PASSIONS INFLAMED BY PRIVATISATION OF HUNTING
Until recently the hunting reserves Boatin and Kordela near Ribaritsa (the Balkan Range) were famous not only in Bulgaria but also abroad as some of the richest in big game. About three or four years ago the then state-run forestry boards were still working with foreign tour operators, which brought them hunters mostly from Italy, Spain and Germany. Their shot-guns cost some USD20,000-30,000. We loved to looked at them when they were precisely and carefully preparinmg their guns as if they were performing a special rite. If they were not trigger-happer, the foreign hunters left nervous, but if they had lucky, they were happy and gave away a lot of money, the forest-guards recalled and specified that even Giovani Anieli, the deseased president of Fiat, loved to go hunting for deer in the two reserves. Afterwards, they add regretfully that due to the delayed amendments to the respective legislative acts, the wealthy hunders from Europe already prefer Romania to the Teteven mountains.Their chief Stoyan Vassilev is much more optimistic than them. He believes that in september the MPs will at last approved the amendment to the Hunting Act (discussed last year), which will allow hunting areas from the State Forestry Fund to be leased to Bulgarian investors for a considerably long period of time. In addition to taking care of the game, the lessees will have the right to hunting activities as well. For that reason Mr. Vassilev is not in a hurry to dismiss the employees of the former forestries, which are already on a pay-roll to Vitales AD, privatized two years ago. He believes it would be much cheaper to preserve the hunting huts, feeding-troughs and other facilities now and to retain the existing organization instead of restoring them afterwards.However, the so-far debates in parliamentary commissions on the amendments to the Hunting Act and preservation of game, do not provide any ground for optimism. Although the initiative of the NMSII deputy Kiril Milchev was supported by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (which had moved to the National Assembly a similar proposal last year), environmental organisation were the first to oppose the draft amendment. Their stance is that the bio-variety would be upset if the game in forests goes into private hands. The debatable amendment in fact concern a single item of article 36 in the effective Hunting Act and stipulates: The state-owned forestries shall concede to Bulgarian juristic persons or sole traders with capital of at least BGN1MN after a tender the care for game in game-keeping areas and the management of the hunting and biotechnical facilities, which are state-owned property. The contracts for maangement shall be signed for a period of 10 to 30 years, depending on the main kind of game in the hunting region.By the amendments to the Hunting Act, approved in 2002,15 new game-keeping stations were set up in Bulgariaand their total number reached 37. They also got the right to carry out independent economic activities and some of them, like Izvora-Devin, Beglika and Rakitovo, have already reprorted good results. Our analyses show that 55 of all the 110 hunting regions meet the conditions for leasing them, Iliya Simeonov, Head of the National Forestry Department points out. The most valuable regions in respect of hunting are to be managed by the State. In other words, the State will remain the sole owner of areas populated by valuable animal species. The leasing of game-keeping regions is a regular practice in some European countriessuch as Austria and Germany. But it turned out quite a revolutionary idea even to the people employed in the forestry sector and the mayors of certain municipalities. I am not surprised by their response. Their fears that strong-arm groups would again enter the forests and lay hands on the game as they did on lumbering are only natural, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Meglena Plugchieva admitted. According to Bisser Dachev, expert on hunting in the National Forestry Department, the admission of private capital by no means implies abdication of the State from the hunting industry. The protection of forests will remain in the hands of the State, no matter of the ownership. The possibility for lessees to to appoint forest-guards themselevs has not been ruled out either, he pointed out. The entering of private managers in the sector is looked upon as means for relieving the sector itself as it is much easier to control a single leaseholder, responsible for certain hunting grounds, than the entire army of poachers, tramping the forests. However, it is not yet clear how the unconscientious lessees would be sanctioned. The entering of private capital in the state-run forestries will result in increased proceeds from hunting tourism, experts are adamant. According to data of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the revenues from that sector of leisure industry were just BGN3MN in 2002, down from BGN15 in 1989. The leasing will stop that negative trend. Even if proceeds from hunting tourism remain at their last year's level, the fees for leasing and for the right of use will be added to them. The increase of the game's population and investments in the production of food and fodder for the game will come as a bonus to the State. The members of the Union of Hunters and Anglers in Bulgaria have nothing to complain about as their areas are not included in the category of grounds, earmarked for leasing. Moreover, the proceeds from the leaseholders will be spent on breeding game that will be settled throughout the country, their hunting grounds inclusive.