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Pyeongchang 2018 will destroy 'Ecological Ark of Ancient Forest'

'Save Mt. Kariwang-san, an Ecological Ark of Ancient Forest, from Ski Area Construction for the 2018 Winter Games at Pyeongchang, Korea'

Summary Note on the Controversial Olympic Downhill Condemning a Treasure Mountain

Written by Cho Sang-hee (contact yakbell_cho@yahoo.com)

The movement named Save Mt. Kariwang-san From Olympics raises awareness of the issue of our country for the Koreans who might have simply welcomed their local province's hosting of the Olympic Winter Games in 2018. The bid for the Games was won on the third attempt by Kangwon Province for the venue of its county-city of Pyeongchang in a key project for local concerns. If not for the Seoul government's support or neither without national fervor or promotion by such corporations as Samsung, the Games with a global audience could not have been won. However when we think about the fate of the mountain shrouded with the mist of ancient forests in the back country of the Land of Morning Calm (the old-time reference to Korea) and the environmental damage caused by ski run construction, the question is about the rationality and if it is something to be cheered for?

Since inception of the pro-Olympic drive at the turn of this century, the bidding officials and now the Organizing Committee have not given regards to the fact that the proposed skiing venue is the seat of an ecological treasure trove dubbed "the Ark of Forest Plants" of Korea. With the mountain forests' giant trees of a unique value that could be found in this over-populated country, so it is designated as a Genetic Resource Protection Area. The government forestry authority is sacrificing the sanctuary. The Korea Forest Service, the body responsible for national forests, followed the decision of other authorities and proclaimed that there was no other alternative to Mt. Kariwang-san.

Earlier in the picture, the local authorities neglected the need for a further search of other areas as proposed by environmental groups. The possibility of modified use of the neighboring ski resorts was put forth and denied. To solve the problem of new construction of ski runs the requirements should be met in terms of altitude, length, difficulty and location of the course. Anyhow, the matters are for the speed disciplines, Men's and Women's Downhill (and four other events with a total of six golds at stake) that are over within less than two minutes in a single heat.

The Province is soon to conduct an environmental impact assessment ahead of the construction. It must be noted that they set off on the wrong footing for their work on the 'seasons' plants in that snow-covered mountain. The purpose is for the mitigation of any environmental damage, not for changing of the whole work or withdrawal of it. (It has made minor alterations in the plan by doing the cross-change of the courses for men and women and shortening one of them to save some big trees on the crest at 1,400 meters.) Meanwhile, the forestry agency says they will "restore" the razed slopes of the valley of Mt. Kariwang-san by sodding some grasses and re-planting after the Games. According to a schedule to meet the FIS "demand," the first power shovels will strike the trees--for making ski runs, ropeways, motor trails and then spectators' seats-- before the snowfall of this year.

In recent years, the environmental organizations, including some groups from Seoul, expressed publicly their concern about the problem, which are contradictory with the people of Kangwon Province's who have vague expectations of the benefits from the Games on their home turf and the civic pride in hosting the Olympics do not leave any room to be at any conflict with bureaucracy. Groups such as Uiryong Conservationists Club of Seoul, however, has conducted a series of field surveys while leading the strenuous campaign to save Mt. Kariwang-san. Last year they found near the proposed ski area a giant oak (measured over 130 centimeters in the chest-height diameter) believed to be the oldest alive in the country. The group's botanists also discovered in the mountains' core area the large habitats of "Wangsasre," the variant of aspen-birch tree (from Betula ermani and Betula costata), that is unique in the world. The conservationists are doing an ongoing study of the mountain to counter what could result into a deficient report by the officials.

Though the local media are rather playing down the issue, some look forward with the Save Mt. Kariwang-san to drawing the attention of relevant people abroad and particularly those organizations concerned with the Games. Public discussion other than official hearings on the issue were held at home a couple of times.The conservationists here now believe it's time to seek an international coalition and support against the natural calamity involved with the sport. Winter Games at Nakano and Salt Lake City they say can be cited as good precedents.

The Save Mt. Kariwang-san From Olympics names an issue of our times to realize the oft-talked slogan for the environment-friendly Games. Now, we would like to remind that it is an action being taken to the effect of saving the ultimate Olympic cause of Harmony and Peace, which embraces all living things. Our call for this, we believe in the hope, would not be a far cry and that advocacy should be extended to the very threshold of the IOC and its undertaker FIS.

In the winter of 2018, the competing athletes stopping in the snow tail they've just carved upon crossing the finish line will look back at the scoreboard for their times. They would not have any idea about at what cost their competition place had been made. It is deplorable that each pole-gate on the downhill run was home to hundreds of trees and other families in the flora. In place of the Olympic rings we could be able to substitute the felled giant Birch, Oak, Aspen, Pine and Yew trees as a stark reminder as to what devastation to Nature these Games were held.


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