By Ivan Blazhevski
Popova Shapka, North Macedonia, Jun 10 (EFE). – Shar Planina Mountain, which casts its shadow over the Polog valley in North Macedonia, could soon be breathing a long sigh of relief. After years of poaching, deforestation and construction in the area, it is poised to be granted the coveted ‘protected national park’ status, which would significantly favour the country’s bid to join the EU.
It has taken almost 27 years of expertise and planning to prepare the Protection Law, which will aim to save the mountain’s 62,000 hectares from further devastation once it is designated a protected area, a decision pending approval in parliament.
The initiative to turn the area into a national park has received economic and logistical support from the United Nations Environment Programme.
The objective is to protect the territorial integrity of the small landlocked Balkan country, 47% of which is covered in forest, but also to reach EU-set targets to join the bloc, which demands the state protects at least 12% of its territory.
Protected areas account for an estimated 9% of the territory, but the eventual protection of Shar Planina will push it up to 13.2%.
Three parks are currently under protection in North Macedonia: Mavrovo, Pelister, and Galichica, all of which were granted national park status between 1948 and 1958, with no new additions since.
In this mountainous region, households depend on farming as their main source of income, and on firewood to warm up once the short summers come to an end.
North Macedonia has lost close to 40,000 hectares of forest as a result of illegal logging in the last 20 years.
Illegal timber harvests account for 30% of annual production of firewood, while the “wood mafia” earns close to 60 million euros every year by clandestine means, according to the North Macedonian NGO and think-tank Center for European Strategy.