Preserving Forests in the Service of Nature and People
Today, on October 7th, we celebrate Dinaric Protection Day for the fifth time since its inception. By celebrating Dinaric Protection Day, we emphasize the significance of the natural and cultural heritage of the Dinaric Arc countries and the interconnectedness of the natural wealth and cultural-historical values of this unique European region.
This year, our aim is to shed light on the vulnerability and endangerment of forests and forest ecosystems, both within protected areas and across the entire Dinaric region. We also stress the need for additional efforts at regional and national levels to enhance and preserve these vital ecosystems.
Forest ecosystems are the most prevalent and among the most important ecosystems in the Dinaric region, making it one of the richest forested regions in Europe. This richness is characterized not only by the vast forested areas but also by the diversity of plant and animal species inhabiting these ecosystems, as well as the breathtaking landscapes
The forest cover in the Dinaric region ranges from 31% in Serbia to as high as 61.5% in Montenegro and 62% in Slovenia, significantly surpassing the EU average of 39%. Conserving forests and other ecosystems is one of the 17 global goals of the United Nations within the Sustainable Development Program by 2030. Additionally, the Action Plan for Implementing the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans commits to the development and implementation of a Forest Landscape Restoration Plan for the Western Balkans by 2023.
The importance of forests is multifaceted. Besides providing food, clean water, and construction materials, they mitigate the impacts of climate change, protect land from erosion, and serve as habitats for numerous plant and animal species while enhancing our overall quality of life.
However, despite their significance, forests and forest ecosystems in the Dinaric region are increasingly threatened due to prevailing socio-economic conditions. Unsustainable utilization of forests, primarily for fuelwood and timber, remains a major driver of deforestation. Illegal logging, which persists in certain parts of the Western Balkans, is another significant contributor to forest degradation. Uncontrolled logging, regardless of the scale, leads to the disappearance and fragmentation of natural habitats for many wild plant and animal species. Furthermore, unplanned and illegal logging of forests results in severe soil erosion and landslides, disrupting groundwater flows and causing springs to dry up, which are essential sources of drinking water for local communities in forest-rich rural areas.
In addition to illegal logging, the frequency and intensity of forest fires in open spaces and landscapes are on the rise due to increasingly pronounced climate change effects. This reduces the resilience of forest ecosystems and leaves them vulnerable to other risks, such as various diseases or pests.
Addressing these challenges requires better preparedness, effective agreements, and holistic and thorough management of forest ecosystems, not only within protected areas but also at local, national, and regional levels. The common interest and need of Dinaric Arc countries are to enhance the resilience of Western Balkan forests and landscapes, which can only be achieved through joint efforts aimed at improving regional collaboration to better prepare the region to face the growing pressures and threats to forest ecosystems.
Therefore, as the Dinaric Parks, a regional organization, we call upon all stakeholders, decision-makers, protected area managers, foresters, private forest owners, to invest additional efforts in establishing long-term intersectoral cooperation, regional and national networks, and capacity-building to effectively respond to the increasing pressures on forest ecosystems in the Dinaric region. Only through a comprehensive approach based on national and international knowledge and expertise, collaboration across all sectors, involvement of communities and key stakeholders, and the development of shared policies and strategies can we contribute to increasing the resilience of forests, their preservation, and sustainable management in the Dinaric region.