Balkan nations agree on wildlife protection steps
By Madeline Chambers
BONN, Germany (Reuters) - Six southeastern European countries on Thursday agreed to boost cross-border conservation efforts in an area of the Balkans especially rich in wildlife.
The governments of Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia said they would create 13 new protected areas and extend nine others in the Dinaric Arc, an area which stretches from Trieste in Italy to Tirana in Albania.
The area is home to healthy populations of large carnivores, including bears, lynxes, wolves and golden jackals, and large areas of undamaged forest. Environmentalists also say its freshwater ecosystems are the richest in the Mediterranean.
The announcement, made at a U.N. meeting on protecting the diversity of plant and animal life, brings the governments closer to agreeing a coordinated vision for the region, said conservation group WWF, which has been working on the initiative.
"This network will fill a crucial gap in a pan-European network stretching from France to Greece, ensuring shelter for threatened species as well as corridors for species' mobility," said Paolo Lombardi, director of WWF's Mediterranean Programme.
Under the agreement, Albania will enlarge the surface of its protected zones by at least 40,000 hectares (98,840 acres), while Bosnia will create three new protected areas in its central mountain region.
Croatia will boost the management of five marine protected areas and establish two new land parks, while Montenegro will create two land and three new marine parks. It will also harmonize its domestic nature protection rules with EU laws.
Serbia will establish a new protected area and enlarge one into a cross-border reserve. Slovenia has agreed to increase its protected area network in the Dinaric region by 2.5 percent.
The six countries -- some of them former enemies who fought against each other in the last 20 years -- have also committed to evaluating the effectiveness of existing management in their protected areas system.
WWF and organizations including UNESCO, IUCN, the Council of Europe and Euronatur have been working since 2005 on boosting cooperation between governments, international bodies and regional and international conservation partners.
The U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity conference, which ends on Friday, is trying to agree on ways to reduce the speed at which species are dying out because of threats including deforestation, pollution and climate change.
U.N. experts say three species vanish every hour and the planet is facing the most serious spate of extinctions since the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers, editing by Alister Doyle and Mary Gabriel)