Saturday, July 07, 2018

Saws Go Silent in Bialoweiza

Bialoweiza Forest is what remains of a primeval forest straddling the border of Poland and Belarus.  A European court halted logging in the forest, home to wildlife that has disappeared from the rest of Europe, in May.  But before the saws were silenced, loggers cut 190,000 cubic meters of wood in 2017; equal to around 160,000-180,000 trees affecting an area of about 1,900 hectares. The harvest was 400% of the planned amount. It is noteworthy that this more downed timber in any year since Poland emerged from Soviet communism.  The forest will take decades to recover from the onslaught. [photo: Greenpeace Poland]

Activists are now demanding that the national park status that protects part of the forest be dramatically expanded to include the entire forest.  They are concerned that the government, strapped for cash, will again approve logging especially in areas that are no longer pristine old growth forest.  Europe's highest tribunal found that the government's own documents showed that logging was a bigger threat to the forest existence than that posed by infesting beetles.  The bark beetle outbreak is cyclical and probably exacerbated by climate warming.  Bialoweiza is the last old-growth lowland forest in Europe.  Its scale, pristine areas and rare wildlife such as lynx, wolves and bison (bears were wiped out decades ago) make it exceptionally qualified for complete conservation. [below: Bison bonasus bonasus]

Currently the national park in Poland only covers around 10,500 hectares.  Belarus protects 20 times more than that in a biosphere reserve covering 216,200 hectares.  150,069 hectares is protected as a national park.  The Minister of Forestry who authored the logging policy was sacked shortly after the adverse ruling from the EU.  But his replacement appears to also be pro-logging, after a meeting with timber representatives in which he promised park status would not be extended.  Biologists were not invited to the meeting according to Greenpeace.  Poland's forest management agency appears to be another victim of regulatory capture.