500-Year-Old Trees Are Being Clear-cut for the 2018 Winter Olympics

Previously protected forests in Pyeongchang, South Korea are being cleared to create ski runs. Credit: Ed Jones / AFP / Getty

The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, may not have the environmental hazards of Rio — where open-water athletes face raw sewage — but activists are already facing off with the Pyeongchang organizing committee. To make room for ski slopes, formerly protected forests with 500-year-old trees are being razed. 

An online petition to halt the destruction of the forests, which are considered sacred by some South Koreans, has reached over a million signatures. "We have a choice to make: preserve a 500-year-old ancient forest, home to four threatened species, or clear-cut the ancient forest for an Olympic ski competition. It seems like a no-brainer," the petition reads. 

The Guardian reports that the Pyeongchang committee responded by assuring petitioners that it would replace more than 1,000 trees after the games and reducing the footprint from 82 to 57 acres cleared. But environmentalists are quick to point out that the damage is done; the absence of the ancient trees ensures irrevocable changes to the surrounding ecosystem.