The First Public Online Hearing on Protected Areas Legislation Amendments

By Albanian Ornithological Society (AOS)

In recent developments, the Albanian Ornithological Society (AOS) participated in the first online public hearing organized by the e Committee for Production Activities, Trade, and the Environment to discuss proposed amendments to the Protected Areas law. We feel compelled to share the outcome of this meeting and reiterate our concerns regarding the rushed legislative process.

The sudden proposals to amend the Protected Areas law were initiated by a Parliamentary Group (12 members of majority)  at the end of last year. These changes were expedited, and discussions were limited to only two committees: the Committee for Production Activities, Trade, and the Environment, and the Committee for Legal Affairs, Public Administration, and Human Rights.

Key Concerns Raised by AOS:

During the public hearing, AOS voiced several critical concerns regarding the proposed amendments, emphasizing the need for a broader and more comprehensive consultation process. Our main areas of concern included:

Mr. Bino voiced the associations’ concerns regarding the general principles of the amendments to the draft law. He argued that the draft law should be revised to align with EU Directives, selecting those most suitable for implementation in our country. The 2017 law, which he considers relatively strong in respecting nature conservation principles, contrasts with the proposed changes. These changes undermine the essence of Protected Areas, which aim to preserve intact habitats and allow nature to thrive independently.

He also highlighted the dangers of the “principle of adaptability,” asserting it leads to the degradation and loss of Protected Areas. This principle, he argues, effectively sanctions the misuse of Protected Areas.

On the political role of the Ministry of Tourism and Environment, Mr. Bino criticized the amendment in Article 2, which diminishes the Ministry’s policy-making role in managing Protected Areas. The revision suggests transferring leadership to the Council of Ministers, excluding the Ministry, which he believes will weaken the legal framework protecting these areas.

Regarding access to Protected Areas, Mr. Bino pointed out the error in equating the role of these areas with that of “Municipal Gardens”. He stressed that not all Protected Areas should be open to the public, especially sensitive core areas, to prevent disturbance and degradation.

Concerning Article 6, Mr. Bino believes that while local municipalities should benefit from the income derived from Protected Areas, this should not lead to administrative confusion or overlap, particularly where Protected Areas span multiple municipalities.

Article 7’s removal of specific prohibitions, he warned, could be interpreted as permitting previously banned activities, endangering high-protection zones like National Parks and areas covered by international conservation agreements.

He also expressed concern about the ambiguity in announcing and declaring Protected Areas, which could allow for prohibited activities, urging clarity to avoid such confusion.

Mr. Bino argued against the removal of Buffer Zones around Natural Monuments in Article 10, emphasizing their role in preventing activities that could harm these monuments.

In Article 19, he advocated for periodic, not frequent, revisions of the Management Plan to ensure stability and enforceability, suggesting a review every five years.

Overall, Mr. Bino believes the draft law contradicts the very spirit of Protected Areas conservation.

Mr. Pellumbi acknowledged the absence of the Council of Ministers’ opinion and the ongoing discussions about the division of income with municipalities, highlighting the potential for confusion in dual management.

He recognized the legitimate concern over income extraction from Protected Areas, emphasizing the need for a proper approach.

The concerns regarding Article 7, especially about allowing infrastructure developments in Protected Areas, were acknowledged as legitimate by Mr. Pellumbi, who promised a thorough review.

Mr. Bino noted a scheduled discussion for February 15 but emphasized the need for extensive consultation and review, suggesting that more time is necessary for a thorough consultative legislative process.

Mr. Pellumbi mentioned awaiting the Council of Ministers’ opinion, indicating the process’s ongoing nature.

Future Steps:

In response to these concerns, the Committee for Production, Trade, and Environment Chairman has committed to reviewing and further consulting on the draft law with interest groups and a tour of public online hearings to be undertaken.

We are currently in a situation where the Council of Ministers will assess the comments received from organizations through the Assembly’s website by February 15. The outcome of this evaluation will determine the next steps, including the possibility of further expressing our concerns or voting on the proposed amendments.  It remains uncertain whether the draft law will be ready for discussion on February 15.

So, the Fate of Protected Areas in these two weeks is quite critical.

AOS will continue to closely monitor the situation and advocate for the protection of Albania’s Protected Areas. We urge all stakeholders and concerned citizens to stay informed and engaged in this critical matter.

For more information and to participate in the hearing, please visit the link provided: Facebook Event Page.