An Open Letter

THE TRAGEDY OF THE BIALOWIEZA FOREST

Members of the Nature Conservation Committee, Polish Academy of Sciences, at the meeting held in Cracow on 12th December 2003 decided

We, Polish citizens forming the 34-person body of experts in scientific background for nature conservation,

ALARMED by the increasing threat to the Bialowieza Ancient Forest resulting from steadily intensified timber extraction from its last natural or seminatural tree-stands outside or even inside the legally protected areas (nature reserves and national parks), and in both parts, Belarusian and Polish,

AWARE of the Bialowieza Forest unique scientific and environmental values recognisable in the scale of the northern temperate zone, as well as of the precious three-nation (Belarusian-Lithuanian-Polish) cultural heritage of this land;

HAVE DECIDED TO:

- restart, together with other committees, scientific institutes and NGOs engaged in nature conservation, a campaign to improve protection of the whole Bialowieza Forest by an extension of the Bialowieza National Park (BNP) onto the whole Polish part;

- address to colleagues - scientists and conservationists - and to European public, chiefly to Republic of Belarus, to support our stand,

- address the following appeal, as an open letter, to the domestic and European authorities concerned.

THEREFORE WE INSIST ON:

1. an IMMEDIATE ban on the cutting of any trees in nature reserves and in the Hwozna District in the BNP. In our opinion, such activity run under several pretexts (sanitary, improper growth, bark-beetle, windfall) cause irreversible changes in forests ecosystems and their habitats.

2. URGENT incorporation into the protection plans for the whole network of reserves in the Polish part, the adequate legal mechanisms which would prevent removal of trees from such areas, otherwise as after the earlier careful analysis performed by forestry administrators democratically, i.e. together with the nature conservation experts invited from biological institutes and scientific committees truly independent of forest administration.

3. FINAL SOLVING the question of extension of the BNP onto the whole Polish part of the Forest, so as to consider in a near future, jointly with Belarus, the idea to call to existence the first (bi-national) ANCIENT FOREST PARK OF EUROPE, as a document of true farsightedness of the Europeans and their ability to care for the most precious natural heritage.

4. MARKED RESTRICTION of the recent controversial practice of the increased timber extraction from the National Park of Belarus (more information see http://bp21.org.by/en/ff/foto10.html), and the newest program of even more intense exploitation (up to c. 150 000 m3 of timber per year) of the Polish part of Bialowieza Forest. According to the opinion of the BNP Scientific Council, harmless for Forest ecosystems would be timber extraction two-three times lower, and restricted mainly to rebuilding the tree stands planted in improper habitat. Intensive extraction of marketable timber from Bialowieza Forest can not be shaped under the pressure of local needs, timber industry demands or outdated silvicultural practice. It may cause irreversible changes in the forest ecosystems, including soil conditions and biodiversity, what is unacceptable in the case of unique value of the Bialowieza Forest.

WE APPEAL to domestic and European Union institutions for a support in the economic development of local communities from the Bialowieza Forest region which would be an alternative to the intensive economic exploitation of its timber resources.

Cracow, 12 December 2003

On behalf of Committee for Nature Conservation, Polish Academy of Sciences
Secretary: dr Zygmunt
DajdokChairman: prof. dr hab. Ludwik Tomialojc

Addressed especially to: - The Prime Minister of Poland,
- The Marshals of the Sejm and Senate,
- The Presidents of the Polish Academy of Sciences and of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences,
- The Embassy of the Belarus Republic,
- The President of the Belarus Academy of Sciences,
- The Parliament of the European Union, Council of Europe,
- Polish and European scientific and intellectual circles,
- mass media

Appendix 1.

The share of over 100-year old tree-stands, known as 80% still in 1915 (Wiecko 1972), has recently declined in BF to less than 20% (outside protected areas). Thus, ironically, this was an "ecological" 20th century, which has annihilated a prevailing part of the values of this royal forest, once carefully (by c. 200 royal guard-men) preserved during 5 centuries; current very intensive timber exploitation is obviously contradictory also to the principle of sustainability, which has been written into the Polish Constitution.

Such an amount of exploitation means a return to the past rapacious exploitation of the BF by the foreign administrations during both world wars, and to too heavy also during the between-war period of the Polish rule. Remnants of the close-to-primeval tree-stands in BF constitute a tiny fragment, much below 1% of the Poland's woodland, while the whole BF forms only c. 0.6% of it. According to the world report "Caring for the Earth- A Strategy of Sustainable Living" (1991) recommendations, the sustainable forestry should preserve c.10% of the natural (old-growth) tree-stands. Going on with exploitation of the ancient remains of BF means an irreversible loss of the significant part of the treasure ranked to the world natural heritage. It is even more questionable, that over 2 mln ha (over 20 times the acreage of BF) of the post-agricultural land could be afforested in Poland alone instead, not to referring to the whole European managed woodland acreage.

Fig. 1. Exploitation rates - volume of marketable timber sold by three BF superintendencies (Bialowieza, Browsk, Hajnowka) during 1990-2002 (after the Forestry Administration statistics). Timber extraction increased after each of three acts of exclusion of a part of the BF area for nature conservation. Declines were noted only during the low-price periods, called "crisis". The 2003-2011 values are the quantities to be extracted according to the management plans now in force (Compiled by prof. T. Wesolowski)

Note, that, paradoxically, the less of ancient tree-stands remain in BF the higher rate of their annihilation is being accepted by the forestry authorities and Ministry of Environment (see Fig.). As in a race to extract from the Forest as much timber as possible, before any efficient nature protection is implemented.

Address: Committee for Nature Conservation, Polish Academy of Sciences,
Institute of Plant Biology of the Wroclaw University

ul. Kanonia 6/8, 50-328 Wroclaw,
Tel. (+48)(71) 375-40-84,
Fax (+48)(71) 375-41-21
e-mail: tomilu@biol.uni.wroc.pl & dajdokz@biol.uni.wroc.pl