We want you to know what is going on in the BOD, our meetings, our actions, members leaving, the new ones elected,... but text written in this blog cannot be taken an official position or statement of the Society for Conservation Biology. Probably it is not even an official statement of the section... as these need to be approved by the members.

Monday, 29 February 2016

Białowieża Forest at risk due to proposed management measures

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Proposed policy changes to the 2012-2021 Forest Management Plan by the Polish Government threaten the integrity of Białowieża Forest and risks losses in species diversity and ecological processes, according to an article published in the February 25th issue of Nature that highlights recent commentaries from three Polish scientists about their concerns around the proposed policy changes.

Białowieża Forest

‘Białowieża Forest represents a unique reference in Europe, and a fascinating source of scientific knowledge. Different forest types and high structural diversity result in an exceptional biodiversity fully justifying its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More than 12,000 articles in Google Scholar are returned when typing the word “Białowieża”, and more than 4,000 scientific publications are derived from studies conducted in Białowieża Forest,’ said Dr Nuria Selva, Associate Professor at the Institute of Nature Conservation, Polish Academy of Sciences, who studies wildlife conservation and policy.

Supplementing the correspondence in Nature, the Society for Conservation Biology European Section (SCB-ES) wrote a letter to the Polish Prime Minister, Polish President, European Commissioner, UNESCO and Council of Europe expressing concern about the Polish Governments plans to modify the existing 2012-2021 Forest Management Plan for Białowieża Forest. In the letter, Dr Selva and SCB-ES colleagues highlight that the forestry practices proposed in an amended Annex set out by the Polish Government, such as salvage logging as a response to bark beetle outbreaks, break the limits of timber extraction established in the Forest Management Plan 2012-2021, and are not only unnecessary for the protection of the Białowieża Forest, but are counterproductive. The proposed changes to the 2012-2021 Forest Management Plan have met strong opposition from Dr Selva and Polish colleagues as well.

‘Białowieża Forest should be governed mainly by natural forces, not by standard silvicultural measures. Proposed silvicultural measures, whose origin is in timber production, not biodiversity protection, ignore the key role of bark beetles in forest dynamics and processes. Numerous species, like the three-toed woodpecker, depend on these ecological engineers, and will be negatively affected by the planned changes in the management of this Natura 2000 site,’ said Dr Selva.


Dr Nuria Selva, nuriselva@gmail.com, Polish Academy of Sciences.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Past, present and future of Białowieża Forest: reflections from the Society for Conservation Biology’s European Section

Białowieża Forest is a large forest fragment in Eastern Europe. Different forest types and high structural diversity result in an exceptional biodiversity in Białowieża Forest. More than 17,000 plant and animal species have been recorded in Białowieża Forest. However, despite these ecological values, the forest is currently under threat from unprecedented logging proposed by the new Polish government, ostensibly to halt an outbreak of bark beetle (Scolytinae subfamily). SCB-ES recently checked in with member, Nuria Selva of the Institute of Nature Conservation, Polish Academy of Sciences in Kraków, Poland, to find out more about the potential changes in environmental policy in Poland, and how this could affect both the management and protection of Białowieża Forest. 

SCB European Section member Dr. Nuria Selva.

SCB-ES: What is Białowieża Forest and where is it?

Selva: Białowieża Forest, located in the Polish-Belarussian borderland, is the last well-preserved lowland temperate forest in Europe. Most of the forests that once covered the lowland plains of Europe disappeared long ago. Białowieża is the only lowland forest fragment that has persisted through centuries. The persistence of this forest fragment is thanks to long-standing protection set into place by Lithuanian dukes, Polish kings and Russian czars. Industrial exploitation of the forest started over 100 years ago, during WWI. However, historical timber harvesting didn’t result in complete modification or loss of intact forest remnants. Still, old-growth forest stands are an important part of the Białowieża Forest. It is a highly resilient system, where numerous ecological processes and phenomena that have otherwise vanished from the European continent can still be observed. 

Map of Białowieża Forest; under proposed policy changes it could lose UNESCO World Heritage status.

SCB-ES: From our interactions on social media it would seem Białowieża Forest is a special place to many people. Can you tell us more about the forest and species that live there?

Selva: Actually, it is a very special place. To me, the most amazing feature of Białowieża Forest is the close link between life and death. Most trees (except for those logged and extracted) are born and die naturally. A typical Białowieża picture is that of hundreds of tree seedlings strongly competing to grow close to large lying dead trees, which provides them protection and nutrients. These are the forces that for thousands of years have shaped Białowieża Forest and still act today.

The forest lies in the transition of the nemoral and boreal zone, including numerous forest types from deciduous oak-lime-hornbeam and alderwoods to bog-pine forest and taiga-like forest dominated by spruce. The most characteristic features of Białowieża Forest are the forest stands supporting big-old trees (e.g. oaks >400 years old and up to 40 m tall) and expansive tracks of large-dead-wood. These forest stands are especially important to species such as the three-toed woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus). Numerous species of fungi and insects that are connected with dead wood are also present in these old forests, some of them quite rare or relict, and new species are still being discovered. Roughly 5,000 species of fungi and 10,000 species of insects are estimated to inhabit the area. The most emblematic animal is the European bison (Bison bonasus); Białowieża Forest holds the largest population in the world of this species. In addition to the old trees and emblematic species, the forest ecosystem is widely shaped by pulsed resources, like oak masting, rodent fluctuations, winter carrion pulses and caterpillar outbreaks.

European Bison (Bison bonasus) in Białowieża Forest.

SCB-ES: How is the forest valued by the local people/communities?

Selva: In the last century, local people were mostly connected to logging by the Polish State Forest Administration. However, the local economy has been changing and currently more and more local people depend on non-exploitative activities linked to nature tourism and research. Compared to other regions of Eastern Poland, where the forests are intensively logged, Białowieża Forest region has much lower unemployment. Logging benefits a reduced group of people. Consequently, local people, particularly young people, have a wider perspective of the benefits and opportunities that can be gained from protecting Białowieża Forest.  

SCB-ES: It sounds like changes could be afoot with regards to how Białowieża Forest is managed, can you tell us more about this?

Selva: For the last 25 years, after political changes in Poland, a strong campaign supported by scientists and environmental non-government organizations (NGOs), has been pushing for better protection of Białowieża Forest. During this time, the National Park of Białowieża Forest was enlarged, and a large network of reserves was created. In 2012, the 10-year Forest Management Plan was approved for the non-protected part of the forest. Major components of this management plan was to limit timber extraction to 48,000 m3/year, enough to fulfil the local needs, and to set non-intervention practices into place for forest stands >100 years old. In 2014, the UNESCO World Heritage was extended to the whole Białowieża Forest (previously only the National Park was included). However, now, the Polish Government wants to make changes to the Forest Management Plan (as an annex to the official document) to increase the levels of timber extraction, log stands with trees >100 years old, and intense logging of spruces infected by a bark beetle outbreak. The logging industry and Polish Ministry of Environment claim that such measures are needed for the protection of the forest, but are vague about what exactly will remain protected and what will be logged. Under the proposal, more than 40% of the planned harvest will impact species other than spruces (spruces are the primary species affected by the bark beetle).

SCB-ES: If the proposed policy changes are put into place, are there potential impacts? What could it mean for the forest and species that live there?  

Selva: The impacts of increased timber harvesting in Białowieża Forest could be enormous, detrimental and, given the large scale, almost irreversible. First, species connected to infected spruces, like the three-toad woodpecker, and a whole bunch of natural enemies of the bark beetles, will be negatively affected. Second, the forest dynamics and processes connected to gaps created by bark beetles, such as enhanced natural regeneration of spruce and oak, could be disrupted. Instead, forest clear cuts, soil destruction after heavy machinery, reduction in the amount of dead wood, and tree planting with protection against herbivory, among others, will be promoted. Third, the changes proposed by the Polish Government will reduce our ability to see how a resilient forest can manage itself and recover from a natural disturbance whose frequency is increasing due to climate warming. Białowieża Forest is a reference ecosystem and gathering scientific data on how natural forests respond to global change will be extremely important for restoration of managed forests. Finally, Białowieża Forest will lose its character. The name for Białowieża Forest in Polish is ‘Puszcza’, which means ‘left alone and out of control’, but under the intense forestry management proposed by the Polish Government the forest will lose more of its untouched forest stands and face broader-scale timber harvesting. In this case, after several years, the forest is likely to resemble a typical commercial forest rather than ‘Puszcza’.

Białowieża Forest.

SCB-ES: What is the Society for Conservation Biology European Section’s position on these potential policy changes?

Selva: SCB-ES has always supported the protection of old-growths and forests worldwide. In fact it is one of our priorities, and focuses in terms of where we invest our policy efforts. SCB-ES had followed the case of Białowieża Forest by passing Resolutions and informing policy-makers about the potential negative implications of their decision making on the state of the forest. It has strongly advocated for the full protection of natural forests and non-intervention practices. We, the policy committee of SCB-ES, have just submitted letter to the Polish Minister of the Environment asking them to make all efforts to keep up the implementation and enforcement of the approved Forest Management Plan 2012-2021 and to abstain from changing it. We have also communicated our concerns about the potential policy changes around the management and protection of Białowieża Forest more broadly through correspondence in the scientific journal, Nature. 


Nuria Selva, nuriselva(at)gmail(dot)com
Steph Januchowski-Hartley, stephirenee(at)gmail(dot)com

This interview was conducted by SCB European Section Board Member, Dr Stephanie (Steph) Januchowski-Hartley (http://srjanuchowski-hartley.com/). You can follow Steph on Twitter @ConnectedWaters to hear more about fishes, Environmental Policy, SciComm and all things in between. 

Thursday, 25 February 2016

SCB European Section scientists express concern over proposed logging expansion in Białowieża Forest

Białowieża Forest is threatened by proposed changes to the Polish Government’s Forest Management Plan, which would allow for increased timber harvest. The Society for Conservation Biology’s European Section (SCB-ES) has reacted to this proposed change by sending a letter (see below) to the Polish Ministry of Environment. SCB-ES has followed the case of Białowieża Forest for a decade now and continues supporting the protection of old-growth forest stands in the forest and elsewhere in Europe. These European activities form part of the Society for Conservation Biology's Global Forest Initiative

On 18th February 2016, SCB-ES sent the following letter by post to the Polish Ministry of Environment with copies to the Polish Prime Minister, Polish President, European Commissioner, UNESCO and Council of Europe. In addition, on 24th February 2016, the SCB-ES President, Dr Piero Visconti also emailed the letter to the Polish Ministry of Environment.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

SCB Europe Section Board Elections Now Open

Attention all SCB Europe Members it is time to get your vote on! 

Vote for a new board member! We have two outstanding nominees, Cheli Cresswell & Petra Mihalic. Learn more by logging into conbio.org and going to your member area. In your member area you can read about both candidates and cast your vote! Voting closes March 3rd!

Happy voting! 

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Seeking nominations: SCB European Section Board Member

Hello out there! One SCB Europe Board position has opened up and we are seeking nominations!

If you are an official SCB Europe member and interested in serving on the board, please take note that applications are due by 31 January 2016. Please note that all applications should be sent to Stephanie Januchowski-Hartley, SCB – Europe Section board member and section secretary stephierenee[at]gmail[dot]com. More details about the post as well as the nomination form are posted below!

We are excited to welcome a new member to the board!
Posted by S. Januchowski-Hartley on behalf of the European Section board - 21 January 2016.

European Section Board Member Agreement

As of January 2016, the European Section of the Society for Conservation Biology has a 'Board Member Agreement' that outlines our board's mission, values, and expectations of our board members. We are providing it here for easy access to our members, and to make it available for thew view of standing and incoming board-members. All standing and incoming European Section board members are expected to sign and uphold this agreement throughout the duration of their term.

Published by S. Januchowski-Hartley on behalf of the European Section Board - 21 January 2016.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

What is the European Union ‘fitness check’ and why should we care?

The European Commission’s review of the Birds and Habitats Directives under the Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT) is a prominent topic in European nature conservation policy this year, and we here at Society for Conservation Biology - European Section (SCB-ES), have been following the process closely. Decisions made under this review could have substantial implications for biodiversity conservation across the EU. The Nature Directives provide the cornerstone of EU conservation legislation, protecting all wild birds, over 1000 other rare and endemic species, and over 200 habitat types, whilst also underpinning the Natura 2000 network of protected areas.

SCB-ES recently checked in with member, and former president, Professor Martin Dieterich, to find out more about the ‘Fitness Check’ of the Nature Directives and REFIT processes.* Professor Dieterich is a conservation biologist at the Landscape and Plant Ecology Institute, Agricultural University of Hohenheim (Germany). He has worked extensively on EU protected grassland habitats and species, and has also been involved in Natura 2000 management planning. Prof. Dieterich has been following the ‘Fitness Check’ process closely and recently visited Brussels to take part in the REFIT Conference summarizing the results of the process and providing last minute opportunities for stakeholder involvement.

Professor Martin Dieterich. Courtesy: Bajomi Bálint.

SCB-ES: Why is the European Union conducting a ‘fitness check’ of the EU Nature Directives?

Dieterich: The Fitness Check of the Nature Directives is part of the EU's REFIT established to assess the suitability of EU regulations in general. It is not specifically targeted at or restricted to the Nature Directives: Fitness checks are conducted to make EU legislation fit for purpose. The Nature Directives were on a list introduced by the new Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, but why they were selected for the fitness check still remains unclear.

SCB-ES: Can you summarize the key processes being undertaken in the ‘fitness check’ and tell us what the EU hopes to gain from this process?

Dieterich: In short, the EU hopes to streamline legislation in a quest to reduce bureaucracy. There was a pre-consultation of selected stakeholders across Member States via a questionnaire supported by interviews. The pre-consultation covered a broad array of stakeholders, but as far as I know the science community was not openly engaged in this process. Then, there was a web-based public consultation that yielded a record of more than 550 thousand responses from all over the EU. Finally, the REFIT conference in Brussels provided a venue for the EU to present the outcome from the consultation process and to present results from commissioned research.

European Roller (Coracias garrulous). Credit: Bajomi Bálint.

SCB-ES: What led to the discussions about the ‘fitness check’ of Europe’s Nature Directives among conservation professionals at ICCB-ECCB 2015 in Montpellier?

Dieterich: There was concern from conservation scientists, administrations and non-government groups that the fitness check would be used to open and subsequently weaken the directives. In other words, if legal flexibility was added to the directives it could relax the fairly-strict requirements e.g. for impact assessments prior to proposed development projects. Such ‘relaxing’ would strongly undermine the directives. In preparing for the Montpellier symposium, we also noticed that the independent science community was hardly at all represented in working groups linked to the implementation of the directives. Consequently, these discussions and related concerns resulted in the SCB-ES Policy Committee writing a consensus statement on the need to strengthen the EU legal framework for nature conservation and incorporate scientists and science more actively in the process.

SCB-ES: What do you believe are key values of the EU Nature Directives that require consideration under the ‘fitness check’?

Dieterich: Ideally, I think, there is a need for more flexibility in terms of the annexes, probably a distinct addressing of areas with no or limited human intervention (e.g. remote mountain areas, nearly pristine forests), because these areas also are a key component of nature conservation in the EU. Otherwise, the directives are a beautiful piece of legislation that in very simple terms combines strict protection with a certain flexibility in terms of application and possibilities for some development to continue even within Natura 2000 sites, provided there is appropriate environmental compensation assuring continued or improved conservation status of species and habitats concerned. Importantly, the directives shift the burden of proof from conservation to development, meaning that proposed development has to prove there is no harm, rather than conservation having to prove harmful effects from a proposed project. 

Unlike similar regulation in other countries or regions, such as the United States’ Endangered Species Act, the directives also link site and species protection, they request overall coherence as a potentially important factor for favorable conservation status and they explicitly point to the need for scientific input with regards to the delineation of protected sites, how the directives are put into effect and how success is determined (monitoring).

Credit: Bajomi Bálint.

SCB-ES: Are there any possible negative outcomes that could result from the ‘fitness check’? If so, what are these?

Dieterich: In my opinion, the key negative outcome would be addition of more legal flexibility in terms of implementation. Such flexibility would subsequently weaken court cases and thus weaken the overall implementation of the directives.

SCB-ES: What do you believe is the best way forward for the EU and the Nature Directives?

Dieterich: In the legal sense, leave the directives as they are. However, the EU ideally needs to find a mechanism to update the Annexes. The Annexes hold the species and habitat types of "community interest", i.e. those species and habitats for which reserves have to be delineated or species that are under strict protection anywhere in the EU territory. In times of climate change, in particular, environments are variable, and many species could become more threatened for various reasons and subsequently warrant protection. It is also clear that some taxa and habitat types remain underrepresented or not represented at all in the directives. Updating the Annexes would allow the directives to have a broader reach and a greater flexibility to ensure adequate representation of species and habitats at greatest risk of further declines and loss.

In the practical sense, there is a need for effective implementation of the EU nature directives and associated policies. Through the Fitness Check, poor implementation has been unanimously identified as a prominent deficiency by diverse stakeholders. I think that effective implementation of the directives calls for more scientific involvement. The science community will have to pose themselves the question on how they want to address this need for more application targeted research in ecology and conservation science, rather than continuing a quest for general principles that in a field of science relating to context bound implementation often do not exist. Conservation biology urgently needs more science that is fit for application. 

SCB-ES: Many thanks to Prof. Dieterich for all of his time on this interview and for his commitment to improving our understanding of the European Union 'Fitness Check'. Remember, to stay up to date with the initiatives of the SCB-ES, and to get involved, follow us on Twitter @SCBEurope or on Facebook. If you have questions or comments about this post, or any of our other projects/initiatives, please contact us on Twitter, Facebook or email us at europe (at) conbio (dot) org.

*This interview was conducted by SCB-ES Board Member, Dr Stephanie Januchowski-Hartley. You can follow Steph on Twitter @ConnectedWaters to hear more about Fishes, Environmental Policy, SciComm and all things in between.