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Plitvice Lakes National Park is known throughout Europe for its relatively unspoiled forests, grasslands, and lakes. Hundreds of thousands of people come to enjoy its scenery and wildlife, while more than 2,000 people call the park home, living in small settlements within its boundaries.

A waterfall But Plitvice faces an array of threats. Its hills hide mines, bombs, and other shells leftover from the vicious civil wars that swept the region in the early 1990s (See Land Mines). After a lengthy and dangerous de-mining effort, the park is now considered mine-free, but visitors still need to be aware of potential dangers.

The war damaged forests and grasslands, which are slowly recovering. Wildlife populations, including bear and deer, are also rebounding after facing uncontrolled hunting during the conflict. Birds are beginning to return to favorite habitats. But the scars of war may take decades to heal.

A forest In the meantime, Plitvice's popularity is becoming a threat to its famous lakes. Visitors are beginning to return in large numbers -- bringing cars, trash, and pollution problems. Several lakes are showing signs of carrying increased nutrients, such as phosphorous and nitrogen, that are swept into the water by runoff from nearby tourist dwellings and farms. The nutrients spark algae blooms and other changes in water quality that threaten the unusual chemistry that turns Plitvice's waters to stone. If unchecked, the changes could ultimately threaten the formation of the travertine dams that create the lake system.

Luckily, park lovers are taking steps to address these problems, by improving sewage treatment and changing farming practices. The park also recently established a scientific station to monitor changes in the ecosystem, identify problems before they become critical, and develop solutions. It is also educating visitors about how to avoid loving the park to death. The goal is to keep Plitvice healthy for future generations of visitors and residents.

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