Weaker national park protection overturned

The lower house has rejected changes proposed by the Senate

Controversial changes to the law governing all four Czech national parks were struck down by the lower house of Parliament. The Chamber of Deputies confirmed the original version of the amendment to the law of nature protection, and rejected changes proposed by the Senate.

President Miloš Zeman said he would veto the amendment. When that happens, the draft will go back to the lower house. If the amendment is passed over the veto, Zeman has not ruled out going to the Constitutional Court.

The Senate amendments were criticized for weakening protection of the parks at Krkonoše, Podyjí, Šumava and České Švýcarsko. The Senate version would have increased the control of local communities over the parks and allowed for the creation of zones with different levels of protection.

Critics of the Senate version said it would mean that national parks were no longer the most highly protected nature areas, but relegated to a lower level. Those in favor of the Senate version said that people living near Šumava National Park have their rights infringed and may have to move due to protection of of the park.

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (ČSSD) praised the lower house of Parliament for standing up to protect the parks. “I am glad that the Chamber of Deputies version of the Nature Conservation Act was passed. It guarantees care for nature in national parks and reasonable cooperation with municipalities,” Sobotka said on Twitter. He added that the Law on National Parks ensures transparency and allows for sustainable development while protecting nature.

Opposition TOP 09 leader Miroslav Kalousek also praised the lower house. “We are delighted and we thank [Environment] Minister [Richard] Brabec for his honest work. Šumava's nature will be preserved for future generations,” he said on Twitter.

TOP 09 deputy František Laudát said the Senate version would have opened the parks up to a small group of speculators and profiteers.

Minister Brabec said the lower house version ends legal chaos and will bring stability to the national parks.

Šumava National Park director Pavel Hubený said that reason had prevailed in answering the question of whether the parks were nature or something else.

Jan Zahradník, a lower house deputy for the opposition ODS, voiced criticism by saying the vote was simply a victory for environmental activists, who had campaigned on lies claiming the park could be cut down and an amusement park would be put in its place. He said protection of Šumava should be at an acceptable level so man and nature can coexist.

ODS deputy Vladislav Vilímec said that the Senate version wasn't intended to cancel Šumava National Park and allow development projects, but just was meant to curb massive efforts to create more wilderness.

The draft law brings stability to the parks, according to the Environment Ministry, because specified zones will not change for a fixed number of years, and the parks will be open to friendly tourism. There are four zones specified in the law, ranging from non-intervention to cultural landscape. Roads, trails and campgrounds are also defined. The prohibition on fires in villages would be canceled. The state will not be able to sell the park land.

The amendment now goes to President Zeman, who has said he will veto it. The draft of the amendment will then go back to the lower house for a third time, and could be passed despite the veto.

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