‘Sacred’ forest destroyed for 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang

2018 Olympics South Korea PyeongChang
Despite being nearby and already developed for skiing, organizers chose not to set the alpine events at the nearby Yongpyong Ski Resort (pictured). Photo: Flickr user Paka 808

Organizers for the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang recently completed the removal of thousands of trees from a protected forest to make way a ski slope, and Environmental activists in South Korea are not happy.

Clearing of the grounds on the mountain initially took place this summer and organizers for the games just finished the removal of 57 acres of trees and forestation from the virgin forests of Mount Gariwang last week to make way for the alpine skiing courses of the 2018 Winter Games. Mount Gariwang had been designated as a nationally protected forest in 2008, but that designation was lifted in 2013 for this Olympic construction project.

“It is very sad to see the unnecessary destruction of such a beautiful mountain,” Simone Lovera, director of the Global Forest Coalition, told The Guardian. “South Korea has undergone massive deforestation in the course of the 20th century and this is one of the few sites that had not been deforested.”

The site was chosen as the spot to host the alpine skiing events by the Olympic committee as it was the only site available for the PyeongChang games that fits the International Ski Federation requirements of being 800 meters above sea level for the events. However, nearby Yongpyong Ski Resort is over the 750-meter limit allowed by the federation for Olympic events occurring under “extreme circumstances.”

“The Olympics could easily be held elsewhere by allowing them to ski on shorter slopes,” Lovera said. “It is clear that the Olympic committee has not taken these ecological sensitivities into account.”

The forests of Mount Gariwang hold particular value to the people of South Korea due to their historical importance. Home to protected and endangered species like the lynx and flying squirrel, Mount Gariwang’s forests house some of the oldest and rarest trees in all of South Korea. Mount Gariwang is considered sacred by some South Koreans, due to its strong connection to the Chosun dynasty of the 15th century.

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Organizers for the 2018 Olympics claim that they will replant many of the affected trees, but protestors insist that offer is little more than patronizing.

“Basically, it is not possible to restore the trees to their original habitat because of disturbance to the topsoil,” Youn Yeo-chang, professor of ecological economics and forestry policy at Seoul National University, told The Guardian. “We have already seen how they begin to die out once they have been replanted after being removed to allow for construction of ski resorts.”

That concern seemed to be shared by many others. An online petition urging the IOC to “ensure that all Olympic Games truly live up to ideals of sustainability and environmental protection” that attempted to stop the destruction of Mount Gariwang’s forests gained over 1 million supporters. Ultimately, it was all for naught.

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