Pirin Mountain: Ski Runs or Trees and Eagles

On this picture, one may see the oldest tree in Bulgaria. It is about 1300 years old and was “discovered” in the 1890s by the Bulgarian botanist Baykushev. This is Pinus heldreichii (also known as Bosnian pine) that grows only on the Balkans and in Southern Italy and forms dense forest massifs only in Pirin Mountain.

Pirin has an exceptional scenery with several peaks above 2900 m. Naturally, it has been a place for winter ski tourism for decades. This business was of a medium scale and in general, it did not impede the biodiversity of the mountain (which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List).

But in 2002 there came a company, “Yulen” Ltd., with bogus owners registered in Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands, tacitly controlled by the murky Bulgarian “First Investment Bank”. Step by step, they turned the old town of Bansko, in the footsteps of Pirin, into a booming ski resort. They constructed lots of residential buildings there with about 30 000 beds combined and tried to sell them with a good bargain to foreign guests.

After the crash of 2010, the real estate prices in Bansko dropped dramatically and the foreign buyers ebbed. Thus the shell company which holds the concession of the Bansko ski zone – with the bank behind – increased its efforts to clear new ski runs in order to attract new guests for to monetize the unsold stock of real estate.

On 28 December 2017, after years of lobbying, the murky business structures in Bansko convinced the “patriotic” Bulgarian government to amend the status of the Pirin National Park (which has stricter protection rules than the “Natural Parks”), for to allow big-scale construction and logging there.

Protests erupted across Bulgaria, with tens of thousands demonstrating on the streets. Pirin is a unique mountain, small in size (400 sq kilometers) but a home of brown bears, wolves, chamois, eagles and of 30 endemic plants.

Baykushev’s pine is one of the oldest trees in the world. Most probably this particular tree wouldn’t be endangered by the new development push, but the preservation of the pine ecosystem in Pirin is worth all efforts.

The mass protests of Bulgarian and international activists already shook the silent consensus between the Government, the corrupt local authorities, and the bank and its shell concessionaire.

About Dimitar Sabev

I am economist and journalist, interested in “ecohomics”: the interaction between economy, nature, and culture. I have been working as economic editor, chief editor, columnist, and investigative journalist at different Bulgarian media (“Tema” weekly magazine, DarikFinance.bg, webcafe.bg, money.bg, evromegdan.bg etc.), and have publications at many more. I also develop a kind of "terrain economics", doing research and preparing reports for different projects concerning the social and environmental impacts of mining, monetary assessment of ecosystem services, fiscal justice issues of foreign investments, development of quantitative indices for regional development, sustainable forest management, feasibility of trans-border biosphere reserves, etc.
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2 Responses to Pirin Mountain: Ski Runs or Trees and Eagles

  1. risabuzatova says:

    I didn’t know how the Байкушева мура got its name until I read your post. Bulgarians are rightly proud of their country’s natural beauty and it would be a real tragedy if short-term business interests are allowed to permanently damage the country’s national natural treasures.

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