Open Letter to the President's Administration of the Republic of Belarus on tourism development in Belovezhskaya Pushcha

The Aarhus Convention ratified by Belarus allows the citizens of our country to discus and participate in decision-making process concerning nature protection issues. In this connection the present appeal was written because of necessity to acquaint You with our reflections and conclusions appeared after a trip to the National Park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha".

Our newspaper permanently provides the work to draw attention of the people to challenges on nature protection, preservation and augmentation of natural recourses, and education to care about natural and cultural legacies. We particularly pay attention to provide ecological education among young generation.

In the line of the purposes mentioned above, the literary ecological contest "Save our land living and green!", which founders were the editor team of the newspaper "World of Animals", editor team of the newspaper "Gomel Gazette", M.Marshak Children's library No 5, Gomel Regional Committee of Natural Resources and Environment Protection, was recently held.

The winners and readers of the contest whose energetic work was appreciated by a contest commission were awarded with a trip to Belovezhskaya Pushcha. There was no idea to make the trip as an ordinary tourist travel because, taking into account huge reader's interest, it should aim to see the nature protection site of World Heritage's importance.

When we visited the Museum and enclosures, and joined an excursion along a tourist route in the Regulated Nature Zone, we were especially struck with the following facts:

1. The Museum of Nature features the neglected conditions. The quality of its exhibits is getting frequently to show unsatisfactory. Informational service upon expositions (even recently made) is absent. Such the situation is hardly a positive advertising the nature protection image, both the National Park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" and the country as a whole. This is because Belovezhskaya Pushcha is a visit card of Belarus and the visiting the famous wood is started from the seeing the Museum of Nature.

2. The enclosures where wild animals live do not match European standards. First of all, it concerns to the extremely unsatisfactory life conditions made for predators. Narrow and badly maintained cages provide limited space to the animals where they are tormenting and suffering, to be in the eye of all visitors including foreign ones. Our newspaper "World of Animals" pays special attention to challenges of protection of animals and it seems that such the conditions made for predators' life are simply inadmissible, especially it concerns to Belovezhskaya Pushcha's case.

3. The fact is large-scale cutting down of trees within the reserved wood and their store-landing everywhere along tourist routes. The reserved Belovezhskaya Pushcha's forest that views a landscape typical for wild primeval wood turns into a park-like-urban zone with thin wood areas and is abounded in numerous stumps, which occur with the tourists along all the route during excursion. We realize that this site has a status of Regulated Nature Zone, instead of strictly reserved Wilderness Protection Zone. Nevertheless, modern methods of forest management on specially protected natural territories allow competently and skillfully to combine wood fellings with preservation of biodiversity and make a reserved shape of ecosystems. However we have seen the dominance of methods applied in commercial timber enterprise areas. This leads to destroy the reserved wood and makes the vanishing wild nature, protection of which must be provided throughout the whole Belovezhskaya Pushcha's area, not only covering the Wilderness Protection Zone. This also confirms a point of view according to which protective measures against pest and vermin insects are now conducted in Belovezhskaya Pushcha basically avoiding biological methods.

4. Wood remnants' burning when fellings within the forest are conducted is doing along tourist routes. Bonfires and wood remnants' burning is conducted all over the Belovezhskaya Pushcha's area, despite of the fact of putting additional damage to the reserved wood and its biodiversity, as well as of making unattractive view of the reserved wood along the routes visiting by tourists. Foresters are the executors who provide this work themselves. As far as we are aware, the recommendations forbidden or maximum restricted the burning wood residuals were introduced in Belovezhskaya Pushcha at the end of 90-s. This completely matches the purposes and objectives of National Park's status and brings benefit to the reserved wood as this case allows surviving many small animals and conserving humus in soil. However, the today's management to burn branches shows to be the opposite. This fact specifies the weak control of measures used in the National Park, which should be provided by appropriate services, or moving off nature protection traditions of Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

5. The facts are realization of hydro-engineering works within the protected territory without an appropriate ecological examination and the project discussion without participation of the public environmentalists. So, few years ago, new reservoirs were built or reconstructed within the area of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. We saw it with one's own eyes. However, during the excursion we were not getting the intelligible answer to the question for what it is done there and how birds and other animal were damaged. A question is appearing in this case - what is this experiment and who will bear responsibility in the case of drawing damage or unforeseen negative consequences for Belovezhskaya Pushcha forest possible in the future?

6. More asphalt covering. Within the protected area of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, routes for pedestrians including ones close to the zoo enclosures, the central and, moreover, narrow secondary-use (the width is about three meters) roads for motor transport are asphalted. How well does this appropriate from the ecological point of view? Despite of improved comfort when is driving, this will put damage to the reserved wood polluting it and will promote distribution weeds (ruderal vegetation), that means biological pollution of the Pushcha's forest. A modern nature protection knowledge has a prior claim to minimum intervention into protected forest ecosystem, develops soft forms of anthropogenic pressure (walking, horsing and bicycling on earth roads) and reduces effects of destruction to a minimum level.

These and many other facts, we have seen in Belovezhskaya Pushcha, allow us to make conclusion that protection of the reserved wood, tourism management and ecological education are unsatisfactory in Belovezhskaya Pushcha now.

What is the reason of the said above? There are about ten various institutes and organizations in our country, which are connected with protection of flora and fauna in either event. In other words, Belarus has no deficit of appropriate experts. However, to that we have seen, they either are not involving into cooperation, or their recommendations are ignored. Instead of this the activity, which is difficult to call nature protection provided in ecological way, is in the progress. From our point of view, the major reason of ecological disaster in Belovezhskaya Pushcha comes from lacks of Strategy and National Program aimed its preservation and management.

We ask You to answer when such the Strategy and Program will be developed in the country and who will elaborate them and make their ecological examination, that means to bear responsibility for its success or failure?

We suppose that insufficient reporting problems of Belovezhskaya Pushcha in mass media and their possible concealing or biased, non-professional and tendentious reporting also promotes the disastrous situation.

The so-called excursion-tour, which should be an example and logical continuation of ecological education of the participants of the contest, has provoked an energetic discussion on pages of our newspaper that we send the attached to this letter. The readers are perplexing with the question why this Belarusian unique site, which they dreamed to see from childhood, was found in such the negative conditions? Moreover, this is despite of the fact that Belovezhskaya Pushcha is under proper protection of the government that, as it is permanently emphasized in statements and publications of the rank-various officials, intently draws attention to challenges of nature protection, tourism development and ecological education of the population.

This Open Letter has been sent to the President's Administration of the Republic of Belarus and Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Protection, as well as its electronic version was addressed to the public environmentalists and mass-media of the Republic of Belarus.

With hope for constructive dialogue,
The editor team of the newspaper "World of Animals"
September 10, 2005

(The letter is published in the Newspaper "Mir Zhivotnyh" (World of Animals) Newspaper (Gomel), No 9, September 2005)

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