In the Białowieża Forest, the areas where logging can be carried out are to be increased by over 30 square kilometers. Stands over a hundred years old could go under the ax. This is the result of the draft integrated management plan for the forest as a UNESCO site commissioned by the Ministry of Climate and Environment. Ecological organizations are opposed to such solutions, which emphasize that it is “another conflict over the most valuable natural lowland forest in Europe”.
“The State Forests and the Ministry of the Environment, led by Edward Siarka from Sovereign Poland, want to cut down over one hundred years old stands in the Białowieża Forest. The presented draft of the Integrated Management Plan for the UNESCO site is a devastation of the forest and another conflict over the most valuable natural lowland forest in Europe” – we read on the website of the Pracownia na Rzecz Dzieci.
The draft document in question has been prepared since 2022 by the Institute of Environmental Protection – National Research Institute, commissioned by the Ministry of Climate and Environment. At the beginning of July, during a meeting summarizing the work, a ready draft of the document was presented, which will now be submitted for public consultation and then for approval by the UNESCO Committee.
Wild Poland: inconsistent with the guidelines of the Natura 2000 conservation plan
As the Dzika Polska Foundation alerts on its Facebook profile, “during the meeting, proposals were presented to reduce the area of protection zone III of the forest, which is excluded from use (from the area currently covering 241.89 square kilometers to 208.5 km2) and to increase the area of zone IV, where logging can be carried out. From the current area of 101.9 km2 to an area of 135.5 km2 (these figures were also confirmed to us by the Institute of Environmental Protection – National Research Institute).
Adam Bohdan from Wild Poland hopes that the UNESCO Secretariat will not agree to the proposed change of zones.
– In accordance with the guidelines of the Natura 2000 plan of protective measures, possible interference with the stands of the Białowieża Forest can only be justified by reducing the share of spruce or pine in fertile oak-hornbeam habitats (i.e. habitats with a deciduous forest with a predominance of oak-hornbeam and oak forests – editor’s note). Meanwhile, the places where – as part of the extension of zone IV – felling could be carried out, have been designated in areas where spruce has been eliminated in a natural way – through drought and bark beetle gradation – he points out.
State Forests: dead trees must be removed
However, as Jarosław Krawczyk, spokesman for the Regional Directorate of State Forests in Białystok, tells us, trees damaged by drought or bark beetle are dead and stand in the forest.
– Standing dead trees are dangerous, because they can fall to the ground and kill or injure someone, damage someone’s property, etc. And it is known that not all forests have reserves where you cannot move. Such trees should also be removed due to fire hazard. The fire brigade always raises the issue that in the Białowieża Forest there is a very large so-called fire load, i.e. the accumulation of dry wood on a given surface – he points out.
Lying dead trees as a habitat for thousands of species of fungi and insects
Adam Bohdan refutes this argument by noting that the natural regeneration of trees, including the desired oak, is currently observed in the places in question.
– The growing, more diverse forest stand with a smaller share of drought-sensitive spruce will be better adapted to the new climatic conditions. It will also be less prone to fires.
He also adds that the presence of standing dead trees in the forest and their decomposition is one of the basic natural processes, and at the same time one of the basic values, due to which the forest is protected as a UNESCO site.
– A standing dead tree is a nesting place for birds, and a lying dead tree is a habitat for thousands of species of fungi and insects that have become extinct outside the Białowieża Forest. In addition, lying dead trees are also a natural barrier against animals, which will not destroy young trees – he emphasizes.
Sylwia Szczutowska: the forest regenerates itself, new trees appear
On the other hand, Sylwia Szczutkowska from the Workshop for All Beings, who agrees with him, notes that although a dead standing tree can actually break in strong winds, it is therefore a rule not to walk in the forest during storms.
– In the forest – as in the water – you enter at your own risk. Anyway, I have not heard that anyone visiting the Białowieża Forest was injured by a broken branch falling on him. However, when it comes to fire hazard, lying dead wood does not pose a fire hazard – it is damp, overgrown with moss, etc. The forest also regenerates itself, new trees appear. Although it is known that if we have long periods of drought and someone irresponsible walks in the forest, a fire may occur. Fortunately, such cases are very rare in the Białowieża Forest – he notes.
Stands over a hundred years old are also under the ax
Ecological organizations also point out that, in accordance with the presented draft of the Integrated Management Plan for the UNESCO site, felling is also proposed in the areas of the so-called stands over 100 years old (i.e. those in which – according to the Natura 2000 plan of protective tasks and according to the definition by the late Prof. Tomasz Wesołowski from the Laboratory of Forest Biology of the University of Wrocław – the age of at least one species was at least 100 years old and at the same time the share of this species in the stand is at least 10% – editor’s note), which were excluded from felling for decades.
“They have become hot spots of biodiversity – places of accumulation of sensitive, protected species that will suffer if forest management is resumed. Therefore, the proposed changes will certainly not be approved by the European Commission” – we read on the Facebook page of Dzika Polska.
State Forests on reaching the so-called harvesting age
Jarosław Krawczyk from the State Forests comments that each tree species has its own specific so-called cutting age, after reaching which – to put it simply – a given tree should be cut down, because its growth is significantly slowed down and it is less resistant to e.g. for drought.
– So it begins – when the conditions are right – to slowly wither. In place of the harvested trees, a new generation of forest is introduced. Otherwise, in a few or a dozen or so years, the forest will be dead, because such “old” trees will sooner or later wither, and there will be no new, young trees in this forest – he points out.
Ecologists: the forest is regenerating towards deciduous forests
Sylwia Szczutowska disagrees with such arguments.
– The forest will regenerate naturally and in a direction that is better for the forest. The bark beetle primarily attacked spruces, which were artificially planted in the forest in the 1950s in the habitats of deciduous trees. Currently, these places are regenerating in accordance with their intended purpose, i.e. in the direction of deciduous forests, which are more resistant to climate changes than conifers, he says.
He also notes that the proposals in the draft Integrated Management Plan for the UNESCO World Heritage Site coincide with the provisions in the draft forest management plans prepared by the Hajnówka, Browsk and Białowieża Forest Districts.
– An integrated plan is superior to forest management plans developed by individual forest districts. The latter must adapt to the former, and not the other way around,” comments Jarosław Krawczyk.
Foresters also want to change the borders, because they believe that the current ones are not very legible in the field
When we ask him what is the reason for increasing the area on which felling could be carried out, he says that there are many reasons.
– These include the gradation of insects from the group of bark beetles, droughts or planned harvesting of wood – of course without harming the natural substance – he says.
He admits that one more reason is the desire of foresters to organize the course of the zones, because the current one is – in their opinion – not very legible in the field. As we wrote in OctoberThe State Forests sent a proposal for changes to the Ministry of Climate and Environment.
Jarosław Krawczyk explained to us in October that currently the boundaries of the zones are not very clear in the field, so the forester – or any other person interested in nature conservation – may have a problem with determining whether a given part of the forest belongs to zone III, IV, or perhaps to another neighboring zone.
– As part of the correction of the so-called zoning, the main idea was to make the zones more visible – he emphasized.
Sylwia Szczutowska: In my opinion, this is a disgrace to the State Forests
Professor Rafał Kowalczyk from the Institute of Mammal Biology of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Białowieża said in October in front of the TVN24 camera that although the borders of the zones today resemble a chessboard – which could be simplified – this should not be done at the expense of reducing zone III.
– We, as the scientific community, which is in favor of the protection of the Białowieża Forest, will certainly oppose it – noted Prof. Kowalczyk.
In October, 30 non-governmental organizations expressed opposition to the changes to the boundaries of the zones, which also sent a letter to the ministry on this matter.
– As you can see, our letter was disregarded, and the foresters’ request was included in the draft Integrated Management Plan for the UNESCO Site. And such a request is, in my opinion, a disgrace to the State Forests. Nowadays, when GPS systems work, it is really not difficult to determine which tree stand is in which zone – comments Sylwia Szczutowska.
Main photo source: Adam Bohdan