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To log or not to log: Poland’s forest legacy.

By JW Dowey - 26 Mar 2016 13:15:0 GMT
To log or not to log: Poland’s forest legacy.

There are so many species in this biodiverse and primeval forest, you would think you were in SE Asia. The bison is very rare however, just like those endangered creatures of Asia and it and the forest should be an icon for people in the republics of Belarus and Poland. But is it? Bison bonasus image; Credit: © Shutterstock

The enormous Belarus/Polish forest of Bialowieza is known worldwide, if little visited in its remoteness. With a government that must continue its support for coal in this low-carbon world, we now have an extra threat to our environment concerning this great primeval wilderness. While logging on the Polish side has been allowed and privileged kings may go and shoot rare animals like Bison bonasus, the main threat to the inspirational future this stretch of land may have has been the spruce bark beetle.

Yesterday, however, we have an uninspired government allowing a large amount of logging, even considering the vast 141,885 hectares of Bialowieza. The Belovezhskaya Pushcha forest on the Belarus side of the border, keeps animals and loggers at bay with a fence since the Soviet era, and is appreciated as a great National Park and of course this represents an attraction for visitors.

The new logging rule is supposed to allow not only 40,000m3 per decade, but to add an extra 140,000m3. This is arguably a good way of restricting the spread of the ubiquitous spruce bark weevil, Dendroctonus micans. Such an excuse used by the Environment Ministry is strangely lacking in scientific back-up and has no support anywhere in conservation groups. The acceptable way to fight any damaging outbreaks is to use a natural predator, Rhizophagus grandis (surprisingly, a ladybird relative, not a root-eater.) Achieving 80% success rates, the entomologists believe this action alone would suffice in some infestation cases, but ecologies of different trees and variables in the habits of the prey beetle, a weevil, include brood chamber sizes and annual cycles. So is this purely a political move to allow business interests greater profits? Poles could probably tell you, and may vote for their conservation preferences. Their government believes that apparently, we're acting to curb the degradation of important habitats, to curb the disappearance and migration of important species from this site!

The consequences for the forests are as complicated as the machinations of the administration. Bison represent one aspect that can easily be understood. Since German soldiers wiped out the species in Bialowieza, and many people too, the struggle in Poland has been to maintain the animals with a greatly-reduced gene pool. Throughout Europe the bison has struggled since semi-extinction in 1919. In prehistoric times, the animal was well-used, even as far back as when it was used to make microblades by Neanderthals This one great forest is so big, there is no need for wildlife corridors among the ancient lowland trees such as the great oaks (for example, the incredibly old Patriarch Oak) and Acer, birch and fir. If that pesky fence is removed between Belarus and Poland, all 4-legged creatures will be better-served. Some natural interbreeding with the 2 nations’ bison populations could be as fruitful as the rewilding that has spread bison throughout much of Europe in small numbers. There are still more black rhino in Africa (despite their terrible fate, for the sake of infertile old men.)

Of the 20,0000 recorded animal species in Bialowieza, most have been there, with innumerable plants and others, for 10,000 years. Such a record inspired inclusion as one of the most important World Heritage sites in conservation. The many undisturbed ecosystems (wetland/river corridors/different woodland) the lack of agricultural activity and height of the (uninfected) trees alone inspires those who appreciate wilderness, from big-game hunters to insect-collectors. Bears and wolves abound, so you could almost be in one of the few remaining wildernesses in North America. But Europe is a smaller, highly-populated place, with paltry bits of remaining wood containing few mammals and less butterflies and birds every year. We really need this woodland, Poland, but not as chips for our synthetic furniture.