bison, as well as lynxes and wolves. The government of Poland has argued that logging is necessary in order to combat a bark beetle infestation, a claim Polish scientists reject.

“The logging plan triples the sustainable limits agreed by Poland and the European Commission in 2012, and now the commission is examining whether the plan is a violation of EU law,” said WWF-Poland’s Dariusz Gatkowski.

“We are very disappointed that the UNESCO World Heritage Committee has not requested that the 2012 logging limits be upheld. The natural value of this precious site may suffer as a result of today’s decision.”

The committee adopted a stronger decision on Russia’s Western Caucasus, cautioning that construction of large scale infrastructure could cause the site to be inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. WWF is concerned that protections promised by Russia as part of its 2014 Sochi Olympic bid are being weakened to make way for expanding ski facilities.

The committee warned that recent legislative changes could have negative impacts on the reintroduction of endangered Persian leopards to the area. The first three cubs are set to be released from a specialized breeding and training centre tomorrow.

“We had hoped to release these very special leopards into a secure environment. Instead they will enter the unknown,” said Igor Chestin, CEO of WWF-Russia. “The future of Western Caucasus is hanging in the balance, but it is not too late to restore a positive natural legacy for the Sochi games. The International Olympic
Committee should insist that promises made then are kept now.”

The World Heritage committee also considered another site at risk from both encroachment by ski facilities and increased industrial-scale logging. Nearly 60 per cent of Bulgaria’s Pirin National Park could be opened to logging through a government plan.

Read the rest of the news article from the WWF here.

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