Environmental Conservation - Saving Slovenia
Text and photography copyright Marko Trebusak. All rights reserved.
Slovenia is a small country located in Europe, situated between the high peaks of the Alps, the Pannonian Plain and the Adriatic Sea. As long as I can remember, my family has lived in a home with a view of the Kamnik Alps. The beautiful view of the first rays of winter sun spreading warmth across the snow covered mountains is forever burned into my memory. For me, there is nothing more powerful than the experience of wind, silence and the crisp air of an early morning hike in these mountains. This is one of the main reasons I care for these places - they are like a glass of fresh water for my soul.
The Alps occupy the northern and north-western parts of Slovenia. In a sense they act as a border in this part of the country. This is rough country and until lately wasn’t very accessible. But on the other hand, it is magically beautiful. Ranges of peaks, as high as 2500 meters above sea level, are crisscrossed by deep valleys and gorges. Much of it is covered by forest up to about 1500 meters in elevation. The locals were always aware of this beauty - most beautiful Slovenian myths and legends are connected to the Alpine region. Only local herdsmen and hunters used to explore these places. In the 18th century, European botanists started exploring this region that is on one hand typically Alpine, yet it also supports Mediterranean climate in its southern parts, making it a botanist’s Paradise. The end of 19th century saw a boom in mountaineering after the founding of the Slovenian Mountaineering Club. Today this region has many foot trails, but luckily there are only a few roads. Because its beauty was recognised early in the 20th century, the Triglav Lakes Valley saw the first conservation proposal in 1908, and after prolonged political debate, the Triglav National Park was finally established in 1924. The park occupies most of the north-western part of the Slovenia, a part also known as the Julian Alps. But the rest of the Alps, Karavanke, Kamnik Alps and Pohorje are still left unprotected.
After WWII Yugoslavia, of which Slovenia is a part of, steered itself into a socialist political system. In that system, the dominant figure was a worker in heavy industry. Not much time was to be wasted on wilderness, except for perhaps recreation. But despite this, the love for nature and consequently its protection was still alive, especially among hunters and foresters. Since some of the big political names of that time were hunters, lobbying for places to be separated from human impact was very strong. So, for such a small country, big areas were set aside as wilderness, and the even Triglav National Park was expanded in 1961. But in places that were suitable for industrial agriculture and in regions near industrial centres, there was no mercy. Those areas are still affected badly by pollution, because no one was thinking of nature conservation. On the other hand, remote areas that were of interest to industrial development were nationalized, but then never developed. Thankfully, these areas have been left unspoiled.
After the Slovenian declaration of independence in 1991, some of the big industrial complexes went bankrupt, partly due to the loss of Yugoslavian market and their inability to adapt to the new economy, and partly due to privatisation. So in some cases ecological problems were solved this way, but with high cost of unemployment. At the same time, increasing standards of living and de-nationalisation placed additional pressure on the natural regions. The Forest Department, which is responsible for managing the land, is now under pressure by big land owners and the agricultural lobby to let them do with “their” land what ever they would like to do. Right now, even the law protecting the Triglav National Park is in a process of “revision.” If you feel that you would like to support this beautiful region, it’s in my opinion best to contact DOPPS – the Slovenian partner of the Bird Life International, as they are the most active party in protecting wild places in Slovenia.
Environmental conservation in Slovenia is as much an up-hill battle as it is in other parts of the world. I’m not the most outspoken individual, but I still feel that every person is responsible for how we, as mankind, care for our planet. As I learned how to show what I feel in my photographs, I found a way to connect my passion for nature with this newly discovered art; a slow and concentrated workflow with land and light, using a Large Format camera as my tool of choice to share my vision. That’s why it’s not hard to get up in the middle of the night and carry all that heavy equipment to the desired destination, which is at times kilometres away. When the magic begins to happen and I’m able to pull something beautiful from nature without causing any damage, I feel connected. Back home, my photography becomes my voice to share my passion with others. Last year I started guiding clients to my “sacred places” in the mountains near my home and it is rewarding to see that other people are affected the same way by the beauty they witness.
As nature photographers, we are the “virtual eyes” that provide a glimpse of these places to the rest of human kind, to share the “truth of the beauty” that still exists. To quote late Galen Rowell: “all nature photographers share that special responsibility to humanity to bring back images of the truths they witness”.
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Marko Trebusak is a Slovenia based photographer and writer who conducts a variety of photo tours around this spectacular part of Europe, where Alpine region meets Mediterranean. Marko can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.