Bialowieza Forest with conflict in the background

Puszcza Białowieska z konfliktem w tle

Although the meeting of the Climate and Environment Committee took place more than a month ago, it still evokes a lot of extreme emotions. The changes announced during the debate on the conservation of Central Europe’s largest and oldest primary forest have increased the activity of local authorities in the wilderness area and contributed to certain actions on their part. The Bialowieza Forest has taken center stage. Is everyone driven by concern for its preservation?

Bialowieza Forest – emergency situations of recent years

Belovezhskaya Pushcha, considered the last natural forest of primary character in lowland Europe, is a unique relic of forest landscapes that date back to Old Glacial times. Stretching on the Polish-Belarusian border, the forest complex with an area of about 1,500 km² has preserved in its oldest fragments the structure of the primeval forest, which is a unique natural heritage not only for Poland, but also for the whole of Europe.

Bialowieza National Park, which covers part of the Bialowieza Forest, provides protection for its rich flora and fauna, including more than 800 species of vascular plants, nearly 200 species of mosses, and more than 8,000. invertebrate species, 120 species of breeding birds and 52 species of mammals. A symbolic image of the restoration of the Bialowieza Forest ecosystem is the success of the restitution of the bison, whose population was destroyed after World War I, and today the number of these majestic animals in the Forest reaches almost 1,000 individuals.

The Bialowieza Forest in recent years has been exposed not only to the adverse effects of external factors, but also internal ones. The biodiversity and natural balance of the forest is threatened by the emigration crisis across our country’s eastern border – the construction of a metal dam on the Polish-Belarusian border, but also by government decisions that are serious for the forest in their consequences. In 2017, the then-director of the State Forests issued a decision authorizing massive logging on 2/3 of the Bialowieza Forest, not sparing stands more than a century old.

Ministry plans

The current government, including the Ministry of Economic and Monetary Affairs. The Climate and Environment Council seems to know the gravity of the situation. The State Council for Nature Protection has been established, the implementation of conservation projects has been announced, and the recruitment for the position of director of the Bialowieza National Park has been opened. An expression of concern for the preservation of this pristine area in Poland is brought in 2018. a recommendation from UNESCO, which, in an effort to counter massive deforestation, requested that an integrated management plan be drawn up for the Bialowieza Forest as a world heritage site.

On February 13 of this year, a Senate meeting of the Climate and Environment Committee was held, during which members of the assembly presented proposals for actions that would preserve the Bialowieza Forest’s status as a world heritage site. The wilderness has been on the List consistently since 1979. The first and most important step leading to this goal, according to Senator Stanislaw Gawlowski, is to ensure a unified management system for the entire area. Currently, the Bialowieza Forest area consists of a 10-hectare National Park and forest districts within the structure of the State Forests.

This meeting of the Senate committee became the driving force for the work in this area at the Ministry of Climate and Environment. The law, called the Constitution, is intended to regulate the management of the Bialowieza Forest. This is what Climate Minister Paulina Hennig-Kloska said about the new regulations: She is also associated with this integrated plan. This is an extremely important part of our work in the Environment Department. (…) I believe that in a few weeks we will be able to show some concrete assumptions of the law, which will be the constitution for the Białowieża Forest.

Another important point to facilitate the protection of the Bialowieza Forest is an inspection by experts from the World Heritage Center and the International Union for Conservation of Nature. UNESCO representatives received a working version of the Integrated National Heritage Management Plan.

Voices of discontent

The committee meeting cited the results of a survey by the Ipsos studio, which indicated that 98 percent. Poles advocate that the Bialowieza Forest be protected throughout its entire territory. Nonetheless, the first dissenting voices were already raised during the debate. Among others, they reacted negatively. Local government representatives from the Hajnówka district, who accused lawmakers of failing to consult with local communities.

On March 25, the Podlaskie Voivodeship Assembly issued an official statement noting that the pending bill could lead to an increase in unemployment, restrictions on investment opportunities and the free use of inhabited land by local communities. Local government officials stress that the current draft law should be replaced by another version, developed with the participation of all stakeholders. The assembly’s position is to go to the ruling authorities and the European Commission.

The dispute seems to be growing with each passing day, despite Minister Paulina Hennig-Kloska’s assurances during a recent meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Environmental Protection that the National Park enlargement project does not have legislative status. The ministry faces quite a challenge. Continued assurances from its representatives to engage in discussions with local communities give hope that the conflict will be resolved. The minister said recently: Listening to the voice of the local community, to their needs and demands, will be our guidepost.

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