Primaeval Forest or No Primaeval Forest? Frank Verhart

The Bialowieza Forest is the last “primaeval forest” within the European lowland – it is a scarce and precious type of forest;

· On the change of the 20th into the 21st century decisions have been made that will at least influence the natural future of the forest during the coming hundreds of years – and possibly determine her future;

· It is a virgin forest, but it is not unassailable. We are able to preserve it – but as easily we are able to hurt its deepest souls and impose her onto a number of coming human generations in an unnatural state of desintegration.

As noted before, the Bialowieza Forest has preserved in Poland (and in Belarus). By this I mean that the soil of the forest is original and pure and that the types of forests actually present are still partially (nearly) undisturbed. Also it means that all biodiversity is directly connected to conditions like our climate, water economy and the everlasting competition of species. The great variation in species is apparent simply when we take into account the naturally occuring species of mammals that are ever present in the forest.

The European Bison (Bison bonasus), the largest mammal on the continent of Europe, is living in the woods of Bialowieza in a number of 550 specimens. It is the biggest population of wild living European bisons and one of thee populations on world scale that meets requirements for a lasting and stable local existence of the species.

Arguments for a strict reduction of harvesting wood in Bialowieza-

1. Forest developed naturally during 4.000 years. Bialowieza Forest developed itself since her coming in existence, ca. 4000 years ago, when the changing climate allowed the spontaneous growth of forests again. It developed itself into the natural forest which is (still) partially existing today. Without any appreciable human influence a stable system developed with a wide range of variation of well mixed types of woods. It is inconceivable to think that man is able to increase the ecological value of the remaining natural stands by means of multi-purpose forestry management principles. The most natural lowland forest of Europe. The Bialowieza forest is being characterised by specialists as the “most natural forest ecosystem within the temperate climate zone of the European lowland”. On other localities, especially on this scale, comparable conditions have been lost already a number of centuries ago.

The Past 10 years in Bialowieza

1994. Expansion of the Bialowieza National Park – now covering about 10.000 hectares or about 1/6th of the Polish part of the Bialowieza forest.

January 1, 1998. The Polish government introduces a strict ban on cutting and logging trees aged more than one hundred years. The new regulation offers a more or less efficient protection to the remaining stand of the original primeval forest. However, an exception on the new rule is made for those Spruces that are being “attacked” by Bark beetles. The result of this exception is that this tree species – which is one of the most economically valuable in the forest – is being cut, even within existing reserves, the Im. Szafera landscape reserve and the part of the Bialowieza National Park that has been added in 1996 to the existing National Park.

January 1, 2001. After more than a decade of preparations, research and proposed alternative ways of income for locals, the projected expansion of the Bialowieza National Park to cover the whole territory of the forest is being rejected by the Polish government.

July 1st, 2003. The ban on cutting trees aged over one hundred years is lifted by the newly elected government of Poland. As a consequence the level of harvesting wood in Bialowieza increases dramatically at once. The new management plan for Bialowieza allows an increase in the cutting activities from the 120.000 m3 to over 150.000 m3 starting in 2003! (according to Polish NGO’s citing the Polish State Forestry Administration statistics!). The abolishment of the prohibition again allows foresters to cut century-old Oaks and Lindens, which so far does not at all or seldomly happen since it is “common sense” amongst foresters and citizens of Bialowieza to respect these majestive trees. However, the law allows cutting of these trees since July 2003 and therefore strong supervision is a must to prevent that wood-cutting activities are being shifted to these old trees – that date back into the truly undisturbed primeval times of Bialowieza forest!

Leave a Reply