Destruction of the primeval forest of Bialowieza
By: BSc. T. Koster, BSc. W. Langedijk, B. van der Linden and BSc. H. Smeenge
Fall 2003

The Bialowieza forest
On the border of Poland and Byelorussia the 8000-year-old forest of Bialowieza is located. The forest can be seen as an endless mosaic consisting of swamps, peat bog, and numerous brooks and rivers run through the forest with river dunes and -valleys accompanying them. This is the habitat of Wolf, Lynx, Moose en European Bison to name a few rare species on top of the food chain. This is the last European jungle, this is the primeval forest of Bialowieza.

Polish kings and Russian tsars

Once Bialowieza was in the heart of an enormous forest. Protected for centuries by Polish kings and Russian Tsars to serve as private hunting grounds. Because of the strict rules concerning exploitation and colonisation by civilians, nature could maintain itself and species such as European bison could still be found here. When Poland's new frontiers were drawn after the Second World War, the forest was divided into two parts measuring 150.000 hectares in total. 62.500 hectares of which are located on the Polish side and 87.500 hectares on the Byelorussion side. In 1921 Bialowieza National Park was founded by whom 5.000 hectares of forest were declared Strict Nature Reserve. In here, hunting, motorised traffic and logging were completely prohibited. In these regions of the forest are still the most valuable, old and undisturbed stands located. In 1996 the Strict Nature Reserve was enlarged with another 5.000 hectares, now measuring 10.000 hectares (16% of the entire forest on Polish ground). The remaining 52.500 hectares (84% of the entire forest on Polish ground) is, besides some small reserves (3% of the entire forest on Polish ground), used for commercial exploitation. Up to last year this mend that, under strict conditions, the forest could be exploited for local use. Trees over 100 years old were excluded from commercial use and gaps (logging areas) were not allowed to be larger then 0.5 hectares. This extensive way of managing the forest only had a negligible effect on its further undisturbed condition. Preserving the forest structure by cutting down individual trees only, everything occurred in complete harmony with the natural dynamics of a forest. This causes a preservation of
rare flora and fauna and primeval relicts.

From protection toward destruction

The Polish government had developed a policy in case of forest management in 1999 under the name "The Contract for Bialowieza Forest". This plan was based on the possibilities for forest protection on one hand and on the other hand enhance of social-economical position of the local inhabitants. The essential of the plan is a differentiation in zones where strict protection of the highest nature values are present as well sustainable timber for local needs is possible. The plan also involved stimulation of social- economical circumstances by the development of eco-tourism. Implementation of the plan would lead to the extension of the National Park for the total forest. At the same time a Danish organisation DANCEE (Danish Cooperation for the Environment in Eastern Europe) developed an alternative plan for the future of the Bialowieza forest. This plan opts for
sustainable forestry. This way of forestry is almost completely implemented in Western Europe to convert past homogeneous production forest into now a day multiple use forests. Nature qualities are a result of human actions in their opinion and are subordinate to economical interests. DANCEE sidelined the Polish government by support of the Polish forestry sector and the local authorities. The
well accepted policy of the government was at once undermined and rejected. The current implementation of management forms from production-oriented forests is a threat to the unique nature qualities that are present in this forest area. The future of the Bialowieza forest is very uncertain at the moment.