National Parks Under Threat

Save The National Parks ©MW

France was slow to wake up to the dangers industrial society posed to the environment. La Vanoise was the first of her national parks, created on the 6th of July 1963, nearly a hundred years after the United States gave Yellowstone the same status.

Just six years after the creation of the Vanoise national park, real estate promoters threatened its very existence.  Pierre Schnebelen had already encroached onto the Grande Motte glacier at Tignes to build a summer ski area and now he wanted to equip the Chavière Glacier as part of the development of Val Thorens. The dream, then as now, was to “attract a rich, international clientele”.

Two long years of battle ensued between promoters, politicians and environmentalists.  If it hadn’t been for the tragic avalanches of 1970, 39 children killed while they ate breakfast in the UCPA chalet in Val d’Isère, the speculators might have won. Instead investors melted away and developments were halted as the government reviewed planning regulations in mountain areas.

On the 14 June 1971 the campaigners won a half victory.  Something that would lead journalist Jean Carlier to comment that the Vanoise would be a victory for tomorrow in his eponymous book[1] on the battle.  Development of the station of Val Chavière, in the heart of the national park, was halted but it was decided that the glacier would be equipped with four lifts.  In 1989, three years before the Albertville Olympics, the mayor of St Martin de Belleville relaunched the idea of developing the Chavière glacier with six lifts giving a total of 1600 meters of skiing.  He argued this would give employment to locals during the summer months.

Battle was joined, Mountain Wilderness and the French Alpine Club (CAF) organised a demonstration. Four hundred skiers climbed to the glacier to form a giant, human ‘NO’ to the project under the full glare of the media spotlight. The project was stopped.  Mountain Wilderness decided to keep the pressure up, it organised a petition to remove the two ski lifts already on the glacier that were in fact illegal.  It was only in 2002 that the rusting remains were finally taken down.

It seems that Jean Carlier was prophetic about the battles to come.  According to Mountain Wilderness, the French government is trying to push through a new reform to allow economic development in the National Parks and to reduce the voice that environmental campaigners and experts have in their administration.  Given the past conflicts they would appear to have reason to be worried.

On the 27th of March around 50 skiers climbed to the village of Ecot above Bonneville sur Arc and unfurled a banner reading [I]Save the National Parks[/I].  Mountain Wilderness claims that the Minister of the Environment is not even prepared to engage in discussions.

Open spaces in France are once again under pressure from development.  Intrawest has built a new resort in Arc 1950 which Yvon Blanc, one of the original promoters of ski resort, claims has resulted in the destruction of 300 rare Scots Pines. In the Pyrénées a promoter would like to build a new ski resort between Porte Puymorens and Pas de la Casa in Andorra.  Just over the border in Spain environmental campaigners are mobilising against the extension of the ski area at the col du Portalet.  Although skiing has boosted the local economy many developments have been environmentally insensitive, poorly thought out and bought at great cost through real and hidden subsidies.

Mountain Wilderness have a petition you can download (PDF format), sign and return to them. We will be covering this important environmental issue over the coming months.

Save The National Parks, article on the Mountain Wilderness site.

Footnote: After a massive vote of sanction against the current government Rosalyne Bachelot, the much derided French Environment Minister has been replaced by Serge Lepeltier, who is said to be much better informed on the subject.

[1] Jean Carlier, Vanoise, Victoire Pour Demain, Calmann Lévy, 1972
[2] Ravages tout schuss, Liberation 18/12/2003

Posted by davidof on Friday, 02 April, 2004 at 08:24 AM

The mountains all over the world are under attack by developers and dirt pimps from big cities, who are only looking to build resorts and second homes for the wealthy.
If you care about the mountains you must get involved or there will be nothing left for future generations to enjoy, especially in the Alps.

Posted by  on  Sunday, 04 April, 2004  at 06:09 PM
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