Katerina Ivanovska, Programme officer within the Nature Conservation Programme
Last year’s forest fires in the region of Malesh-Pijanec will remain in our collective memory as a tragedy that united the nation and once again proved the solidarity of our neighboring and other countries. Our firefighters, representatives from the institutions and the Army, volunteers and citizens from all around the country, together with the firefighters and volunteer organizations from Austria, Slovenia and Bulgaria tirelessly fought the flames that engulfed the region, threatening to burn the surrounding populated areas. According to the local forest management branch of the public enterprise National forests (FMB Golak from Delchevo) the fire appeared on 02.08.2021 and was put out on 11.08.2021. There were no casualties.
The public enterprise National forests estimated the total burned area at 6378 ha, out of which 4405ha determined as forest area, which is a third of the total burned wood mass in the country in 2021 (Source: Expert report on the status of forests affected by fires in the region of Malesh-Pijanec in 2021 with recommendations and proposed measures for forest restoration).
But the fire didn’t destroy only the forests. Pastures, shrubs and bushes, microorganisms living in the soil and wild animals that inhabited these areas were affected by the fire which contributed to a long-lasting change in the local ecosystems, mostly irreparable within an average human lifespan.
In between the number of negative consequences from the fire, we note the damages caused to the beekeeping in the region by talking to local beekeepers from Berovo and Pehcevo: Slobodan Micevski, Jovan Goshevski and Fidancho Stojchevski. They are the only beekeepers from the region that reported material damages on their apiaries as a result of the fires, submitting a request in August 2021 for reimbursement by the state. A total of 159 beehives died and their whole apiaries were burned to the ground, a damage estimated by them at around 3 million MKD (48.780 EUR). Upon their request, in terms of if and when will they be compensated for their loses, they received information form the local self-government that the estimates of damages and processing of the requests for reimbursement are still ongoing. According to Article 143 from the Law on protection and rescue and the Regulation on the work of the commissions for estimating and determining the amount of damages occurred due to natural disasters and other accidents, the deadline for submitting the prepared assessment report with damage estimations is one year after the end of the occurrence.
All three beekeepers are practicing beekeeping for more than 30 years and for them beekeeping is much more than just a secondary economic activity, rather it is a way of life and a proud family tradition. Slobodan managed to save 7 out of the 85 beehives from the burned stationery apiary in Ormane, out of which, due to the exposure to the fire only 1 beehive survived. Jovan and Fidancho both have a 100% mortality rate at their beehives (a total of 81), and all of them have their frames and boxes, equipment and whole locations completely ruined. They anonymously agree that the last year’s fires have long-term consequences for the beekeeping in the region, mainly in terms of reducing the number of honey trees and plants that are the main source of forage for the bees.
They appeal that in the process of reforestation, the specific of the region and the need for planting autochthonous trees and plants should be taken into consideration. A good example is the activity for planting honey trees and plants that the association Honey East carried out in March 2021 in Moshtica, Makedonska Kamenica, where native species of oak, pine, maple and ash trees were planted. Slobodan is a member of the Honey East association and highlights the need for beekeepers to be joined together alongside with other beekeepers throughout the country, in order for their needs and requests to be heard, conveyed and properly addressed by the competent authorities.
Venko Mitrovski managed to save his bees by transferring them to another location, even though at some point the fire reached to less than 200m from his apiary. Despite the fact that his apiary suffered no material damage, he states that the burned orchards and forest around the apiary influenced largely on this year’s state of his beehives, due to the changes in the local surroundings and the available forage for the bees. He was actively involved in putting out of the fire, as well as the other beekeepers and farmers from the region, who, together with the firefighters, volunteers and the local population, tried to localize the fire and prevent a tragedy of larger proportions. Just one month before, in July 2021, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), through the Swiss embassy and in framework of the Nature Conservation Programme, provided for the territorial firefighting unit of the municipality of Berovo four firefighting vehicles, protective equipment, a drone and training for his operating in monitoring of forest fires, which were all used in the fight against the huge flames that threatened the homes and livelihoods of the people living in the Malesh-Pijanec region.
A year later, none of them has given up beekeeping and they are all trying to compensate the loses and renew their apiaries. They hope that this family tradition will be kept on by their descendants who will continue to breed the Macedonian native bee Apis mellifera macedonica in the revived environment in Malesh-Pijanec, wishing that a disaster of this kind will never happen in the future.