REFORM IN FORESTRY CONTINUES - HUNTING GOES TO PRIVE HANDS
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry will be seeking private investors in almost 200 game-keeping areas with a total area of 11,000,000 hectares. The territories to be granted on lease have been already approved and by end-May tenders should be invited by the regional forestry managements.The interest towards the forthcoming public procedure is huge, especially on the part of foreign investors from Austria, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Great Britain, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Meglena Plugchieva announced for the BANKER weekly. The Agriculture Ministry has so far received more than 20 inquiries from Bulgarian and foreign juristic persons, mostly for areas in Northeastern Bulgaria, to be rented for a period of 13 years, where is the densest population of red deer, Ms. Plugchieva specified. According to preliminary estimates, the procedure should be finalized by the beginning of the hunting season in mid-August.Until recently hunting farms were entirely state-run. Their going into private hands is regulated by the new Act on Hunting and Game Preservation. Although the leasing of game-keeping areas is a well-known practice in the developed European countries, the idea has its opponents in Bulgaria. Initially, the most violent reaction was that of the regional forestry administrations and of the mayors of various settlements. Alluding to their bitter experience from the tenders for timbering, they expressed fears that gangs of scoundrels would invade the forests again to finish off the game as well. But in the words of the hunting expert at the National Administration of Forestry Bisser Dachev: This is not abdication of the State from the game farms. Despite of the private ownership, they will be protected by the State. But this does not exclude the possiblity that their leaseholders could hire keepers themselves.The conditions to be met by the candidate tenants were approved last year by Ordinance No 151 of the Council of Ministers. Under the requirements, they should not have been declared bankrupt, be in insolvency or liquidation procedures, or indebted to the State, and they should have clean records. They also need a labour contract with a high-graduate expert in game farming with at least three years of experience. The candidates should also present a business programme for keping and using the game in the area they will bid for. Investments by years and the number of planned working positions will be the main indicators for rating the offers.A project for establishing a Bulgarian national forest company to replace the presently existing National Forestry Administration is now being worked out with the assistance of consultants from the World Bank. The idea is that by its operation the company would be providing money for the sector. The winding down of the Bulgarian Forest national fund in 2000 is one of the main reasons for the branch not to function as well as it could, Ms. Plugchieva believes. Therefore, the World Bank experts addressed a statement to the Government, recommending to set up such a trade company, or reinstitute the fund, or open an off-budget account. According to her, the present system of financing is disastrous to both forests and game farms. When expenses are fixed, even if proceeds go up, they go directly to the budget instead of coming back as reinvestments.