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!

Monday, 11 March 2019

The Conference ”Forest at Risk: Białowieża and beyond”

The Conference ”Forest at Risk: Białowieża and beyond”

Forests once dominated the world –from open savannas to dense moist stands with giant trees. Millions of species evolved to inhabit these forests and together with climate and soil conditions formed complex, rich and fascinating ecosystems. Today the pattern is different. We humans have transformed vast areas of the global forests to systems that provide for our needs – and increasingly not just basic needs but also for our greed. And one third of the Planet’s forests has even vanished completely. This situation was the basic motivation for the conference held in Warsaw during February 12-15, 2019, including an excursion to the Białowieża forest in eastern Poland. Białowieża was also the particular case and example of a threatened forest at the forefront of the conference. It is the last largest temperate old-growth forest in lowland Europe, with substantial fragments of close-to-primeval forests left. Despite its unique status, forest management continue and threatens its natural values. Unfortunately, Białowieża is only one example of the threats to the ever-decreasing area of natural forests worldwide.

The attendees of the conference ”Forest at Risk: Białowieża and beyond” (photo: Nuria Selva)

Around 150 participants attended the conference, coming from 24 countries. It included almost 70 oral presentations and more than 40 posters with topics spanning from tropical regions to northernmost Russia and across a large range of forest types and conservation issues. The conference provided valuable exchange of perspectives among researchers, including the full range from young PhD-students to senior professors, as well as linking these to conservation managers in the field. Talking of senior professors. The conference proudly welcomed five prominent plenary speakers from three continents. Bill Sutherland kicked the conference off by addressing “Forest management in a changing world”. In the course of the programme, the audience enjoyed extended talks by David Lindenmayer, Mac Hunter, Robin Chazdon, and Pierre Ibisch. Their topics ranged from how to define natural forests, over shortcomings of forest management and policy, to restoration options, thereby taking the participants on a journey across the world.
Nevertheless, the conference put a certain focus on the scientific input to the conservation of Białowieża Forest. Many of the presentations during the conference directly related to this forest and gave an up-to-date overview of the massive research being done there. This in itself underpins the importance of Białowieża as a central area for increased knowledge on how natural forests function and what regulates forest biodiversity. To further support the protection of the forest, the conference finally issued a resolution calling for extending the national park, stopping all forestry operations, while securing the needs of the local population. A previous blog post published here provides more information on the resolution “Białowieża Forest: Hands off and eyes on!”.

From left: Robin Chazdon, Bill Sutherland (behind), David Lindenmayer and Bogdan Jaroszewicz in Białowieża Forest (photo: Nuria Selva)

The next day, sixty attendees of the conference proceeded from Warsaw to Białowieża Forest itself to continue discussions on-site. Białowieża-experienced researchers guided smaller groups through areas heavily impacted from logging just outside the national park. The week in Poland ended with an extended walk across the national park’s untouched core zone, compellingly showing how much time it takes for natural processes and forest structures to develop, and how little time for humans to waste substantial parts of this heritage.

The Europe Section of the Society for Conservation Biology is proud to have been involved in the conference as co-organizer together with the University of Warsaw, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, University of Wrocław and the Institute of Nature Conservation at the Polish Academy of Sciences. We especially would like to thank Bogdan Jaroszewicz and his team for all their work to make this event successful and a milestone in the continued work to save the Białowieża forest and other forests at risk.

Bengt Gunnar Jonsson, SCB-Europe Section President

Stefan Kreft, SCB-Europe Policy Committee Chair

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