Ski Development Threatens Mount Galicica Ecosystem

By Natasa Dokovska

OHRID, Macedonia, May 9, 2005 (ENS) - Ohrid’s mayor, Aleksandar Petreski, is ready to sell part of one of the most beautiful national parks in Macedonia – Galicica National Park - for a sports center and ski resort. The mayor sees the interest expressed by a group of Finnish investors as an opportunity to establish a sports center within the park, but the park is designated as a first zone protected area and commercial development is not allowed.

The clients are "some of our friends from Finland," says Mayor Petreski.

The Finnish investors are reported to be interested in financing the construction of a modern sports center on 2,255 meter (7,396 foot) high Mount Galicica. They plan to build ski-lifts and guesthouses for tourist accommodations. In the first phase of the project, their plans do not include hotels, because they say they intend to use the hotels in Ohrid.

In the recent local election, all the candidates campaigned on the promise to build a resort in Galicica where new jobs would be created.

All the candidates for Mayor of Ohrid promised that they would develop tourism in the Ohrid area, but they did not promise to build up infrastructure within the boundaries of the Galicica National Park, because that is forbidden.

At the end of the 20th century, former Yugoslavian ski champion Bojan Krizaj was in Macedonia promoting a 10 million euro project to build a ski resort on Mount Galicica. But the Macedonian authorities in power at that time did not permit the project to go forward.

mountain

Mount Galicica rises from the shore of Lake Ohrid. (Photo courtesy People in Our Time)
Environmentalists in Macedonia have reacted strongly against the Finnish proposal, threatening to stage a rally in protest if the authorities go ahead with this sale.

They believe that even if only part of Macedonia's natural heritage is sold, it will spoil all park's natural beauty.

Mount Galicica, in the southwest of Macedonia, is a part of the Sara-Pind mountain range. The park is located between two lakes: Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa.

In 1958 the Macedonian section of the mountain was proclaimed a national park due to its exceptional natural beauty and large numbers of endemic species of plants and animals.

Galicica has the most wildlife of any of Macedonia's national parks. It has 100 species, or 97 percent of the total number of wild life species in Macedonia. Sixty-one species are permanently protected, while 16 species have no legal protection in Macedonia.

Bears, grey wolves, red fox, otters, wild goats, wild boars, and roe deer inhabit Galicica National Park.

Lake Prespa and Lake Ohrid are important breeding, passage and wintering site for waterbirds, and a range of woodland and mountain birds can be seen in the park

Herons, pelicans, egrets and bitterns are seen at the lakes as well as ibis, spoonbills and storks.

"A wide range of raptors is found in the area including Short-toed, White-tailed and Golden Eagles, harriers, kites, accipiters and Western Honey-Buzzard, Common and Long-legged Buzzard," according to the Galicica National Park listing at BirdForum.net, the largest online birding community dedicated to wild birds and birding.

"There are few places where such a mix of montane, forest, Mediterranean and wetland birds can be seen within such a small area," the BirdForum listing says.

There are more than 800 species of plants in Galicica National Park, including 11 local endemic forms that exist only on the slopes of the Mount Galicica. Intensive research of the park's plants is underway, and scientists say there are indications of an even greater number of endemic forms than have been recorded to date.