Forest reserves and protective forests in the Kočevje Forest Management area
Particularly in the Karst world, forests represent a kind of thick skin – a protection of life. They protect fertile soil, filter the air, contain water, mitigate climate extremes, provide wood and represent a home to numerous animals and plants.
At the most extreme, steep and rocky locations, forests are particularly important and designated as protective forests. The most interesting and rare parts of the area are also protected and left to their own natural growth and decay as forest reserves. These were one of the first forests in Europe that were over a century ago separated from the rest as virgin forests.
Protective forests and forest reserves, protected at the national level with the Regulation on protective forests and forests with a special purpose of 2005, are the last important part for the continuous effort to increase understanding and general natural and multipurpose strategy of Slovenian forestry and at the same time also the nature conservation category contributing to biotic diversity, particularly in the Natura 2000 sites. At the same time, they can also be an outline for ever more popular and attractive nature conservation projects, brand and forest certification, different research projects, forest and forestry promotions and nature and nature conservation in general.
The Kočevje Forest Management area is proud of its well-conserved nature. Moreover, new forest reserves were included to the protected and never felled virgin forests some century ago. Some have not seen an axe swung for decades, while the others have been designated as such more recently.
41 forest reserves cover 1,201.72 ha, i.e. 30% of the forests of the Kočevje Forest Management area. 172 forest reserves covering 9,501.47 ha – 0.80% of all forests are protected in Slovenia since 2005.
These forests are left to their natural development. There is no felling, skidding of dead trees, gathering, and disturbing of wild animals – all is left to take its natural course. Forest reserve borders are marked with blue colour and can be visited only by following marked paths.
In the Kočevska region, apart from virgin forests there are some vast fir and beech forests and few protective stands at the rocky walls of the Kolpa and Iška river canyons left to the natural course of events. The forests in deep Karst sinkholes and caves, swamps and most interesting ponors of Karst streams are also protected. The same is true for degraded forest overgrowing the abandoned agricultural land. Protective zones along the reserves are not specifically marked, since the most important reserves – remnants of the virgin forests are surrounded by new ones.
Thus, the most important part of the Kočevska natural heritage is protected providing a permanent shelter to rare and endangered plant and animal species while at the same time it also represents a research workshop and an important offer for hikers with some of the forest reserves already marked with hiking trails and information panels.
As complexes of protective forests also the stands on steep, rocky slopes of Kolpa, Čabranka and Iška canyons are protected. In addition to extremely important protective function, their natural conservation and interesting fauna, relict and endemic flora make them important for conservation of natural diversity. Due to undulated relief and outstanding views from the walls they have a unique aesthetic value in vast forest areas of the southern Slovenia and are also considered an increasingly popular destination.
Since 2005, there are 3,745.59 ha or 4.05% of forests of the Kočevje Forest Management area designated as protective forests, while at the national level 98,947.01 ha of or 8.35 % of all forests has this function.
The protective forests protect against erosion and through their natural regulation of water flow play an important function. Thus, measures and actions in these forests are planned only exceptionally, e.g. minimum felling in order to strengthen their protective role or protect the infrastructure (regeneration felling and felling along the roads, etc.)
The state provides financial means for generally useful information and management of protective forest and forest reserves due to restricted rights related to wood exploitation. The purchase of these forests is also foreseen.
The history of protective/ed forests in the Kočevska region
The forest protection in the Kočevska region has almost a 120-year long tradition. A “little” remark in the forest management plan has protected invaluable natural heritage in the middle of dense Kočevje virgin forests.
The initiative for the protection of forests is put to the credit of Dr. Leopold Hufnagl, who made an extensive “management plan” for the Kočevska region forests in 1892. The whole plan was a masterpiece since it prescribed a more sustainable selective management for the high Karst fir and beech forests, contrary to the prevailing, professionally “more” grounded clear-felling in Europe.
Forest reserves and protective forests then begin to occur in the forest management plans as different categories; protective foresters are designated with the forest management class 8000 – protective forest, while forest reserves are given a class 9000 designation – forest reserve.
Some forest reserves were officially protected by municipal decisions in 1976. In fact, the foresters understanding the protective function of these special stands excluded them from the unit without AAC in the forest management plans and even marked them as a special class in the forest management plans. Thus, it could be claimed for the majority of new reserves that they weren’t felled since 1985.
A completed network of forest reserves in 1980 is particularly important since a total number of 11 forest reserves were designated apart from the already protected virgin forests in the Kočevje Forest Management area. The action was led by a doyen of sustainable forestry, Professor Mlinšek of the Faculty of Forestry in cooperation with the then forest and wood science and technology institute.
Let us also mention the project finished in 1997 for the designation of forest reserves in the southern part of the Kočevje Forest Management area in the municipalities of Kočevje (including the later established Municipality of Kostel), Osilnica and Loški Potok. After many years of endeavours and fighting the opposition, the Ordinance declaring the forests as natural reserves and forests with a special purpose in the Kočevska region was adopted. However, it was never truly implemented since it was not issued in the Official Gazette.
At that time, the action at the national level was conducted which finally protected a part of proposed areas in 2005 by adopting the Regulation on protective forests and forests with a special purpose. Due to the opposition of private owners, three reserves were left out in the Kočevje Forest Management area. However, these were later designated as protective forests due to their protective role.
In addition to protective forests and forest reserves, also the forest management class 7000 of 1985 needs to be mentioned due to its function of conserving biotic diversity – forests for stimulating the species diversity, and increasing number of Eco-cells – areas which are left over to their natural course due to natural and other features as well as the irrational management.
Forest reserves – list of forest reserves and purpose of their protection
Forest reserves sustainably protect the features of the Kočevje Forest Management area: remains of virgin forests, examples of forest communities, particularly the rare ones, rare habitats in deep Karst collapsed dolines, caves and walls and along the Karst water courses. They are also unique Eco-cells for animal species which need old forests for their survival. Apart from the classroom in nature – research areas for understanding the operation of unspoiled nature, also the nature conservation role of forest reserves is highlighted. Hiking trails with information panels lead through many of them. The Kočevje Forest Management area has 41 of such areas:
1. The Krokar virgin forest (74.49 ha)
Unspoiled virgin forest beech stands at the high Karst plateau of Borovška Gora with walls above the Kolpa River.
2. The Strmec virgin forest (15.56 ha)
A reminder of the fir and beech virgin forest in Stojna.
3. The Prelesnikova Koliševka virging forest (3.37 ha)
The Karst collapsed doline with a fragment of spruce virgin forest at the bottom. Exceptional floristic diversity.
4. The Rajhenavski Rog virgin forest (51.14 ha)
A fir and beech virgin forest in Rog.
5. Goteniški Snežnik (53.98 ha)
The highest peak of the Kočevska region covered with mountain beech forests as a special feature.
6. Kameni Zid (110.11 ha)
Steep, inaccessible walls above Gotenica, numerous floristic rarities, the habitat of chamois.
7. Krempa (1.64 ha)
A natural growing site of daffodils at the pass between Borovec and the Kolpa River.
8. Borovec (47.89 ha)
A protective zone of the Krokar virgin forest at the very steep slope and some indigenous beech stands.
9. Jezero (51.16 ha)
Forests on the slopes above the artificially dammed lake near Kočevska Reka, the wetland in the north-west part of the valley, a nesting site of the white-tailed eagle and other water birds.
10. Mižuk (47.61 ha)
A hardly accessible sinkhole valley of Mokri Potok , which after the abandoning of the Mokri Potok village is starting to acquire the character of a primitive stream.
11. Kameni most (27.8 ha)
The Karst plateau on the walls above the Potok valley with several chasms and Karst caves and triple natural bridge.
12. Firštov rep (15.36 ha)
Presumably intact protective forests at the peak of Log precipice above the Kolpa River valley, an exceptional view.
13. Stružnica (5.82 ha)
The edge of Kuželjska Stena precipice above the Kolpa River valley with special ecosystems and floristic features.
14. Krajc – Bukovje (15.76 ha)
Rare fir forests situated on the silicate rocks on the steep slope below the Kostel castle. One of the lowest fir growing sites in Slovenia.
15. Lipje (2.43 ha)
A lowland fir forest in Poljanska Dolina.
16. Šibje (20.42 ha)
Beech forests on steep, undulated slopes of Pekel near Mozelj.
17. Pugled – Žiben (192.79 ha)
A forest reserve for demonstrating and studying natural successions in the abandoned agrarian landscape. The central part has characteristics of a memorial park due to village and church ruins.
18. Ledena jama (14.79 ha)
A fir-beech forest in the vicinity of the Karst cave with eternal ice in Stojna.
19. Mestni vrh (31.76 ha)
A fir-beech forest on the steep, rocky slope of the panoramic peak in Stojna.
20. Glažuta (29,45 ha)
A fir-beech forest in the rocky area near Glažuta covered with sink-holes.
21. Bela stena (5.56 ha)
Precipitous walls and their surroundings near Glažuta.
22. Medvedjak (57.07 ha)
A conserved, almost inaccessible area of fir-beech forests with natural and florist features (the Sovja Stena collapsed doline).
23. Vrh Roga (1.07 ha)
A fragment of maple-beech forest below the peak of Rog.
24. Rog (96.93 ha)
A wide protective zone of the Rajhenavski Rog virgin forest with conserved fir-beech forests.
25. Jama vetrov (2.79 ha)
A small, hardly accessible Karst collapsed doline with virgin forest features.
26. Vrtača pri Skrajniku (1.85 ha)
A deep Karst sink-hole.
27. Brezno Lobodika (1.25 ha)
A Karst abyss with its surroundings.
28. Mozeljske staje (7,23 ha)
A Deep, almost inaccessible Karst sinkhole.
29. Rokovo (16.09 ha)
A fir-beech forest at the extreme, steep and rocky site.
30. Kopa (10.59 ha)
A ridge of the Kopa peak in Rog, near the Kopa virgin forest.
31. Malence (7-36 ha)
The underground Mošenik stream gaining features of a primitive stream.
32. Pekel (13.16 ha)
A large Karst sink-hole.
33. Kadice (12,03 ha)
A gorge of the Mateča Voda stream with picturesque water basins – a special ecosystem with relict flora.
34. Kobilji curek (3.08 ha)
A picturesque, almost inaccessible area with the Kobilji Curek waterfall.
35. Iška (127.64 ha)
Steep slopes of the Iška gorge.
36. Peči (1.63 ha)
A deep Karst collapsed doline.
37. Pekel – Šibje (3.43 ha)
A stream gorge in Pekel with sink-holes.
38. Šahenska udornica 1 (2.01 ha)
A deep Karst collapsed doline.
39. Šahenska udornica 2 (1.08 ha)
A deep Karst collapsed doline.
40. Kofel (3.34 ha)
An interesting multi-level cave system in the close vicinity of the Rinža River.
41. Željnske jame (7.95 ha)
An extensive shallow cave system with several windows, a prehistoric site.
Proposed – undecalred forest reserves:
42. Ribniški svatje (3.44 ha)
Precipice walls in Velika Gora.
43. Nežica (17.58 ha)
A Karst stream with interesting spring and tufa cascades.
44. Mirtoviški potok (384.26 ha)
A picturesque river basin with the valley of Mirtoviški potok springing from the Karst cave, cascades, basins and fauna and flora rarities living in walls and steep slopes in the stream mouth area.
(Source: Hartman, Tomaž: ŽIVETI z gozdom: gozdnogospodarsko območje Kočevje. Forest reserves and protective forests in the Kočevje Forest Management area, Kočevje, 2010, p. 29)