The continuous challenge of demining the Bosnian forests
Among the 37 forestry organisations that are EUSTAFOR members, there are large differences in forestry methods and challenges encountered in day-to-day management. Few of these challenges, however, are as extreme as the ones that Hercegbosanske šume (HBŠ) has to deal with, namely landmines. These mines are a grim reminder of the wars that devastated the region in the 90´s, and they continue to affect agricultural and forestry operations in Bosnia until this day.
HBŠ manages all state forests in Canton 10 and is one of the major employers in the area. As such, the economic development of the county is strongly related to the forestry sector. However, of the 284.277 ha they manage, 10% is suspected to be covered with mines. Since 1995, the end of the Balkan War, only 19% of the landmine area has been cleared and declared safe. The left-over mines do not only impose direct danger to people, but have a strong negative effect on the Bosnian forests. As the stands cannot be managed or harvested, there is both a high standing stock (over 500 m3/ha) and large amounts of deadwood in the forests, which makes them susceptible to wild fires. At the same times, the mines also make it impossible to create fire corridors or even send in fire trucks to combat the fires from the ground. Yet, mines can be set-off by wildlife or combust spontaneously, also causing wildfires.
Another issue related to the absence of management, is the heightened risk of pest outbreaks. Bark beetles (Ips typographus) have become an increasing challenge over the last decade, but preventive measures, such as sanitary thinnings, are impossible to execute in the inaccessible areas.
Apart from these risks, there is also a huge loss of revenue. HBŠ estimates that about 770.000 m3 wood could have been harvested over a ten-year period, in the areas that are now inaccessible.
The removal of the mines is tedious and expensive work, not to mention dangerous. In the last 15 years, around 5,5 million euro has been invested in the demining process, with which they managed to clear 6281 ha land. At this rate, it would take another 90 years to declare all forests free of landmines. The issue is that although urban areas and agricultural lands receive government money for the demining processes, forests do not. Therefore the investments have had to come from HBŠ itself.
The demining process consists of several steps. First, the military records are studied. Old documents often contain the coordinates or areas where the mines are hidden. When the mine-infested area has been identified, a grid is made. The brush is carefully being cleared on the paths, after which the known locations of the mines are clearly marked. The entire area is then systematically searched with metal detectors. After controlled detonation of the mines, the area can be declared free of mines.
Although the Bosnian Authorities strive for a completion of the demining processes in 2030, it seems that forests are still low on the priority list. And since the war in Ukraine broke out in 2021, part of the foreign aid and resources have been redirected to these new conflict areas, adding to the challenge.
However, due to the continuous efforts of demining organizations, more and more forests can be utilized again by state forestry, local communities and tourists. A success story from 2019 shows what the impact can be of a mine free forests. A small stand near the village of Rotimlja was declared mine free and for the first time in almost 25 years the locals were able to use it safely again to collect firewood, hunt and graze their livestock. Hopefully more funds will be made available to finish these operations, so that all can enjoy the beauty and bounties of the Bosnian forests.
In their strategy, HBŠ has included the item “lobbying for forest demining”. As mentioned above, the minefields are a risk for forest health and society, especially in recent years with an increasing number of international tourists that visit the Bosnian nature. This problem, to a smaller degree, is also relevant in Croatia. This led to a Cooperation Agreement between Hercegbosanske šume and Hrvatske šume (Croatia state forestry), which includes joint lobbying for forest demining. However, unlike Croatian forests, HBŠ cannot apply to the EU cohesion funds for demining processes. They are therefore planning a Fundraising Event for forest demining processes in the near future. When more concrete information is available about the planned event, it will be posted on the EUSTAFOR website.
Published 09/10/2023, Brussels
Mr. Roberto Stelstra
Communications & Policy Officer
- +32 (0) 493 555 938