Valuable primeval forest under threat

Environmental organizations are raising the alarm about the management of Poland’s – and Europe’s – most valuable primeval forest: the Bialowieska Forest.

Ecologists are alarmed by the heavy logging in areas of the forest not protected by the Bialowieski National Park.
The World Wide Fund for Nature has already collected 100,000 signatures in an appeal to protect these areas.
The appeal is to be handed to President Lech Kaczynski. Bialowieska Forest is without a doubt the oldest and most precious woodland in Europe. It constitutes an area of 150,000 hectares.

Most of the forest – 87,500 hectares – belongs to Belarus, with only 62,500 hectares being situated within the Polish borders.
The forest’s value lies primarily in the fact that, thanks to early protection, until the 20th Century the vast majority of the forest escaped the detrimental influences of civilization and agriculture.

But after World War I, illegal logging began posing a threat to the integrity of the natural woods.

“There is no other forest like this throughout Europe,” Stefan Jakimiuk of WWF Poland told the newspaper Dziennik.

However, only 17 percent of the priceless area is protected as Bialowieski National Park. The rest is still being logged.
The management of the area by State Forests was already questioned by the Supreme Chamber of Control at the beginning of this year.

Now, the alleged mismanagement might result in the loss of a prestigious FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certificate given for quality management.
And of even greater concern, Bialowieski National Park could cease being registered by UNESCO as Poland’s only natural item on the list of the world’s cultural heritages.
In 2006 the forest was visited by professor Eckhart Kuijken from the European Council, who was displeased with the management by State Forests.

“I found that the policies of the area’s supervisors are still aimed at financial profit,” he told Dziennik. “Procedures applied here were valid years ago, while now ecological recommendations are of higher importance.”

Kuijken’s report might result in the Bialowieska Forest being deprived of the certificate of the European Council. To prevent further loggings of the old-growth forest, WWF has launched a campaign to extend the Bialowieski National Park to cover the entire forest.

However, the campaign is certain to meet resistance from the local people, because many employers depend on the timber economy.

“No other trees are being logged other than the ones attacked by bark beetles,” said Bogumil Olszynski, a retired forester from Hajnowka, a town adjacent to the forest.
“There is no other way to fight the insect, as no chemicals are allowed in the park area.”

Still, WWF and other environmental organizations hope that the new Polish minister of the environment will take their appeals into account.

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