Preserving the Carpathian biosphere
Scientists have made a graphic reconstruction of the fortress, and Ukraine`s Cabinet of Ministers has added it to a list of historical and cultural monuments that require restoration on a priority basis. Every year thousands of tourists visit this place.
One of the best ways to preserve and rejuvenate the potential forces of nature and wisely combine tourism with the needs of nature preserves is the creation of national parks.
Convincing proof of this strategy is found in the wealth of both international and domestic experience. It is well worth paying a visit to the Skole Beskyds National Park in Lviv oblast.
WHERE THE TETHYS OCEAN ONCE WAS
Twenty-five million years ago on the site of today`s Carpathian Mountains was the Tethys Ocean with large strata of sand forming on the bottom of this body of water.
During the Cenozoic period mountain ranges formed together with sandstones. Some of them broke through the earth`s surface and are preserved to this day: Mala Skelia, Zholob, Kamin, and Ostry Kamin (the latter is 112 meters high).
In 3 B.C. there was a sanctuary in the mountains; in the 9th-13th centuries A.D., in the times of Rus`-Ukraine and the Galician-Volhynian Principality, there was a mighty fortress called Tustan. The name means "stop here." Indeed, everyone had to stop there because there were no roads beyond this point.
"This was the name of an ancient fortress," I was told by specialists of the Tustan Cultural Preserve. "When the sanctuary existed, there were 270 holy symbols, known as petroglyphs, carved on the cliffs. Our linear ancestors made 4,000 grooves and frameworks.
Yew beams were squeezed into those grooves, forming an important architectural and cultural monument; man combined wood and rock to form a single whole, a fortress that proved unassailable to the enemy."
Scientists have made a graphic reconstruction of the fortress, and Ukraine`s Cabinet of Ministers has added it to a list of historical and cultural monuments that require restoration on a priority basis. Every year thousands of tourists visit this place, so one can imagine the influx of visitors once the fortress is reconstructed.
Even now there is enough to feel proud of in the Beskyds, an area occupying one-quarter of the territory of the Ukrainian Carpathians.
There are astonishing nature sites, like the waterfalls in the Kamianka River, where the water drops from a height of six meters onto boulders scattered below, forming a broad curtain. From the top of Mt. Parashka visitors have a clear view of the surrounding vista.
The name of the hill is linked to the name of Prince Sviatoslav`s daughter. There are hydrogen sulfite and soda springs here, game reserves, protected natural landmarks, and geological and hydrological monuments. The area is also home to unique, centuries-old Bukovynian forests, the magnificent Rosokhach high plains, and ethnographic features.
All this is the Beskyds, the hospitable land of the Boikos. How can these priceless landscapes be preserved while rationally exploiting local recreational resources?
These questions have long troubled the local highlanders, who saw a way to solve this problem by establishing a national park that is the equal of many world parks. The process was long and difficult, but in the end the problem was resolved.
VULNERABLE MOUNTAIN SYSTEMS
"It is no secret that the structure of natural landscapes is rapidly changing due to technogenic factors; the biosphere`s gene pool is being disastrously depleted," says Vasyl Pryndak, the scientific supervisor of Skole Beskyds National Park. "This process is also accelerating in densely populated and industrial regions, including the Carpathian Mountains.
Botanical studies show that some 10 percent of the local flora requires individual protection, and some rare plant species have been lost for good. The wildlife situation is even worse.
"Long ago ecologists established that nature preserves are the most reliable way to conserve genetic resources, thus preserving the planet`s biogeographic diversity. New potential environmental protection opportunities have appeared along with the drafting of a constructive national program aimed at preserving the Carpathian region.
"This program embraces a broad range of tasks relating to the stabilization of the ecological balance that was disturbed in the past, restoration of revitalizing natural resources, rational use of nature, upgrading of mountain systems` protective and socially useful functions, and exploitation of their recreational potential.
In order to preserve and professionally use these natural landscapes, which are of considerable environmental, scientific, educational, tourism, and recreational importance, the Skole Beskyds National Park was established in February 1999. It covers an area of 35,684 hectares, spanning Skole, Drohobych, and Turka raions."
Park director Vasyl Banderych joined our conversation. "Before this park was organized, others were functioning in this region: Carpathian Park in Ivano-Frankivsk oblast, Vyzhnytsia in Bukovyna, and Synevyr in Zakarpattia. Those parks could not meet the Ukrainian population`s increasing health and recreation demands.
"Neighboring countries close to Lviv oblast have shown us a good example. There are extremely important national and landscape parks in the vicinity of the Beskyds, known as Beskydy, Tsisniansko-Vetlinsky and San (Sian) Valley in Poland, and the Eastern Carpathians in Slovakia.
They are taking proper care of the Beskyds` natural diversity. Not here in Ukraine. In fact, favorable recreational and tourism conditions have been used extremely inadequately.
With similar natural and climatic features, the countries of the Alpine-Carpathian region have developed a powerful tourist industry. The resort capacities in the Czech part of the Tatra Mountains feature 20 beds per square kilometer, and 30 in the Austrian Alps.
This dense infrastructure secures a recreational payload of up to 200-220 persons per km a year. In the Ukrainian Carpathians it does not exceed 25 persons. You see the difference? Only 10 percent of the landscape recreational potential of our mountains is being utilized."
Scientific studies were done in the mid-1970s, but the problem could not be solved in a practical fashion. Clearcutting reached 350,000 m a year. In other words, two hectares of forest were cut down every single day. In order to preserve the most precious spots the authorities began setting up game reserves and nature preserves while trying to implement the national park idea.
FOR EVERY PERSON AND FOR THE PLANET
The territory is divided into three zones. The first one (15 percent) is a nature preserve where full-fledged nature protection procedures are enforced. In the regulated recreational zone its resources are not used for economic purposes, but it is open for ecological tourism.
Stationary recreation envisages the construction of camp grounds, tents, and other sites where people can spend their vacation. Populated areas function here according to established land use, which is not harmful to the surrounding landscape.
The nature in a significant part of this area is pristine. The park`s scientific staff carefully monitors the conditions of the flora and fauna, so that they can evolve in accordance with their own laws.
Over the past couple of years the national park`s scientific expeditions have taken place in collaboration with colleagues from Kyiv, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and neighboring countries.
There is a lot to be studied and investigated here. For example, fir plantations remain stable and well preserved, unlike their counterparts elsewhere in Europe. Tracts of highly productive 170 to 180-year-old mixed beech also remain.
There are some 600 varieties of vascular plants; over 50 varieties included in the Red Book of Ukraine are maturing. Here one can still come across Leucorchis albida, Scopolia carniolica, and Crocus heuffelianus.
Wildlife is also diversified. Scientific findings are summed up in the Chornicle of Nature, and scientists are working on the seventh volume. This data is used for assessing the state of the environment.
Every effort is being aimed at preserving nature and its biological and landscape diversity in order to combine the efforts of professionals and nature lovers, and secure broad public support. Local residents and visitors must be made aware of the importance of this national park for every person and for the planet as a whole.
Man`s behavior in regard to nature is largely determined by his level of ecological consciousness, so ecological educational work among the young residents of Skole starts at an early age.
Children are taken on ecological excursions and taught "green" lessons. In order to acquaint them with the environs, a number of ecological educational nature trails are being created, linking the most interesting sites from the scientific-ecological and aesthetic points of view.
There are well-designed stands and billboards along these routes, which graphically demonstrate the minimum of knowledge with which every young traveler must arm himself.
Thus, the 1.5-kilometer nature trail called Buchyna is designed for brief children`s excursions and recreation. Here they are familiarized with rare plant species. The Crocus nature trail acquaints young trekkers with spring flower varieties, while Following the Deer Track nature trail shows children the local wildlife.
I followed the longest nature trail from Skole to the village of Maidan across the 1,268-meter-high Mt. Parashka, the park`s highest point. Several pages are not enough to describe my impressions.
This route is designed for a one- or two-day hike and includes familiarization with a large number of highland plant and animal species, memorable natural and cultural sites, workshop seminars during stopovers, and specific environmental protection work. This route was mapped out and designed by students and lecturers from the University of Basel (Switzerland).
"Some 12 ecologically educational trails and itineraries were developed and equipped, covering the most original and interesting localities, and a series of illustrated sketches and booklets were published," says Pryndak.
"Information acquired during such treks is aimed at broadening the visitor`s world outlook and raising his ecological educational and general cultural level. We emphasize this aspect: everything being created on the park grounds has the sole objective of preserving nature."
EFFORTS TO RESTORE THE EUROPEAN BISON POPULATION
Graphic proof of this statement is found in the dedicated efforts of the park scientists and rangers to restore the European bison population. There are two herds in the Skole Beskyds. Their number varies between 6-8 and 9-15. The park workers` initiative was supported by the regional forestry department and Lviv oblast`s State Ecology and Natural Resources Directorate.
In 2003 they combined their efforts to find a solution to the problem. Assisted by the National Academy`s Institute for Carpathian Ecology and the Polish Academy of Sciences` Museum and Institute of Zoology, they contacted the Large Herbivore Foundation in the Netherlands, set up to finance projects aimed at restoring such populations in Eurasia. Their initiative met with complete understanding.
"The project to restore the bison population in Skole Beskyds is the first grant this foundation has given to Ukraine," explains the park`s director. "Its experts visited the park last year and decided the site we had chosen for the project answers the project`s requirements.
Fodder supplies were adequate because there are varieties of trees, shrubs, and grasses in the area, which are part of the giant mammals` daily ration.
Of course, during winters with heavy snowfalls we will have to provide extra supplies of hay and tree branches. The project will be scientifically supported by the Ukrainian National Academy`s Institute for Carpathian Ecology and the Polish Academy`s Museum and Institute of Zoology.
"The project envisages the construction of a fence separating the territory of the Maidan forestry, importation of five bison from Scandinavia, their temporary housing, scientific monitoring, and their eventual release into the lap of nature.
We hope the bison reintroduction project will prove as effective in Skole Beskyds as it did in our neighbors` countries in the Carpathian region. At one time the foundation helped supply these animals to Poland, Slovakia, and Romania from Germany, Holland, and the Scandinavian countries.
Now they are freely moving across the territories of biospheric preserves, crossing the boundaries of the Nadsianky Landscape Park in Turka raion, Lviv oblast, from Bieszczady National Park and the regional landscape park "San River Valley" (Poland).
Unfortunately, they invariably return to Poland without leaving offspring among the Ukrainian bison families.
MILITARY-RUN FORESTRY IN THE HEART OF A NATURE PRESERVE
The national park`s personnel is meeting with increasing understanding from local residents.
Recreations areas are equipped with "forest furniture" - sites specially made for building campfires and holding sports games, and these are carefully preserved by local highlanders, probably because both sides see their future in actively developing the tourism-recreational industry and providing adequate services to vacationers.
If motels, camp grounds, and ski lifts are built, skiers will be able to reach the snow-covered slopes, there will be new jobs for locals, and we will see the development of green tourism, which is in its infancy in Skole and nearby villages, compared to Slavsk and Tysovets.
AS FOR FINANCING
As for financing, there are only enough budget appropriations for rangers and workers. Acquiring modern means of communication, and laboratory base and field lab equipment remains a big problem. No capital investments are allocated from the state budget; only 100,000 hryvnias for yearly major repairs.
Still, the park personnel has managed to rebuild the Skole forestry`s central office into a showpiece headed by Yurii Volos, a young and enthusiastic ranger, and to renovate three out of five offices.
Since the inception of the national park, the personnel has been dreaming of modern premises, like the ones their colleagues at the Bieszczady National Park have, including a visitors` center and a museum.
They have amassed a considerable number of unique expositions, so they could open their own nature and ethnography museum, but they don`t have the right kind of premises.
It would be desirable if Lviv`s forestry workers, who have been providing substantial sponsorship assistance to local educational, cultural, and religious institutions, could channel some of this money into developing the national park. After all, there is no future for this museum without adequate accommodations.
Another problem has to be resolved: nearly 10,900 out of a total of 24,700 hectares are owned by the military forestry of Skole. This area (without land tenure withdrawals) is actually part of the national park.
It is located in the very center of the park and is the military forestry`s economic zone, whereas it would be logical to award it the status of a nature preserve, since it includes the scientifically interesting highest peak of Mt. Parashka, where the most valuable forests tracts grow. However, the military is against this. The issue has been discussed for many years, but everything is at a stalemate.
Without a doubt all these problems will eventually be solved. Meanwhile, Skole Beskyds National Park has turned into an ecological educational center in the land of the Boikos, offering the finest training and maintaining a firm stand on protecting the untamed nature of the Carpathian Mountains.
This news was monitored by the Action Ukraine Monitoring Service for the Action Ukraine Report (AUR), Morgan Williams, SigmaBleyzer, Editor.