Bosnia and Herzegovina is developing its Environmental Strategy and Action Plan (the BiH ESAP 2030+ project), with the goal to improve the environment in BiH and help the progress of BiH on its path to EU membership. Sustainable Resource Management is one of the seven thematic areas of the project. It is a vast area, covering several important sectors in society. In this article, we’re speaking with Prof. Mihajlo Marković, Ph.D., an expert on the topic working in the ESAP 2030+ project.

Forest rangers are choping some trees in the forest

What kind of challenges does this thematic area tackle, and what does sustainable resource management mean?

Sustainable natural resource management is a thematic area in the BiH ESAP 2030+, which addresses challenges associated with our important non-renewable natural resources, such as land, forests, other or non-wood forest products, hunted wild game, fish stocks and mineral resources.

Sustainable natural resource management means to manage the resources in such a way as to prevent their degradation and to preserve them for future generations.

Why is it important to manage natural resources in a sustainable way?

Sustainable natural resource management is crucial, because it contributes to a reasonable use of these non-renewable resources, without their overexploitation and their degradation. If these non-renewable resources are exploited in an unsustainable manner, they will ultimately disappear, for instance forests, fossil fuels such as coal, high quality land, etc. This is why  unsustainable resource management is one of the greatest challenges of our world.

As regards reuse and recycling, reuse is a better option, because recycling of materials requires both energy and funds. Moreover, only some materials are recyclable. Reuse is a better practice, because it repeatedly initiates new processes, and it is also more environmentally friendly.

How does the shift towards sustainable resource management influence those people who are working in the industries related to natural resources such as agriculture, mining, tourism, fisheries and forestry?

The transition to a sustainable natural resource management, thus sustainable environment protection, reduces poverty and boosts economic growth in developing countries. A more efficient policy-making, and investments aimed at sustainable natural resource management, can significantly enhance economic development, reduce poverty, create jobs. Also, it contributes to long-term sustainability of economic activities in sectors such as: agriculture, forestry, fishery, hunting, tourism, etc.

According to government reports, forests encompass around 50 percent of the total land area in Bosnia and Herzegovina which makes it one of the countries with highest forest cover in Europe. Why are our forests important?

Forests provide numerous jobs as well as being a home to over 80% of the overall terrestrial biodiversity. Also, they are a vital natural resource for our health, because herbal plants, important for pharmaceutical industry, grow in forests. In addition, forests generate oxygen, absorb rainfalls, reduce the potential of floods, and they are important for sources of potable water for the population. Trees also cool the air and reduce global warming and adverse effects of climate change. Furthermore, forests often play a role in protecting the population in an area from disease. As they grow on the land, they make it more productive and they help to purify the soil, air and water. By doing so, they contribute to the general wellbeing of mankind. Forests also play a major role in the natural water cycle. They are essential for the supply of clean and abundant water in watersheds. Healthy forests filter water, reduce erosion, regulate rainfalls, fill underground water courses and prevent adverse effects of droughts and floods.

Bosnian winter landscape

What are the biggest threats to forests in BiH?

Vulnerability of forests and forest land in BiH is the result of various pressures such as forest fires, plant diseases and pests, unplanned and illegal logging, exploitation of mineral resources, hydro-accumulation, landslides and mine contamination. Fire hazards have considerably increased over the past few decades due to the rise in average and extreme air temperatures, especially in the mountainous areas of BiH. If we, for example, look at the territory of the Federation of BiH, the damage caused by forest fires has been extreme the last five years. The damaged area is estimated to amount to more than 1700 hectares.

The climate of Bosnia and Herzegovina has changed over the past 100 years and computer models for the country foresee more changes to come. Policymakers, land managers, citizens and scientists must grapple with what this change means for the future of the region and its forests. The forestry community needs to evaluate the long-term effects of climate change on forests and determine what the community might do now and in the future to respond to this threat. Forests remove and store carbon from the atmosphere, representing a cost-effective solution for mitigating climate change. The loss or degradation of forests compromises their ability to remove emissions. Forests’ ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere can be lost by conversion into agricultural lands, commodity production, urbanization, disease and forest fires. When a tree burns or decays, the stored carbon is released into the atmosphere further exacerbating climate change.

Given the importance of forests to the planet, sustainable management is essential to ensure society’s demands do not compromise that resource. Sustainable forest management offers a holistic approach to ensure forest activities deliver social, environmental and economic benefits, balance competing needs and maintain and enhance forest functions now and in the future. Natural sustainable ecosystems provide the biological basis of forest biodiversity, its functions, and growth cycles.

How is ESAP 2030+ aiming to change resource management in BiH and make it more sustainable?

The main deliverable of the BiH ESAP 2030+ process will be the Environmental Strategies at all levels of government in BiH, including the Action Plans, with defined strategic, thematic objectives and measures. These will contribute to the development and implementation of policies that will have an impact both at the community and individual levels. They will help transitioning to a sustainable resource management in BiH by 2030.

People reading this article are probably wondering how ordinary citizens can help protect forests. Do you have any suggestions?

There are multiple ways in which citizens of BiH can protect the forests, such as by avoiding excessive logging or reporting persons who are doing so to the responsible authorities and institutions. Also, by avoiding littering and disposing of different types of waste in forests, and by organising afforestation of barren land and other areas in their communities.

More about the BiH ESAP 2030+ Environmental strategy and Action Plan:

The primary goal of the BiH ESAP2030+ project is to support the authorities of BiH, FBiH, RS and BD in the ESAP 2030+ development. The ESAP document will comprise environmental strategies and action plans for FBiH, RS and BD, and actions that will be taken at the level of BiH. On a long-term basis, the project will improve the environment in BiH and support BiH on its path to EU membership.

The contents of the BiH ESAP will address the following EU seven areas of the Environmental Acquis: Water; Waste; Biodiversity and Nature Conservation; Air Quality, Climate Change and Energy, Chemical Safety and Noise; Sustainable Resource Management; and Environmental Management.

The BiH ESAP Project is implemented by Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) with the financial support of the Embassy of Sweden in BiH.

The interview was initially published on the portal on April 22, 2021.