Białowieża is considered by many ecologists to be Europe’s last standing primeval forest — and all of it is protected as a nature park. But Poland’s government has just given the green light to loggers to harvest some 180,000 cubic meters of timber, in what is home to over 20,000 species, including bison, 250 bird species and Europe’s tallest trees.
The old management plan allowed for the harvesting of 40,000 cubic meters of wood over the next decade, but the new plan paves the way for the cutting of nearly five times that many trees. Poland says the decision was made in an effort to combat a nasty invasion of spruce bark beetles, but Greenpeace and other environmental organizations say the country is ignoring science and large-scale public opposition to the project, and that the country should “allow nature to protect itself.” But Poland’s officials are sticking to their guns despite intense public outcry.
“We’re acting to curb the degradation of important habitats, to curb the disappearance and migration of important species from this site,” said Environment Minister, Jan Szyszko. Dariusz Skirko, Chief Forester of Białowieża said, “We are stepping up what we call active protection measures. One tree attacked by the beetle can lead to the infestation of thirty other trees within just one year.” But Greenpeace and other NGOs disagree. “Scientists’ findings show us that the unprecedented bark beetle outbreaks are driven by large-scale factors like climate change, landscape, local droughts or light winters,” Greenpeace Warsaw Director Robert Cyglicki told Deutsche Welle. “What really worries us is that, in [Jan Szyszko’s] statement, he explained to the public that there is about 600 million Polish zlotys [worth of deadwood] left rotting, which shows that he doesn’t see Białowieża forest as a natural forest, as a place that deserves protection,” Cyglicki rebuffed.
Białowieża 2 Still, some foresters and other parties, blame a lack of logging for the beetle infestation to begin with, saying that uncleared deadwood left a place for the pest to fester. Szyszko said the plan is already a compromise because it designated one-third of the forest to remain as-is — logging-free and without man’s interference. “We have decided to exempt one third of the forest outside the national park from man’s intervention.” In the rest, active measures will be taken to quickly eliminate the destruction by the bark beetle,” the Minister continued at a press conference in Warsaw last month. Those assurances offered little consolation to activists and environmentalists who say the other two-thirds will no longer be considered “primeval” after the plan is carried out. Bison in Białowieża Bison in Białowieża Greenpeace also notes that the EU could fire off a punitive case against Poland for what it says would be a violation of the Natura 2000 program. If one thing is certain, the battle is heating up, and it doesn’t appear as if any party has a solid plan to eliminate the pest from the region without a massive impact, on what is considered by many to be one of the most lush and breathtaking forests on earth.