Eastern Carpathians: One of Europe's Top Wildlife Areas

The Eastern Carpathians border an area between Poland and Slovakia, forming one of the wildest corners of Europe including vast, extensive forests with untamed rivers, low undulating mountains with scattered alpine meadows, and pockets of old-growth forests (Fig. 9.5). Here, one of Europe's largest wild-living populations of bison lives side by side with red deer, roe deer, wild boar ( Sus scrofa), lynx ( Lynx lynx), wolves ( Canis lupus), bears ( Ursus arctos), beavers, and otters ( Lutra lutra). Few other regions of the continent have more protected areas than the Eastern Carpathians—in total around half a million ha of national parks, biosphere reserves, forest reserves, landscape parks, nature parks and Natura 2000 sites. However there is still a lot to improve on the protection of old growth forests, natural wildlife numbers and the development of a wilderness based economy.

A feasibility study shows that the Eastern Carpathians rewilding area provides huge rewilding opportunities on both the Slovakian and Polish side. This mainly focuses on trans-boundary wilderness management of migratory species including large herbivores and carnivores between the two countries. However, the level of commitment from key local stakeholders to work on rewilding is still unclear today. The first year of the project was used to create a base for a rewilding perspective with the general public. A public opinion survey on both sides of the border showed major support for the concept of wilderness protection and rewilding, thereby creating new economic opportunities.

Fig. 9.5  Extensive forest with untamed rivers—the San river in Eastern Carpathians. (Photo credit: Grzegorz Leśniewski/Wild Wonders of Europe)

The two local partner organizations (WOLF in Slovakia and the Carpathian Wildlife Foundation in Poland) put most of their energy in campaigns for rewilding and wilderness protection. Thus the starting up of pilots on the ground is lagging behind. WOLF significantly contributed to prevent an amendment to the Game Act, which would have extremely threatened herbivores and large carnivores in the Eastern Carpathians. They also achieved that selective trapping of carnivores will not be allowed. Though the legal limit in Slovakia is set to 130 killings of wolfs per year, 150 were killed in 2012, a third of which in the rewilding area. The local partner, WOLF, has been running a campaign to halt these killings, using petitions sent directly to the European Commission.

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