Located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Bulgaria is a country of great natural and cultural diversity. With topography ranging from the undulating hills of the Thracian Plain, to the Mediterranean character of the Black Sea Coast, to the snowy peaks of the Balkan Mountains, Bulgaria exhibits a rich array of microclimates that provide a home for hundreds of species. Bulgaria's ecological cornucopia boasts 94 species of mammals, 383 species of birds, 36 species of reptiles, 16 species of amphibians, 207 species of fish, and thousands of species of invertebrates, plants and fungi. Bulgaria is also one of Europe's most important habitats for the brown bear, the wolf and the Balkan chamois, and provides shelter for migratory birds traversing the Africa-European flyway known as the Via Pontica. Protected areas constitute 4.5% of Bulgaria's total territory, and the country's Nature Protection Act safeguards the natural resource base in these areas.
With a wealth of natural resources and a relatively stable political history, Bulgaria has achieved important advances in institutional and policy development since the collapse of communism in 1989, and has been spared some of the most severe effects of the armed conflicts that have taken place in South Eastern Europe in recent years. The pace of privatization and development are placing increasing pressure on natural resources. Balancing economic growth with natural resource conservation will be a major challenge for Bulgaria in the coming years.
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Threats to Resource Base
Approximately one third of Bulgaria's land base is forested, with coniferous and broadleaf (deciduous) forests predominating at different altitudes. Afforestation and cautious utilization have increased the country's forested area in recent years, adding about 204 square kilometers between 1990 and 2000 (World Bank World Development Indicators). However, Bulgaria's forests remain threatened by the long-lasting impacts of heavy industry, and the increasing resource demands of privatization and development. Key concerns include air pollution from industrial emissions; river pollution from raw sewage, heavy metals, and detergents; forest damage from air pollution and resulting acid rain; and soil contamination from metallurgical plants and industrial wastes.
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Why Does US Forest Service Work in Bulgaria?
With unique biodiversity, forest resources, and quickly changing policy environment, Bulgaria provides a unique opportunity for technical cooperation on forests and natural resources between the U.S. and Bulgaria. Collaborative efforts provide an exceptional opportunity for mutual learning between technical experts in the U.S. and Bulgaria and are exemplary of USFS cooperation to improve management of forests worldwide.
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Forest Policy and Management
The forests of Bulgaria encompass about one-third of the country’s land area. They include a variety of coniferous and broadleaved tree species and associated habitat types, ranging from sea level at the Black Sea to elevations of up to 3000 m in the mountains. The complex topography of Bulgaria and its location in a climatic transition zone between the European continental, Eurasian steppe, and Mediterranean climatic zones make it one of the most diverse ecological regions in Europe. Bulgarian forests reflect natural ecological processes and thousands of years of human use and management. Since the end of the Soviet Union, management of Bulgaria’s forests has undergone a series of policy and institutional reforms, including a far reaching reform process that was initiated in 2007. A new forest law was recently adopted and passed by the Bulgarian Parliament. To assist the Bulgarian government in many technical and policy attributes of the reform process, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), with support of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, is working closely with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food in Bulgaria and the Executive Forest Agency to provide technical advising and assistance on forest policy and forest management in Bulgaria. This project was launched in October 2010 with a two-week orientation trip by a US Forest Service retiree to Bulgaria. The trip provided a comprehensive overview of forests and forestry practices in Bulgaria. It included visits to forest management activities in a wide range of locations and extensive meetings with a large number of forest managers and stakeholders to obtain a diversity of perspectives on the current state of forest management in Bulgaria and their expectations for the future.
The U.S. Forest Service representative also identified practices and experiences in the U.S. that may be useful to help inform the forestry policies and practices in Bulgaria. These practices include timber sale preparation and timber theft prevention, land exchange programs, public programs for non-state forest landowners, and remote sensing for forest management and theft prevention. Throughout the next year, the U.S. Forest Service will continue to cooperate closely with the Bulgaria Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the America for Bulgaria Foundation to explore and exchange experiences on these and other forest and natural resource management issues.
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Wildland Fire Management
Following the severe fire season in 2000, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development contacted the U.S. Forest Service to request technical assistance in Bulgaria. A USFS subsequently traveled to Bulgaria with funding from USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. As a result of their recommendations and with funding from USAID, the US Forest Service implemented a 3-year program to build Bulgaria's capacity to fight wildfires with new equipment, training, and technical exchanges. This program was completed in 2005.