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The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is situated in southeastern Europe, in the centre of the Balkan Peninsula. With a total area of 25,713 km², the territory is land-locked and dominated by mostly hilly and mountainous terrain. The territory is under the influence of both the Mediterranean and continental zonal climates, and locally by mountainous areas. These geologic and climatic factors have combined to make Macedonia one of the most valuable areas of European biodiversity. The composition of flora and fauna is remarkably heterogenous due to altitudinal variations, the presence of numerous water bodies, and Mediterranean and Euro-Siberian ecological zones that converge in Macedonia.

The longest river in Macedonia is the Vardar (301 km), which flows through the central part of the country. Its basin occupies the largest part of the country and is part of the Aegean basin. Three large, natural lakes are situated along the southern border: Lake Ohrid, Lake Prespa, and Lake Dojran. Lake Ohrid is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Lakes Prespa and Dojran are wetlands of international importance and are designated Ramsar sites, while Lake Ohrid is a proposed Ramsar site.

About 60 percent of the territory’s land cover is classified as forest, 37 percent is agricultural, and the remainder is water, (including water bodies, artificial lakes, and wetlands).   Total forest area (land use) in the Republic of Macedonia is currently 949,329 hectares, which is 37 percent of the territory. This figure has remained relatively stable over the past decade. State-owned forests account for nearly 89% of the total forest area, with the remainder in small parcels of private ownership. As elsewhere in the Balkans, broad-leaved trees dominate Macedonia´s forests, with oak and beech being the principal species. The proportion of forests by major species groups has remained relatively unchanged over the past 10 years (Figure 9.2). More than four fifths of the forests are available for wood production, and all but some small areas of plantations are classified as semi-natural. High forest makes up about one third of the forest area, with the remainder being coppice reproduction and about 11 percent plantations.

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Threats to Resource Base

Several threats to natural resources are prevalent in Macedonia. Illegal logging is a significant threat to Macedonia’s forest resources. Illegal activities take a large proportion of growing stock. Forest fires have also had deleterious impacts on Macedonia’s forests affecting nearly 100,000 ha over the last 10 years. Climate change has exacerbated the threat of insect and disease damage to forests. Further, a lack of a cadastre of state-owned forest lands and no forest inventory are barriers to sustainable forest management.

Macedonia’s unique biodiversity is increasingly threatened due to habitat modification and fragmentation. In this context, the most significant changes are occurring in aquatic habitats – natural lakes, wetlands, and in specific sections of major rivers. Grassland ecosystems have also changed significantly, with large areas having been transformed into arable land. Negative effects in mountain ecosystems are caused by uncontrolled collection of plant species and illegal hunting of large carnivores and the Balkan Chamois.

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Why Does US Forest Service Work in Macedonia?

The forests of Macedonia include a variety of coniferous and broadleaved tree species and associated habitat types. Its complex topography and its location in a climatic transition zone between the European continental, Eurasian steppe, and Mediterranean climatic zones make it an important ecological area in Europe. Furthermore, its proximity to other countries facing similar challenges with fire, pests and diseases related to a drying climate and concerns in the region related to water, are important concerns for climate change and global deforestation.

The U.S. Forest Service has participated in several joint activities with stakeholders working in Macedonia, including an environmental assessment; policy development and management in the area of fire suppression and response; emergency response coordination; and public education campaigns. 

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UNECE Environmental Performance Review

After a comprehensive assessment in 1993 (the Dobris assessment) was undertaken to provide a depiction of the overall state of the environment of Europe, environment ministers decided that countries would be reviewed individually in much more detail. The aim of these assessments was to review the countries’ environmental conditions and assess strategies, policies, and tools that the countries use to manage the environment. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) carries out these reviews in its South-East European, Caucasus, and Central Asian member states. These reviews are helpful for countries to upgrade environmental management activities and policies. Specifically, these country-level environmental performance reviews (EPRs) have three major objectives: 1) To help countries in transition improve their management of the environment by establishing baseline conditions and recommending better policy implementation and performance, 2) To promote continuous dialogue between UNECE member countries by sharing information about policies and experiences, and 3) To stimulate greater involvement of the public in environmental discussions and decision-making.

In 2011, the U.S. Forest Service participated in a UNECE country-level environmental performance review for Macedonia. Specifically, a USFS representative was part of the assessment team, which was comprised of experts from many countries throughout Europe. The USFS representative and the assessment team spent two weeks in Macedonia interviewing various stakeholders in the environmental sector, conducting field visits, and reviewing relevant reports and other publications. The USFS representative composed the forests and biodiversity chapter of the environmental performance review. These efforts outlined threats to forests and biodiversity and proposed a set of recommendations for addressing these threats.

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