The Albanian government has drafted a proposal to expand protected areas in the North of the country, creating one, larger National Park. This is according to a draft Decision of Ministers made available on the National Electronic Register for Public Notices and Consultations.
It will combine the individually protected areas of Gashi, Theth, and Valbona into one new park, the Albanian Alps National Park. The area will cover some 82,844.65 hectares, rather than the cumulative 13,630 hectares that the three previous areas covered.
The National Park will then be subdivided into three protective and administrative categories. They are as follows:
- Central Subarea A: 1698.1 hectares which will benefit from the highest level of protection because of its high natural values and biodiversity. Research and controlled tourism will be permitted but cutting trees, grazing, construction of any kind, or the extraction of minerals is strictly prohibited.
- Central Subarea B: 54180.07 hectares will have the same restrictions as Central Subarea 1, but will also include the prohibition of any intensive project that could change its eco-structure or introduce non-native species. It specifically mentioned that the construction of streets, urban areas, or Hydropower Plants is not allowed.
- Area C: 26969.48 hectares which can be used for sustainable development. This includes traditional agricultural practices but any development that could change the ecosystem is prohibited. Development and construction can be carried out there but only with approval from the government while ensuring it doesn’t damage the natural ecosystem.
While this is good news for the future protection of the region, it won’t do anything to stop already planned projects.
Article 5 states that any activity that exploits natural resources and was given permission to do so before the decision comes into force will be allowed to continue operating, as long as it complies with Law 81 on “protected areas.” No others will be granted a permit after the decision comes into force.
While under Law 81 for Protected Areas, the construction of hydropower plants is prohibited in central subareas, HPPs are continuing to be built in Gashi and along the Gashi river, causing widespread disruption to the environment.
The construction of HPPs along the Valbona River has been halted by court order, but the work had already advanced considerably.