The goal of our Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) Europe Section Blog is to share stories and relevant information about activities going on within our section and more broadly in the conservation community. Stories and articles shared on our blog should not be taken as an official position or statement of SCB or SCB Europe Section. Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Reality check – reality shock: The Policy Committee holds its annual meeting in hard-fought Białowieża (Part I)

Post by Stefan Kreft, SCB Europe Section Policy Committee Chair 

*1 of 2 blog entries on Bialowieza Forest 

Some things you have to see with your own eyes to believe. We thought we went prepared, but what we saw in Białowieża Forest was worse, much worse than we could have imagined. What we witnessed can only be called deliberate destruction.

As part of SCB’s Global Forest Initiative, the Europe Section has stood up for conservation of Białowieża Forest through many years of its complex history. Scientists work with evidence, and the Policy Committee subscribes to this principle. As credible information, let alone solid data, are hard to get these days when it comes to Białowieża, we decided to hold our annual meeting right (7-8 Oct) in the middle of the mayhem and find out by ourselves.

If you want to see primeval lowland forest in Europe, you will go to Białowieża National Park in Poland. Actually, there is nowhere else to go anymore, anywhere Europe. This national park, of 10,500 hectares, is embedded in the Białowieża Forest. This forest region covers 150,000 hectares and stretches to both sides of the Polish-Belarusian border. Its ‘skeleton’ are sizeable tracts of old growth characterized by trees of 150 years age or more. These tracts have an eminent conservation value in themselves, and they are also essential for the national park, the primeval ‘heart’ of the forest. The Białowieża Forest nomination as a transboundary UNESCO World Heritage site was extended to almost the entire forest in 2014.

Forest loss 2000-2016 due to a combination of natural disturbances and clear-cutting in Białowieża Forest. Colour scale ranges from yellow (2000) to red (2016). The white circle indicates the approximate location of the logging sites we visited
(Hansen et al. 2013, in Google Earth Engine 2017).

In 2012, after years of advocating for appropriate conservation of the old growth surrounding it by a broad range of civil society actors, including SCB-Europe Section, the former Polish government finally issued a Natura 2000 management plan. This management plan did allow for continued use, but limited annual wood harvest volume. The government currently in charge has annihilated this cap and ordered extensive cuttings. The Minister for Environment Jan Szyszko claims that bark beetle colonization (‘outbreaks’) of local spruce stands must be fought back by ‘salvage loggings’ (see map above).
Forest ecologists counter that colonized spruces have mainly been planted and are now being reduced to more natural densities. Ecologists further protest exceedingly large-scale logging operations, bark beetles being nothing but an excuse for fighting back Polish, EU and UN conservation proponents. The issue has been taken to the EU Court of Justice by the Commission and is currently being dealt with.

We invite you to join us for a walk through Białowieża Forest and judge yourself. There are a many harvesters active at different places concurrently all over the forest, and we picked two logging sites in walking distance north of our home base in Teremiski, a village near the town of Białowieża.

We pass by towering stacks of logs.

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Upon arrival, a 360 degree view provides an overview of the scenery.

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Our long-standing PC member Nuria Selva explains to us that we are standing in a “Partial Protection Zone” of the world heritage site, prescribing non-intervention management. The reality, though, is different.

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Looking up, we see that the closed canopy has given way to large holes. We discuss the impacts and risks of large clear-cuts to the resilience of the forest against extreme events such as storms (Zdenka Krenova)…

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… and droughts (Stefan Kreft).

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Stay tuned for part 2 of this series on 16 November where we will scrutinize the harvesting sites in more into detail.


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