With the declaration of Shar Mountain as a national park, alongside the benefits, a long-term solution is expected for the people whose primary work revolves around using the forests in the western region. Part of them are employed at the Macedonian Forests Public Enterprise (PE), some of them work for private companies, and others whose sole existence relies on forest work is also waiting for results. Their future relies on the ongoing negotiations between the affected parties and the state.
The effects from declaring Shar Mountain a national park were discussed at public debates. The announced solutions are expected to benefit the locals and employees in the forestry sector. Making the light solutions is of crucial significance. The estimated value of the forest that will enter under a new protection regime surpasses EUR 50 million. The most lucrative forest units of the Tetovo and Gostivar subsidiary companies of the Macedonian Forests enterprise will also enter the national park.
Forest workers in uncertainty
Bari Xhaferi from the village of Lomnica beneath Shar Mountain has entered the seventh decade of his life. He spent almost his whole life living underneath the biggest mountain range in this country. He’s worked as a firewood loader since he was young. He and his dozen or so mules transport the logs from difficult terrains to the forest road where they can be loaded into trucks. His children have been helping him these last couple of years, and this hard work secures his family’s existence. He and a few lumberjacks and physical workers heard the news that their area of work has been declared a national park. His age makes him patiently wait for this new reality
“There were rumors before it happened. I don’t know what will change, but I know people have to work. Firewood has to be brought down from the mountain. That’s how it’s always been and how it’s going to be for a long time. There have to be forest workers,” Bari says.
He doesn’t expect drastic changes any time soon. He jokes that if tourists pay extra to walk through the mountain, his mules won’t be too picky what they carry on their backs.
The employees in the Tetovo and Gostivar subsidiary companies of the Macedonian Forests enterprise are also feeling some uncertainty because of the announcements that Shar Mountain will be declared a national park. Using forests as a segment is especially important for the economic survival of the biggest forest company in the country. Some employees are skeptical. They think life will change for them and that they’ll have to find new jobs, which stems from thinking that the rules for using the forests will change.
Negotiations for better forest management
Declaring Shar Mountain a national park will directly affect the work of the Macedonian Forests company, i.e. their subsidiaries in the Gostivar-Tetovo region. Four forest-economical units will be taken away from the Leshnica-Tetovo subsidiary and the state hunting grounds Leshnica, and two forest-economical units will be taken away from the Shar-Gostivar subsidiary.
The opinion delivered in the procedure that comes before declaring and adopting the law, a memo warns them of being a directly affected side. They also point out the negative financial and socio-economic implications, and they also relate to all directly and indirectly involved persons and companies and they will be affected by the new work regime. There are negotiations to coordinate demands and possibilities, which are meant to precisely work out and solve the status of forest workers.
“Part of our demands and objections have been accepted. We deem this a positive thing at the start of these negotiations. This is important, because there are future activities plan that will focus on our objections. Given the authorities’ serious approach and the involvement of experts, there is optimism that negative influences will be avoided with the final solution. Of course, reorganization in some units will be needed, but we’re trying to make it beneficial for the employees and other affected parties. There are good suggestions and exit solutions, but as we mentioned, we’re now in a stage of coordination and setting directions to find a final solution,” Macedonian Forests says.
Those who are in the know in this area support the optimism. They expect there to be a correct redistribution of workers, but the most important thing in the woods will be cut down and there will be new rules from the preexisting ones. It’s early to predict how many workers will be redistributed, and how many will continue with the same obligations.
The state wants to protect the forests, the biggest wealth of Shar Mountain
At the 50th government session in March 2021, the government approved the draft Law on Declaring Part of Shar Mountain a National Park. A Temporary Protection Solution came before that until the day the Law is enforced. The assembly procedure for its adoption is expected to start soon.
The Ministry of Environment says they’re working seriously and there’s a big debate for the decision.
Minister Naser Nuredini says that the plan was made alongside a team of experts, the academic community and the Shara’s Friends initiative. The GEF, UNEP and IUCN backed them up financially. According to Nuredini, this guarantees that the future law will provide maximum protection of natural values, as well as respecting the needs of the affected parties, above all of the locals, and it will also enable new perspectives for socio-economic development.
Wood mass is the most valuable resource of Shar Mountain
The Shar Mountain forests are very valuable, which is listed in the draft report of the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning, delivered in September 2020 to the government.
“The forests are one of the most valuable natural resources of Shar Mountain. They are diverse in their composition, age, structure and other characteristics and they fulfill a large number of ecological, protective, economic and social functions.
The forest’s value is important for the economic part of PE Macedonian Forests, highlighted in the memo with an opinion what lists the surface that will be taken away and the value of the wood mass.
- The Leshnica-Tetovo subsidiary division: the suggested borders include forest surface of 11 thousand hectares with a wood mass of approximately 1.3 million m3. The estimated value of the groves is around MKD 2 billion, or nearly EUR 31 million.
- The Shar-Gostivar forest-economical unit Duf Mazdracha with its suggested borders include a 2149 hectares forest surface with a wood mass of 432,557 m3 and the groves value is around MKD 840,278,345.00, around EUR 14 million.
The new protection regime includes the highest quality and the most productive forests that the work of these two subsidiary units is based on. The PE Macedonian Forest’s opinion warns that the work of these two subsidiaries is put under question, with its 74 full time employees, and some other people with temporary contracts, as well as multiple economic operators and companies working under tender in these subsidiary units.
Mountain tourism as a new possibility to earn money
Environment and physical planning minister Naser Nuredini as the law proposer convinces that the offered solutions entail key questions such as the management structure and the way it works.
“We took care to ensure zone homogeneity when creating the national park’s borders, to follow field configuration and for it to match neighboring parks in the country and Kosovo. Within three months of the law’s adoption, the government will start a National Park Public Enterprise that will have a ranger service. It will be formed by taking over employees from the Tetovo and Gostivar National Forests, experts who know the field best,” Nuredini said, adding that the specific legal and illegal area activities will be put together in the Management Plan that will be brought within a year. MKD 6 million are secured for the first year in order for things to function normally. If it passes in Parliament, it’ll be first time that a national park was declared since the independence. Galichica gained this status in 1958.
According to research by the Macedonian Ecological Society and the Shara’s Friends platform, around 83% of surveyed people believe that Shar Mountain should be declared a national park. Adopting a good law is of key significance, because the park itself and surrounding area has 156 populated areas, two of which are city environments with nearly 300 thousand people.
Many people like Bari from Lomnica who live and survive off forest work expect concrete solutions. An option for compensating the presumed losses from cutting and selling firewood is for the local solution to move towards tourism and other alternative ways to generate income. Experts say that this region is extremely attractive to guests and it has lots to offer.
For the key benefits from protecting Shar Mountain, among other things, Minister Nuredini says that the borders of NP Shar Mountain include all mountain villages to secure equal treatment and possibilities for their future development. He explains that the people living in the villages in the sustainable usage area will function same as before, adding that alongside the preservation of natural wealth, declaring Shara a national park means socio-economic growth through investments that will elevate the standards, infrastructure, development of tourism, organic farming and other eco-systemic services.
Zoran G. Madjoski
Translated by Dragana Knezhevikj