BELOVEZHSKAYA PUSHCHA FOREST IN DANGER!

Appeal to the international society

Belovezhskaya Pushcha, Belarusian Bialowieza Forest, is a beautiful place of wildlife, the Europe's last remnant of primeval forests. Today, it is the National Park, the UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Biosphere Reserve that was awarded the European Council Diploma, which is the highest recognition of Belovezhskaya Pushcha's importance and uniqueness on the planet Earth.

Belovezhskaya Pushcha lies at the border of Poland and Belarus. It has been protected since 14th century. Its area now makes 87,000 hectares. The average age of its trees is over 100 years, going up to 250-350 years in some places. Pushcha also counts over a thousand of 300-600 year-old giant trees. The flora of the unique area is represented by over 2,000 species, the fauna - by over 11,000 species. Living creatures that have disappeared in most of Europe find here their home. More than 150 rare species are listed in the Belarusian Red Data Book, including such valuable ones as the Bison, Lynx, Badger, White-tailed eagle, Shorttoed Eagle, Black stork, Grey crane, Great grey owl, Eagle owl, Three-toed Woodpecker, Aquatic Warbler, Silver fir, durmast, Lilium martagon, Astrantia major, etc. Belovezhskaya Pushcha provides a habitat for one of the largest bison populations in the world (about 300 animals).

In 1994, the Property Management Department of the Belarusian President (PPMD) took control over the unique area. The new administration of the National Park had nothing to do with conservation work and wildlife science in the famous forest. It rather considered its economical value, unleashing an intensive commercialization there. The profit was gained by various means - by raring cattle, enlarging farming fields, starting trade, putting up a production of birch juice, mushrooms, berries and herbs, and increasing a quota for commercial hunting. But the drastic step in the development of the National Park was made at the end of the 90s by building up sawmills. The biggest mill, which could process a much higher volume of wood than the forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha could supply, appeared in the village of Kamenyuki, the administrative centre of the National Park. High-performance wood-processing equipment for it was purchased in Germany for over $1.5 million.

Generations of local people took care to save the primeval forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha that is valuable for abundance of ancient organisms. The organisms can be saved only if the felling of the forest is limited and the rules of forest conservation are observed. All this is a thing of the past now.

The National Park faced economical hardships to call in a credit for the costly wood-processing equipment, and, as a solution to all that, a new director of the National Park, an expert in wood-processing, was appointed in 2001. This led to a large-scale felling in the forest, with ecological problems such as bark beetle infestation often used as a cover-up for it. The felling rather deteriorated the problems than helped do away with them.

The felling, timber processing and wood sale reached huge scales at present. Sawmill are equipped by new machines, additional benches for wood processing are purchased. Up to 250,000 cubic metres of wood a year (nearly 800 hectares of the forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha) is harvested at present, which is an impressive figure comparing with 70,000 cubic metres of wood in the past. The scope of the harvesting tells that it is commercialized and the sanitary issue, even though Pushcha has recently seen Bark beetle infestations, is not what is behind it. The very build-up of pro sanitary felling that followed the erection of the sawmills seems to be telling that this is the case. The sanitary issue is just a convenient excuse for the massive commercial felling that the present administration of the National Park has virtually been using to make money out of the unique forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

The felling as well as other commercial-driven activities, which often infringe national and international law and conventions ratified by Belarus, prove the indifference the present administration of the National Park has as regards the faith of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. To protect the unique forest and bring an end to the illegal and secret felling, an international campaign was launched in 2003. It helped stop a large scale felling of living forest.

However, all in all, the situation in Belovezhskaya Pushcha did not improve for the better. The massive 'sanitary' felling went on. The sawmill in the village of Kamenyuki works almost round the clock. Moreover, another disturbing development has been seen since 2003 - that is man-made forest plantations. Every year the area of the plantations grows larger, which means that the area of the primeval primary forest dwindles correspondently. It means the wild reserved forest is replaced by man-made one which is less valuable. The administration does not listen to ecologists, ecological and conservation methods are ignored. As a result, the wilderness of Belovezhskaya Pushcha disappears. Numerous violations of law and ecological science are still topical for the National Park. The public cannot monitor the economic activities there. Many violations are covered up by a higher authority. Workers of the Park are sacked if they protest against it. The National Park itself has become a place for recreation and entertainment of authorities' officials and their kin (the government residence is known to be there). As if the wool over people's eyes, the residence of Santa Claus was built in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. It is the residence rather than the primeval forest and unique wildlife that is advertised for tourists today.

THE CONCERNS ARE THAT THE ANCIENT AND UNIQUE FOREST OF BELOVEZHSKAYA PUSHCHA IS GRADUALLY TRANSFORMED INTO ONE OF THOUSANDS OF COMMONLY FOUND IN EUROPE COMMERCIAL FORESTRIES. The transformation is irreversible... Felled areas and man-made forest plantations will not be able to substitute the wilderness, uniqueness and originality of the protected wood. The Belovezhskaya Pushcha Forest becomes an ordinary 'forest' area. But the latest figures show that the volume of felling in 2005 is going to be two times higher....

Over the course of several years, Belarusian public organizations and activists have been trying to convince the authorities to stop the destruction and environmental degradation of the Europe's last primeval forest. The Park's administration reacted to this by virtually making its activity secret. Public activists and independent ecologists can hardly access the area of the National Park. The Ministry of Natural Resources and the PPMD shut their eyes on it and do not react positively to allow the public control. The only way to find out information on the state of affairs in the Park is through reconnaissance. Watchdogs on conservation that arrive to Belovezhskaya Pushcha look all like 'orchestrated'. They seem to overlook the facts of ecological problems. Even the last year's enlargement of the strictly reserved zone of the forest was rather prompted by the work of the UNESCO, and was more for diverting the public's attention from problems of the National Park rather than a noble act to conserve the wilderness area.

Alongside this, there is also pressure on reporters, scientists and nature protection activists who try to be independent in their coverage of the situation in the National Park. State-run newspapers tend to present only one side of the story, which focuses on ideologically-weighed (dis)information on real and surreal achievements of the administration of the Park, while the publishing true-fact articles are impossible.

Belarus has become an outpost of political systems with strong presidential power. President Alexander Lukashenko exercises virtually a sole control over the government, and first of all, over the work of the PPMD. He must be aware of the real situation in the National Park, as over the last three years there have been lots of materials about it in the press, letters both to him and high government officials and scandals around an illegal activity of the Park's administration. Moreover, he has the power and administrative resources to know everything first hand, if he wants. President has repeatedly called himself a fighter against corruption and crime. The last year was called a year of 'getting things put in order'. Thanks to it, the ex-head of the PPMD Galina Zhuravkova was arrested and condemned to prison. She was who appointed the present administration of the National Park 'Belovezhskaya Pushcha' that, being under her direct leading, started to provide a rough policy to destroy the protected forest and to fire a ftaff from the Park. After Mrs Zhuravkova's arrest, president ordered 'to burn out all dirty from the PPMD, from top to bottom, in the most rigid 'red-hot iron' form. Although, the ecological situation in the National Park is getting worse and those responsible for it are not made to answer for it. All this makes the Belarusians grow doubtful that the president gets all-rounded information on the matter, or is misinformed by the administration of the Park. The people get also more assured that he is responsible the policy on destruction of the unique reserved forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, agrees and covers to provide the present 'black' business in this sacred wood provided by plotters from the administration of the National Park.

IN THIS REGARD, WE OUGHT TO LAUNCH AN INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN TO PROTECT THE BELARUSIAN PART OF BELOVEZHSKAYA PUSHCHA. We call on all good-will people to help our Belarusian colleagues protect this sacred wilderness area. The Belarusians succeeded in winning one campaign last year, a campaign to enlarge the strictly reserved zone and the World Heritage Site. Experts of the UNESCO helped them with it. Also, two years ago, thanks to an international 'fax' campaign organized by our coalition and supported by international ecologists, there could stop massive and illegal felling of living protected forest. We believe we can win this time. This is the true cause and God helps us about it. The forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha belongs to the world and not to a number of high-ranked officials. Belovezhskaya Pushcha belongs to all people, and we will protect it.

WE CALL ON GOOD-WILL PEOPLE TO HELP THE BELARUSIANS SAVE THE FOREST OF BELOVEZHSKAYA PUSHCHA FROM BARBARIC EXPLOITATION BY SENDING YOUR LETTERS AND FAXES TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF BELARUS, ALEXANDER GRIGORIEVICH LUKASHENKO. If you do not have a fax, you can send you letter to his email address.

It will be wished if you can also send a copy of your letter to the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Protection, Khoruzhyk Leonty.

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This is a sample of the letter (You can also send your own variant):

to: the President of the Republic of Belarus, Lukashenko A.G.,
copy: the Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus, Khoruzhyk L.I.

Dear Alexander Grigorievich!

The wildlife of the National Park 'Belovezhskaya Pushcha' is an integral part of both the people of Belarus and the world heritage. The forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha is the Europe's last remnant of primeval forests. It is of great value to the planet Earth.

As I have learned, the intensive economic activity continues to be conducted in the National Park which contradicts the aims of nature protection and conservation of the unique primeval forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. The wildlife of the National Park is threatened with massive felling. Man-made forest plantations leave no trace of the forest wilderness, which irreversibly changes the look of the primeval forest. The area of that forest constantly decreases. The National Park is transformed into one of the forms of commercial timber enterprises where the methods of forestry, typical for timber enterprises, replace ecological techniques of conservation of biological diversity.

The administration of the National Park turns a deaf ear to suggestions of ecologists on conservation, while the ecological and wildlife since is ignored. Commercial-driven activities in the forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha often infringe national and international law, and conventions ratified by Belarus. The public cannot monitor the activities of the administration of the National Park that seems to cover up many violations. Watchdogs on conservation that arrive to Belovezhskaya Pushcha look all like 'orchestrated'. Therefore the government is not getting by true information and facts that create the simulation of 'wellbeing' in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. The present state of affairs discredits the conservation work in Belarus and puts in doubt the fairness of the policy for conservation pursued by the government of the Republic of Belarus.

As a result, the unique forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha is gradually transformed into one of thousands of commonly found in Europe forestries. If the felling of the primeval forest and other danger activities carries on, we may lose this beloved wilderness area called Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

In this regard, we ask you, as the guarantor of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus, to take the following measures for protection of the National Park 'Belovezhskaya Pushcha':

1. To stop the management in the National Park which leads to destruction of the unique reserved forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, first of all, to stop planned massive wood harvesting and creation of artificial, man-made plantations which destroy the primary structure of the primeval forest. To adapt ecological-friendly methods and techniques which conserve biological diversity, instead of methods applied in commercial timber enterprises.

2. To take actions to institute criminal proceedings against those who are responsible for violations of law on ecology .

3. To conduct all commercial activities in the area of the National Park, the forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, in conformity with the Belarusian law on nature and modern ecological and conservation principles.

4. To make public all activity of the administration of the National Park 'Belovezhskaya Pushcha', allow independent experts to inspect the area of the National Park and create for the National Park a watchdog that will consist of independent experts and public activists.

Respectfully and with hope that the forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha will be saved,
Signatures

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ADDRESSEES:
Conventional mail:
THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF BELARUS, LUKASHENKO A.G.,
The Administration of the President of the Republic of Belarus, 38 Karl Marx Street, Minsk, 200016, Belarus;
Fax: 8-10-375-17-226-06-10 (the international codes are for Ukraine);
Email: contact@president.gov.by .

Conventional mail:
THE MINISTER OF NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF BELARUS, KHORUZHYK L.I.,
10 Collectornaya Street, Minsk, 220048, Belarus;
Fax: 8-10-375-17-220-55-83;
Email: minproos@mail.belpak.by .

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If you can, please let know mass media and your colleagues about this information. Also, please we do ask you to forward e-copies of your letters to the ecological group 'Pechenegi' at pecheneg@ic.kharkov.ua .

You can find out more about the campaign to protect the forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha at the Web site of the International Socio-Ecological Union at http://www.seu.ru/projects/eng/belovezha/, or by writing to the initiators of the campaign. Detailed information on the situation in the National Park 'Belovezhskaya Pushcha' can be found at the Web site 'Belovezhskaya Pushcha - 21st Century' at http://bp21.org.by/en/ff/.

We hope that, if we stand together, we can protect and save the forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

UKRAINIAN COALITION 'FOR WILD NATURE', THE INTERNATIONAL SOCIO-ECOLOGICAL UNION:
Sergey Shaparenko,
the Ecological group 'Pechenegi' - pecheneg@ic.kharkov.ua
Vladimir Boreyko,
the Kiev ecological and cultural centre - kekz@carrier.kiev.ua, borey@alfacom.net
Olga Zakharova,
the International Socio-Ecological Union - seupress@seu.ru

Prepared by the Environmental group "Pechenegy"
The Ukrainian coalition "For Wild Nature"
March 13, 2005

Copied from the Web site of the International Socio-Ecological Union at http://www.seu.ru/projects/eng/belovezha/