From the start in October 2011, serious efforts were made to influence the reform of the Nature and Landscape Protection Act in Slovakia, which could radically improve the set-up of national parks and other protected areas, as well as reduce the negative impacts of forestry and hunting. The fate of the bill now depends on the politics of the new social-democratic party, the winner of March 10 elections.
Rewilding Europe coordinator in the area, a Slovak NGO called Wolf is the leading partner in Ecoforum, a coalition of NGOs that signed a cooperation agreement with the association of cities and villages of Slovakia, banking services provider J&T Group, and some key forest owners. These partners hope the government will reach a decision on the draft bill by mid-May.
As the work in Eastern Carpathians crosses the border between Slovakia and Poland, a similar change in law is probably required in Poland as well, in order to make rewilding possible at a larger scale. On the Polish side, a small NGO – Fundacja Przyroda Karpat or the Carpathian Wildlife Foundation – was created to fill the gap between local conservation organisations.
Engaging local people is of the utmost importance to Rewilding Europe, thus a lot of effort has been made to consult village mayors, regional authorities, and national ministries, as well as conservation professionals. In addition to many local lectures, an exhibition – “Wilderness will Save the World” – was set up.
A local opinion poll, undertaken in both Poland and Slovakia in December 2011, demonstrated strong local support for rewilding as an opportunity for economic development and recognition of wilderness as an important local quality. Most people welcomed the idea of reintroducing missing species, such as free-living horses.
With the appointment of a new Director to the Polish Bieszczady National Park – a key area for the whole of Eastern Carpathians – new opportunities for collaboration have emerged, such as a joint venture tourism company in the upper part of the San River Valley on the border to Ukraine. Visits to the area showed the importance of the San River Valley for local wildlife in wintertime with large herds of bison, wild boar, etc. A group of young and enthusiastic people living in the area have started an ecotourism company focusing on wildlife watching (“Carpathian Big 5”). Conservation Capital has helped to identify additional business opportunities (e.g. Green Property Fund, “Ursa Maior Craft Brewery and Information Entertainment”).
Filming started on “Return of the Wilderness”, a documentary on rewilding the Eastern Carpathians. It will be produced together with the German/Dutch EMS Filming Group that signed an agreement with Rewilding Europe to produce a series of 4-5 one-hour stories featuring all five of our rewilding areas.
A special logo, brand and website are also being prepared for the Eastern Carpathians, soon to be known as the “Wolf Mountains”. A group of leading Polish designers launched a public contest for the logo, using a short video teaser.
In future, the area with minimum artificial lights could become the first Dark Sky Park (www.darksky.org) in Europe – an idea currently being explored by various interest groups, like the Astronomical Observatory in Kolonica, Slovakia.