Ancient Białowieża Forest facing major destruction

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By Grzegorz Mikusinski & Malgorzata Blicharska

When you travel through European plains, you can hardly see any old forest — not to mention any sizable blocks of it. As in any other place on the Earth with long history of human use, basically all land covered with fertile soils has been converted to farmland or developed into urbanised area. There is one major exception: the Białowieża Forest located at the Polish-Belarussian border.

The majority of forests stands in this UNESCO World Heritage site has never been cut there due to continuous protection. First, the crowned heads kept it as a game reserve. Later came modern forms of protection such as national park and nature reserves covering parts of the Białowieża Forest. Also, parts of the Forest managed by the National Forest Holding from the middle of 20th century were subject to special management regime, adjusted to the particular character of this place, with limited logging activities.

Highly worrying for us, researchers working with biodiversity, the newly appointed Minister of the Environment is about to sign a decision allowing for massive logging in the ancient Białowieża Forest, a unique place, well-known for anyone working with conservation biology.

The Białowieża Forest represents remnant of the temperate broad-leaved forest that once covered most of European plain. That forest in its primeval character, is now reduced to ca. 0.2 % of its original area. The forest is not huge; slightly over 1,500 km2. Still, some hundreds of European bison roam there; there are populations of large carnivores like wolf and lynx and many other species that are rare elsewhere.

To us, as scientists studying biodiversity, the main value of the Białowieża Forest is accumulated in a massive occurrence of large and old trees, high amounts of dead-wood and natural dynamics of forest stands all being very unique to —> Read More