Changing the Forest Policy in Bulgaria Thanks to a Cost Benefit Analysis182

Bulgaria's 75 islands on the Danube river are rich in biodiversity, and are an important stopover site for migratory birds. Yet, over the last 40 years, the government has systematically converted natural floodplain forest to hybrid poplar plantations to supply the local timber industry. Until the year 2000, the government had plans to continue conversion of this ecosystem, leaving only 7 percent of the original forest. Thanks to a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis, sponsored by the World Bank and WWF, it was shown that financial losses from suspending timber production on certain islands could be offset by intensifying production in areas already converted to poplar plantations. Additional benefits that were highlighted by the analysis included the potential use of original forest for recreational purposes, improved fishing (by creating more spawning grounds), the harvest of nontimber forest products, and possible ecotourism development. In 2001 the government, therefore, changed its policy, adopting one that called for the immediate halt of all logging and conversion of floodplain forests to poplar plantations on the Danube islands, restoration of native species

182 Ecott, 2002.

in selected sites, as well as strengthening of the protected areas network on the islands. Although a longer term forest landscape restoration programme for the Danube is underway, this tactical intervention helped to maintain a unique habitat that might well have disappeared before the more detailed programme was implemented.

Sometimes it will be sufficient to remove, reduce, or mitigate a particular threat or pressure on forests in a landscape to set them on a positive path toward regeneration. Because threats often originate from political or economic decisions, changing them may require significant lobbying, backed up by negotiations, research, and building of strategic partnerships. If these threats can be reduced or removed, natural regeneration can often be significant (if there are no other biophysical constraining factors).

Examples of threats that are common as an impediment to natural forest regeneration include the following:

• Alien invasive species (e.g., electric ants, Wasmannia auropunctata, in New Caledonia)

• Government incentives that foster forest conversion (e.g., Chile's subsidies for plantations)

• Infrastructure projects (e.g., the construction of the Ho Chi Minh highway in Vietnam)

• Demand for cash crops (e.g., valuable soya expansion in Paraguay causing forest conversion)

• Unsustainable agricultural practices (e.g., Slash and burn agriculture in Madagascar)

• Uncontrolled and "unnatural" fires (e.g., in India)

Concentrating first on removal of threats is appropriate when it is clear that addressing the identified threat can lead to natural regeneration or restoration with only limited interven tions. This is also a necessary choice in cases when a field project cannot start until the threat has been addressed.

Depending on the social and economic context, some threats may be much easier to address than others. For instance, illegal logging is in itself a very complex issue, which may well be beyond the remit of a restoration project. However, knowledge of key areas affected can help determine where (or even whether) and how to establish a restoration programme. It is important to recognise threats that cannot be addressed, or resources may be pumped into a hopeless situation.

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