Appeal to the Ministers and the Public

HELP TO SAVE THE UNIQUE PRIMEVAL FOREST OF BELOVEZHSKAYA PUSHCHA

Although the Government of the Republic of Belarus has declared its support for the objectives of the program "Environment for Europe" and its intention to fulfill the decisions of the Aarhus conference, many of these declarations have been practically not achieved. The unique forest Reserve "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" where the utilization of natural resources has recently been uncontrolled, intensive and sometimes even ruthless, is an example of this. The exploitation of natural resources has been given priority and has replaced aims of wildlife protection. This threatens enormous losses for biodiversity and destruction of the priceless natural habitat.

The National Park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" was included in the List of World Heritage Sites (its core zone) in 1992 and awarded the European Diploma in 1997. Also the Park now has the status of "Biosphere Reserve", but despite of this it is gradually being transformed by efforts of the present administration into a site for timber production. In 1994 the Park came under jurisdiction of the President's Property Administration of the Republic of Belarus. The new managers of the Park had no experience of protecting natural areas, or of the ecology and preservation of wildlife. They considered the value of this forest only as a means of income and they therefore decided to stary its intensive commercial exploitation.

The main objectives of the National Park should be the preservation of an ancient relic landscape. Instead of this there is large-scale removal of the primeval forest under the pretext of the struggle with spruce bark-beetle and rectification of wind damage. Open areas that appeared after felling are artificially planted like it is doing for timber production and even ancient healthy trees and permanent plots for the scientific forest monitoring are cut down, consequently the forest has been damaged irreversibly. Belovezhskaya Pushcha Primeval Forest loses its natural uniqueness and is transformed into an ordinary "forest". Preservation of antiquity of this forest is possible only if restriction of fellings, promoting the science and wildlife protection, extending the Wilderness Protection Zone (core zone) to at least 50 % of the entire area, and granting the World Heritage status to this enlarged core zone will be provided. However this question is not even the subject for governmental discussion now.

The large wood-processing plant and expensive sawmill which require a considerable volume of the high-quality timber have been built while wildlife protection legislation is ignored and commercial hunting continues. Professional experts who worked in the Pushcha for many years were dismissed and the local population that is opposed the activity of the Park's administration is oppressed, intimidated and persecuted while their basic rights are broken. Temporary hired workers who are indifferent to the future of the Forest have replaced hundreds of those dismissed from the Park.

The Belarusian public tried to persuade the authorities for several years to cease destruction of the European nature reserve and to stop degradation of the primeval forest. The development and ratification of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park Statute Regulation has been raised repeatedly for over eleven years but has been ignored. In response, the administration of the Park operated in secret restricting informational access and resisting attempts to provide independent public ecological expertise. This is also example of the illegality and dishonesty of the administration which shows incompatibility of their policy with the world status of "Biosphere Reserve". Otherwise why is the administration so afraid?

Despite of the international campaign for protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, the ecological and social policy of the Belarusian authorities has been not changed and injurious large-scale felling of the primary relic forest have been continued. New infringements, like the reconstruction of the forest area avoiding the sound ecological expertise, the building of reservoirs within protected areas and the removal of the surrounding forest have also taken place.

We ask you to help us to stop the injurious felling of relic primeval forest and to prevent destruction of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha. We also ask you to support the creation of an accountable Public-Supervisory Council at the administration of the National Park and the removal of secrets around the activity of the Park's administration.

The Coalition of Belarusian NGO "For Belovezhskaya Pushcha Preservation" (Belarus)
Ukrainian Coalition "For Wild Nature" (Ukraine)
Forest Campaign by the International Social-Ecological Union (Russia)

May 21, 2003, Kiev