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Greens challenge official forest policy

Forest makes up 30 per cent of Switzerland's surface

(Keystone)

Environmentalists have handed in a people's initiative to the federal authorities aimed at providing better protection for Swiss forests.

The move comes amid plans by the government to cut public subsidies and focus its forest policy on improving the efficiency of the timber industry.

Signed by more than 115,000 people, the initiative "Save the Swiss Forests" was launched by the renowned environmentalist, Franz Weber, and was handed in to the federal chancellery in Bern on Friday.

A people's initiative needs at least 100,000 valid signatures to force a nationwide vote on the issue. Parliament will discuss the proposal before the electorate is due to have the final say.

Weber said that although the current legislation on forests was exemplary, recent cost-cutting measures and plans to amend the law had shown that the government was trying to shirk its duty.

He argued that the forests and were being degraded to mere suppliers of wood and their immaterial values were being neglected.

Biodiversity

The initiative aims to improve protection and anchor this in the Swiss constitution.

It calls not only on the government but also the country's 26 cantons to share responsibility for the forests.

And it demands that economic and social aspects of forests, as well as biodiversity, also have to be taken into account.

In June the cabinet presented an amended law aimed at giving greater importance to the role of forests as protection from natural disasters and easing restrictions for the timer industry.

Weber argued that clearing of forests – banned under present legislation but possible in certain cases under planned changes – would mean there was no sustainable use of them.

The Association of Swiss Forestry Workers, which is supporting the initiative, said the current situation was very difficult.

"Bulldozers and chain saws will soon have the say instead of the foresters," Weber added.

The political moves come as two companies from neighbouring Austria are planning to build major industrial sawmills in Switzerland.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Total forest: 1.2 million hectares - 30% of the country's total surface
9% of forests are protected
27% is in private hands
7,300 forestry workers
Last year 5.2 million m³ of timber was cut - two thirds of the potential Swiss timber production
In 2004 Switzerland exported timber worth SFr3.75 billion ($2.9 billion), while imports stood at SFr5.98 billion

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