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"If you consider the clear-cutting that is going on in Romania, you realise that we must do all we can to prevent the same thing happening in Ukraine."

Michael Brombacher is head of the European Section of the FZS and is responsible for our projects in the Carpathians. We wanted to gain a clearer impression from him of what the FZS is doing to protect the forests in Ukraine, Slovakia and Romania.

Mr Brombacher, you are spending a large part of your time in Ukraine at the moment. Why is it at the top of your list of priorities?

Michael Brombacher: I've seen the vast deforested areas in Romania. If you look at that from the air, on Google Earth for example, it's truly shocking. The denuded lunar landscapes stretch up to the Ukrainian border where intact forest begins. So if you're aware of what's happening in Romania - where we've lost almost a half a million hectares of unique old forest and even some virgin forest in the past two decades - then you know: we have to do everything in our power to prevent anything similar happening in Ukraine.

Isn't the Ukraine government doing anything to protect the forest?

The Ukrainian government has done a great deal just recently and set up a series of protected areas. Yet many of these are completely under-funded. There's no money there for vehicles or even for such trivial things as ranger uniforms.
Michael Brombacher The Ukrainian government has done a great deal just recently and set up a series of protected areas. Yet many of these are completely under-funded. Michael Brombacher

And that's where the FZS comes in?

That's right. We've been helping our Ukrainian conservation colleagues for three years now. And not only with materials. We're supporting them above all in their efforts to integrate old, as yet unprotected forests into existing national parks. Together with the park authorities we've charted a total of 100,000 hectares of forest areas worthy of protection in the direct vicinity of nine national parks - equivalent to about ten German national parks. Now it's a matter of adding these areas to the national parks.

And how exactly can FZS help with this?

Our colleagues in Ukraine have had these plans to extend the national parks for some time now. They had already carried out the necessary mapping, or at least completed the preparations for it. What was missing, however, was sufficient money to proceed with the process and to apply for designation of the areas as protected zones. Annually we donate 100.000 EUR to 200.000 EUR to the Ukraine.

Have there already been any successes there?

We've already received commitments for the first 18,000 hectares. Many bodies in the country have yet to give their agreement and we and our Ukrainian colleagues now have a series of difficult negotiations ahead of us.

The FZS is pursuing a different strategy in the Wolf Mountains in Slovakia. Why is that?

There is great resistance to nature protection in this region, which is why we have to ensure that local people benefit from protecting the forests.

And how do you do that?

There are several approaches. One way is to buy land, thus securing it on a long-term basis. Another way is to try to establish sustainable ecotourism. This creates jobs for hiking or travel guides, for instance. You can see how such sectors of the economy thrive in the areas surrounding the German national parks. There are guesthouses in the region already, but what is lacking are the services for tours. The wilderness in the Wolf Mountains is unique: there's nothing like it anywhere else in Europe. You can encounter large mammals such as brown bears or bison, and with any luck even wolves - like on a real safari.

In Romania, the FZS is partner to the Conservation Carpathia Foundation which in turn buys up large areas of forest. What can the FZS achieve there?

Very wealthy individuals finance the purchase of the land itself. We support ranger monitoring and supervision of the areas by providing roughly EUR 75,000 of funding per year. With our support, this could give rise to one of Europe's biggest forest reserves. And we're well on the way to achieving this.

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