BARK BEETLES IN THE BELOVEZHSKAYA PUSHCHA

The article by Heorhi Kazulka, Philosophy Doctor of Biology,
Published in "Belorusskaya Lesnaya Gazeta" (The Byelorussian Forest Newspaper) Newspaper, No 26 (380),
July 11, 2002

The history of Belovezhskaya Pushcha includes "black pages" of times in which natural resources were exploited in such great volumes and in such a way that this unique forest was threatened with destruction. Returning to 20th century during German occupation in the First World War four timber processing plants were constructed, 300 kilometers narrow-gauge railways was put and 4.5 million cubic meters of excellent timber were delivered to Germany within a period of just two years.

The start of the third millennium will stay in our memory because of danger decisions that were made by the administration of Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park. Lead by general director Nickolai Bambiza it tried to organize sanitary clear cutting of living forest areas within the Regulated Nature Zone. A specific protective regime has to be applied here. However, trees were logged under the guise of fighting a struggle with bark beetles. Since the Second World War such strong management measures have not been executed in the Belarusian part of Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

A trouble is not alone

In 2001 a new wave of mass reproduction of bark beetle occurred. It did not only destroy trunks of spruces in Belarus, but also in Russia, the Baltic countries, Poland and other European countries. This outbreak was provoked by very unfavorable weather conditions which lasted several years in a raw. As a result spruces became extremely weak. Y. Marchenko, director of "Bellesozashchita", the state organ for forest protection and monitoring stated that 1.5 million cubic meters of spruce wood would be cut in Belarus in 2001, while an increase of this volume up to 2.5 or 3 million cubic meters was predicted for 2002. This invasion has also affected Belovezhskaya Pushcha. In our forest 300 infection centers were found according to data of the forest department. It states that about 70,000 cubic meters of spruce wood was affected over an area of 600 hectares in 2001.

This mass invasion of spruces by bark beetle has revealed the unawareness of local experts of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. This is not surprising. Monitoring the bug vermin and the long-term forecast of their development was not conducted properly. A regular account of the amount of forest harmful insects has not been made in autumn. A true scientific standard and connection with the Park's management was absent. This was a consequence of a policy which had been adopted over the last six years.

In 1994 the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park was transferred to the jurisdiction of the Property Management Department of the President. Ivan Titenkov, former head of this department, raised a motto: "Reserves and National Parks do not just have to earn income to keep their own business alive, they have to obtain finances as well for the Management Department". "You are walking on gold base", Ivan Titenkov liked to say. Therefore a new and strict management line was proclaimed. It targeted at commercialization of the Park's activities and the development of intensive economic businesses. Science and nature conservation, which even in the past had not been leading topics, were overshadowed even more. The park assigned managers which had no background at all connected with nature protection or wildness conservation. The new managers started to breed horses, geese and cows and they extended agricultural fields. At a certain moment they even started to develop the idea to establish a pig farm. They took over shops from the state, they arranged them under the administration of the Park and they started wide trade. Birch juice, mushrooms, berries and medicinal plants were procured in great volumes. They started to construct wood processing workshops and other smaller enterprises.

It is necessary to say that many of these "innovations" have not justified themselves. Some actions were adventurous at the beginning and have got a collapse; others proved to be unprofitable. You see foresters cannot simultaneously be horse- and goose-breeders. Then in 1998 an idea to construct a large wood processing plant in the village of Kamenyuki, the residential center of the National Park, was established. In order to equip that sawmill a huge loan was incurred. It amounted over 1.5 million USD. The National Park gradually turned into some kind of agro-industrial trading complex.

In this "complex" there was no place for forestry in its ordinary meaning. All year round foresters were involved in executing fellings. Financing the works on forest maintenance was very limited or the finance has been used sometimes to unclear tasks. Even execution of commercial plans of timber harvesting has been constantly suffering because of deficit finances to bay chain-saw spare parts and petrol.

A trouble is not alone. Simultaneously when the bark beetle appeared the President's Property Management Department appointed Nickolai Bambiza as the new general director. This was done in order to "break through" the situation. From the first days he lead the Park it was clear that the purposes, working methods and management principles of this man were far from ecological or pointed at wildness protection or conservation of biodiversity. The fact of the of cutting down of 15 living trees at the entrance of the National Park carried out by avoiding proper grounding and legal wood-cutting document that is the infringement of nature protection legislation became the confirmation of it. Immediately after he inspected the Pushcha he put a management line in order to cut the living forest. At once when the first traits of a bark beetle infection became apparent in spruce forests he issued an order to log out the affected plots. It included living stands in the Regulated Nature Zone (category II of protection). It did not result in an official sanction and the order was done without coordination with the Scientific Council of the Park and the Academy of Sciences.

It further appeared that the measures were insufficient. Nickolai Bambiza decided that pure forestry aimed methods should be used to manage the Pushcha. He initiated clear sanitary fellings in the Primeval Forest. In short time a commission consisted of ten members, in majority representatives of the Park's administration, experts of the Park's forest department and President's Property Management Department, was convened to serve that purpose. The commission justified clear felling on the area of 50 hectares within the protected territory as a suitable management principle. Documents to justify this method were prepared in secret. The main of them was so-called Act "On results of inspection of spruce trees in the National Park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha"" on June 27, 2001. The public and experts of the Park had no voice in this matter. The documents were handed over to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Protection and to the Forestry Committee. The necessary permission had been produced rapidly.

Even old inhabitants did not remember such an event. After the Second World War an unwritten law ruled the Belarusian part of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. It stated that no single living tree should be logged. Even if only a single branch of a tree is still alive that tree would stay alive untill its natural death. This Pushcha's law was strictly respected. However, the efforts made and the work done by several generations of scientists and associates in the Pushcha were crossed out in a single turn; their experience and knowledge were just thrown away.

However the "public safety" arose. This time Belovezhskaya Pushcha hosted an international seminar on implementation of the DANCEE project targeted nature protection, environmental education and tourism development by financing the Danish Agency of Nature Conservation of Environment. Journalists and associates of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Protection who participated in this seminar got to know about this "vague adventure". They raised noise. The media published scandalous articles in which the extended plans to fell parts of Belovezhskaya Pushcha were opened up.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Protection suspended the permission of clear fellings for sanitary reasons in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. The Minister L.Horuzhik established a Commission in order to study the feasibility and expediency of such clear cuttings (the order No 178 on July 24, 2004). The scientists and experts of the National Park, National Academy of Sciences, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Protection, Ministry of Forestry and the state organ for forest protection and monitoring "Bellesozashchita" were members of this Commission. Academician and Professor V.Parfenof, leading scientist and biologist of the Republic, was its head. The Commission gathered in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. It studied the matter in detail. It concluded by majority that clear sanitary fellings are inadmissible in the National Park, since this activity contradicts the very goals and purposes of the Park. The Commission also forbad to cut down separate spruce trees, affected by bark beetle but still living, if obvious attributes of their death are not appeared yet. However, the protocol as it was prepared by the Commission remained unsigned. The administration of the National Park and representatives of the President's Property Management Department were "offended" and refused to undersign the protocol.

After the Commission finished the work the administration of the Park addressed a letter to L.Horuzhik and V.Parfenof. On behalf of the administration and "old" workers of the Park they proved incorrectness of the Commission's decision and offered to reconsider it. In all nine people signed the letter. But for some reason three signatures were added to the end of the letter using a copy-machine and four ones were put on a new sheet. As then one explained some of people, in particular the forester Nickolai Marchuk, signed another letter but not that which was sent. That is why a copy-machine was necessary.

Then the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Protection ordered the Commission to gather once again on September 18 - 21, 2001. The Commission had more members at that moment. It reaffirmed that clear sanitary fellings in the living forest should be prohibited, while, as an exclusion, it allowed logging of spruces if they were freshly populated by bark beetle. This would be permitted in May and June. It allowed felling of pure spruce stands, which are not numerous in the Pushcha.

However the administration did not agree with these measures either. Nickolai Bambiza and the President's Property Management Department firmly kept following their management line. They demanded execution of clear fellings of living forest stands in protected quarters of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. As a result, the second document prepared by the Commission remained unsigned as well. Then numerous publications appeared in press where the administration of the National Park and the Property Management Department of the President accused the scientists.

However we will address to the facts and documents of those events that to put all in order and to puzzle out this "dark business". Whether is it true the scientists and the members of the Commission are guilty for spruce bark beetle which has "victoriously passed" across the spruce stands of Belovezhskaya Pushcha?

The first myth: the irresponsible scientists

The administration of the National Park constantly declares, including for the press, that the Commission forbad cuttings and therefore "bound hand and foot" of the administration to cut down freshly-affected woods in good time. Due to this, they said, the first generation of bark beetle successfully finished their development, then the bugs flew out and infected other trees. However the facts show another situation.

Even modestly competent experts on forest protection will confirm that bark beetle will have its greatest effect when infected trees are felled in May or June. In those months bark beetles have already settled themselves intensively in spruces. The first generation of the bug is being developed in those very months. As the fact, the Commission was assembled and worked on July 25 - 26, 2001. That means it was time as cuttings of spruce forest stands infested by bark beetles have been conducting already during two months and, therefore any commission or the scientists could not "prevent" from the administration to fight the bark beetle.

In the summer of 2001 many bark beetles grew up successfully. They flew out and infected other trees. The administration tried to blame scientists as "irresponsible" colleagues, but this was false reasoning. The spreading of insects was possible owing to the poor management which the National Park provided. Numerous violations were made in applying technologies to log trees which were infected by bark beetle. A group of Park's workers including me inspected some cutting areas on July 12. It proved to be that once trees were cut they were left on their felling ground for months. On the 5th of July 2001 1,019 cubic meters of logged forest were in the forest while on the 1st of October 2001 7,400 cubic meters of felled wood were lying on felling grounds and on the 1st of January 2002 a total of 15,608 cubic meters of cut wood were within the forest! The Commission which visited the forest also found out the not taken out wood, though the route of movement was set up beforehand by the administration of the Park. The impression raised that the efforts of logging were directed mainly at cutting as many trees as possible. The further fate of those trees seemed no to be any concern to the administration of the National Park.

Although an official permission had not been issued to execute clear sanitary fellings, still foresters were orally ordered by the director to cut living trees - it included trees which showed no traces of infestation by bark beetle. So during inspection on July 12, bark pieces from trees which have been recently felled were taken in the quarter 553. No beetles were present under bark of these trees. But many tens of such healthily trees were cutting only on one felling site of woodland! The Commission also revealed the same facts. Moreover, a big patch of healthy forest including spruce giant trees in the quarter 685 and 2.5 hectares of mixed wood stand (60% spruces, 30% pines, 10% birches and singly oaks) in one quarter 507 were unreasonably set for clear cutting. All these was fixed in the act of the Commission. To select trees for cutting the bark marks of the size like a palm of hand on spruce trucks were made by an axe. It proved to be that the majority of trees completely covered wounds by pitch for the week. It meant that these trees were very life-powerful so they had enough of pitch both to protect themselves from the bugs and to cover the damaged bark. But they including old-age trees with especially valuable genes have been selected for cutting!

The Commission noted that no efforts were made by the Park to find solutions in fighting bark beetles, apart from clear fellings. Neither pheromone traps were applied, nor trap wood were put. The first Commission forbade felling of living trees including infested ones as it understood the true purpose of these sanitary clear cuttings of living forest very well. It got confirmed of such practice through visual survey of felling plots as well as during discussions with the managers of the Park. The task had been set to maximize the supply of high quality timber for the powerful new sawmill. Hence, there was a serious danger that measures would be abused and cuttings would be conducted on healthy trees, with an interesting market price, under the guise of sanitary felling. In conditions of absence even of the elementary control from the public and scientists, such danger was very justified. This decision of the Commission was because of such the situation.

Instead of well-organized meeting of the Scientific Council and getting the official sanction to cut down the affected by bark beetle trees under control of scientists after the first features of bark beetle invasion appeared, Nickolai Bambiza supported by the Property Management Department of the President's Administration started to put in life sanitary clear cuttings of living forest in Belovezhskaya Pushcha as timber enterprises do it. Moreover these cuttings were doubtful relation to the struggle with bark beetle. Nickolai Bambiza did not accept even the compromise decision of the second commission, which permitted fellings of infected trees in May and June. His minimal require was to conduct sanitary clear cuttings of living wood.

The second myth: international experience

The administration of the National Park often says about the international practice. This is the quote "The international practice shows that the cutting down of recently populated trees is the most effective way to struggle with vermin" ("Zarya" Newspaper, December 18, 2001). But they forget to mention that this is the practice of the past and their declarations misinform the public and managers.

The international experience confirms another thing. The most effective way of the struggle with bark beetle is nowadays the combination of wood-log traps, pheromones, well-organized monitoring and competent forecast. Effect of fellings, especially if terms and technological discipline are broken by conducting, is very few or they even promote the spreading bark beetles. I put the concrete proofs. In 2000 I was lucky to visit some national parks in East and Western Europe including such the famous as "Bavarian Forest" in Germany and "Shumava" in Czech. In 1996 the very strong outbreak of bark beetle covered woods of these parks which are representing by mixed broadleaved-spruce stands in the valley mountain zone and pure spruce stands in the high mountain zone. The majority of these woods were artificially planted in the XX and XIX centuries what defines their very insatiability. The well-organized monitoring on the base of GIS and other modern software technologies allowed to make the good forecast of the outbreak beginning by experts of these parks and to point the most vulnerable spots.

These places were set up by wood-log and pheromone traps well in advance what allowed to attract the greatest amount of beetles to wood-log traps. After they settled logs and the first beetle generation started to grow these trees were taken out from the forest and replaced by other logs targeted the second generation of the bug. The pheromone traps have been also cleaned regularly. This well-organized work allowed to keep the significant part of the bark beetle population under control in these parks while the good-time felling of spruces in sites where the bark beetle affected trees resulted localization of the beetle.

The serious problem for these parks was to save the core, the reserved zone where wild nature and their processes are strictly protected while the human intervention is forbidden. But even extreme situation was not the reason to break legislation and natural process for Germans in the Bavarian Forest National Park. As a result, almost all area of pure mountain spruce forests in the strictly reserved zone (4.000 hectares) were lost for 2 years and turned to the dead wood.

Managers of the National Park "Shumava" in Czech avoided risk to allow the wild nature to "judge" all forests. Because of pressure of the public they took decision do not touch one of four parts of the spruce area in the reserved zone and to manage other tree parts (3.000 hectares) by putting wood-log traps and setting up pheromones for attacking bark beetles. The felling of the forest was forbidden in this zone. Infested by the beetle wood-log traps were not taken out from this zone but debarked in good. Further they were allowed to decay. This practice followed the natural process. As a result of such the "experiment" and of well-organized work of scientists and forest experts, pure spruce stands were saved on the area of 3.000 hectares avoiding cuttings while the rest of the spruce area (1.000 hectares) was lost because none measures were accepted their.

To show facts from other regions I have requested the known Swedish entomologist Gunnar Isacsson to inform me of experiences with the struggle of bark beetle in Sweden. It is known that spruce woods are wide-spreading in Scandinavia and the unique and valuable experience of struggle with this spruce vermin is accumulating in these countries. Here is a quotation from his letter, dated 11th January 2002: "The decision depends on the site. My preliminary view is that no trees should be cut at all in pristine forests or in strictly protected areas. Experiences from Sweden and Lithuania have shown that Ips-attacks in pristine forests will naturally come to an end after three or four years if spruces are not cut. In managed forests removal of dead spruces during the winter can help bark beetles to remain very numerous, since natural enemies are removed with the trees then. In other areas it should be considered to combine a management of immediate felling and debarking of attacked parts of the trees with the use of debarked rests of felled trees as traps for the Ips. In managed areas of Swedish forests this method has proven to be very efficient".

As we see, the priority for combined methods of forest protection but not for cuttings is the practice in these countries too. In protected territories fellings are forbidden in order of preservation of biodiversity. Thus the facts presented above totally refute the "fairy tale about the international experience" which is told by supporters of the cutting down of Belovezhskaya Pushcha Forest.

The third myth: the reserve is refuge of vermin

Scientific researches in Belovezhskaya Pushcha brought the same conclusions. The famous Polish scientist Jerzy Gutowski has been investigating dynamics and ecological factors of development of the bark beetle population on the protected territory of the Polish part of Belovezhskaya Pushcha for long time. In the strictly reserved area wild nature continues to prosper like ever before, while in other managed area forestry methods are applied according to rules of timber enterprises. However, some restrictions apply to the forestry management there.

His research revealed that in similar forest-environmental conditions centers of bark beetle infection do frequently fade away more rapidly under natural conditions than on protected areas where felling of infected spruces is conducted. Such centers do spread out slower as well. It is because the environment in the strict reserve provides a rich community of predators and parasites of bark beetle (80 species of beetles, 9 species of hymenopterans, 75 species of ticks and spiders, 4 species of nematodes). These communities are much poorer in managed parts of the forest. During periods of infection with bark beetle the number of predators and parasites grows very fast, although a bit late, as a simple reaction on the development of bark beetle. This is the natural process because the predators are closely bound with their victims. In short time these enemies suppress the population of bark beetle and they reduce its numbers to levels which do not harm the forest.

On the managed territory the effects of felling of infected stands of spruces are only significant in May and June, when the bark beetles have occupied spruces and the first generation is being developed (by the way, debarking of the logs in the forest wood allows to partly save populations of enemies of the bark beetle while the bark beetle larvae perish without food). If trees are felled in July to September the potential breeding success of predators and parasites of bark beetle is being undermined to a great extent. In this period clearing infected trees harms the positive role of the natural enemies of bark beetles. At fellings applied to infected stands of spruces in October to March irretrievable damage is made to populations of predators and parasites. At that time significant shares of the bark beetle population migrate or have migrated into the forest litter for wintering. In this way the future pressure on bark beetle by its enemies decreases when the next period of growth of the vegetation starts.

The conduction of year round felling of infected stands of spruces can only be justified as necessary if industrial and commercial purposes are considered to be top priority. Then it is rational to harvest timber of high quality. Such fellings do negatively influence both the enemies of bark beetle as well as the sustainability of the affected spruce stands because within decades forest communities are entirely adapted to the soil-hydrological conditions. The sudden disintegration of a forest stand as a cause of appearance of Bark beetle sharply changes the environments. There is an increase in the exposure of light to the trees, the temperature of the air and of evaporation. Therefore remaining living trees suffer an influence of solar radiation, atmospheric drought and hydrological stress. It results in overheating of the trunk the top and higher parts of crones, breach of pitch cells and filling of spending tissues by pitch as well as violation of water and mineral feed. Such strongly weakened trees are a prime object for attacks by Bark beetles. First of all special protected territories are under our concern here; trees continue their life cycle until they face natural death. On such territories fellings are not conducted according to the regulations. In those areas changes of ecological conditions in sites which are infected by bark beetle are visibly less strong, since those trees which were "lost" remained on site. At cutting sites wood is being removed. Because of that light exposure and the increase of temperatures in the hot summer days is stronger here. Single living trees of other species which continue their growth after the felling is conducted as well as spruces located at the edge of infected sites suffer drought in their root system. Such trees are strongly weakened this way and they are easy victims for attacks of bark beetle. A number of mechanical impacts to other living trees resulting the conduction of woodcutting stimulate this process as well. Owing to this mechanism the infection center continues to spread out.

Belarusian scientists who investigated population dynamics of bark beetles in Belovezhskaya Pushcha obtained the similar results. There is an opinion that forest sites where struggle with bark beetle is not conducted are refuges of vermin to spread out and to affect healthily stands. Jerzy Gutowski carried out an experiment in Poland. The beetles which migrated either from the reserve or from managed forest were caught in traps of special construction set at the border of the protected and managed forest sites. The scientist did not found an authentic difference of amount of the bugs flown from different sites. This was an argument disprove the existed among foresters opinion about "harm" of protected sites.

The forth myth: the practice of the Polish National Park

The administration of the National Park likes to refer to the scientist-forester Doctor Adolf Korczik who lives and works in the Polish part of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. So, in the "Zvyazda" Newspaper on December 19, 2001 they mention Mr Korczik's words, I quote, ". a forester is dismissed in Poland if the bark beetle leaved the tree although needles are still green". Approximately the same words are present in "Sovetskaya Byelorussia" Newspaper, No 24 - 25, from January 26, 2002. However the administration of the Park forgot to add that a forester is dismissed in Poland after he did not execute the work or infringed rules and technology of felling in that part of Belovezhskaya Pushcha which are managed and has the status close to the timber enterprise. Regarding the Bialowieza National Park a forester will be dismissed if he will cut down a tree because any economic activity is forbidden within the borders of the Park. Moreover, the administration of the Polish park is going to stop fellings in the managed area recently joined to the Park and to change its status from the managed to the protected.

So we see the administration of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park juggle with these fats too and discredits the Polish colleagues by covering their names to achieve the own mercenary purposes.

Epilogue: rather gloomy

It's possible to put many other facts which irrefutably prove that the administration is the author of the arisen crisis and scandal around the Belovezhskaya Pushcha because it roughly violates nature protection legislation and principles of wild life management. Bit I think it is enough to present these proves to make quite unequivocal conclusions.

Belovezhskaya Pushcha does not face threats from bark beetle today. The forest faces a "two legged beetle" who does not take into account scientific knowledge of nature conservation. He does not know the laws of the environment. This beetle is a lying, tough and voracious person. Under the guise of "protection" and "preservation" of Belovezhskaya Pushcha the timber processing complex operates at full scale.

These activities result in destruction of principles of nature conservation and of traditions which were built by generations of local inhabitants of the Pushcha. It simply imposes its primitive logging practices. Lies, deceits, falsifications and juggling facts are its basic methods to achieve his purposes. These purposes have nothing in common with the ideas of any National Park or Biosphere Reserve. This complex is run under "high" patronage. This represents a fatal danger to Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

Thanks to efforts of scientists, journalists and public the prevention of the "black business" of the third millennium was success. But it is early to celebrate a victory. The timber processing complex in Belovezhskaya Pushcha has not surrendered and not backed down. It has hidden and is waiting for the convenient moment again to assume the offensive. This is why the task for all ecologists and all people with a sensible and progressive attitude is to prevent repeated recurrence of tragic events which repeatedly visited the Belovezhskaya Pushcha in the past.