Artificial planting at sites on which the "primeval" forest was cleared (Spring 2003)

Infringements : Clauses 25 and 27 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus «About Special Protected Natural Territories and Objects» are violated; Clause 55 of the «Forest Codes» of the Republic of Belarus and Clause 62 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus «About Environment Protection» are violated; violation of the ecological balance within the protected forest; infliction of damage to biological diversity.

Events, facts, documents and evidences: In order to create artificial plantations of pines furrows were made by application of mould-board ploughs in 1995 and 1996. It was done at sites that were cleared after bark beetle infections broke out and at light stands, with a limited number of trees per hectare. The total planting area was limited to about 20 hectares. The action provoked ambiguous reactions. Many experts and scientists categorically disapproved the adopted type of afforestation since they considered it a serious threat to the conservation of the relic of the primeval Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Moreover scientific substantiation has not been considered for the realization of artificial afforestation based on techniques adapted to the profit of timber enterprises. The planting material had been grown in one of the timber processing workshops of the forest district Pruzhany. The seedlings used on the plantations were not related to Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Involved foresters, scientists and other parties acquired the view that the experiments were made specially for the purpose of demonstrating the «exemplary» forestry management for «high» participants of seminars on which achievements of the management in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha were discussed. Soon all «experiments of afforestation» were ended.

Seven years later, in 2003, the modest attempts of forests to apply methods of artificial afforestation in Belovezhskaya Pushcha, which are highly comparable to the executed methods within typical wood producing forests, are begin recollected as child's game. The new administration of the National Park, headed by general director Nikolai Bambiza, started large-scale artificial afforestation within the boundaries of the «Belovezhskaya Pushcha» Biosphere Reserve and National Park. In short the method exists of rooting out old trunks, preparation of the soil by ploughs with mould-boards and the drill of planting monocultures. The artificial afforestation is implemented without any scientific substantiation. The specific scientific program as well as the developed conception for restoration of the natural forests of the Pushcha have not been taken into account. Prior to the afforestation no thorough discussion on the subject was made by the Scientific and Technical Council of the National Park. During the spring season of 2003 an area of 120 hectares was planted with pine and oak. In order to protect the young planted trees fences were placed around the plantations; their total length counted to 20 kilometers. All of these artificial plantations were done at sites where the forest had been devastated by the hurricane of February 2002. According to authentic sources the creation of artificial monocultures is being planned for the year 2004 on an area of several hundreds of hectares at sites that have been infected by bark beetle and were cleared to fight the infection.

Our information: Traditional and generally accepted methods for forestry are often not suitable as management tools within Specially Protected Natural Territories (SPNT) like «Belovezhskaya Pushcha» National Park is. The worldwide recognition of Belovezhskaya Pushcha as a Biosphere Reserve as well as a World Heritage Site do even more indicate that principles of commercial forest management are not acceptable. The credit of these titles is based on the internal value of Belovezhskaya Pushcha; the only vast remaining part of the ancient lowland primeval forests of Europe. The common task of the human society is to protect and to support all natural processes within the ecosystems of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, which includes specific zones in which the management regime allows that economic activities are being conducted. Economic activities adopted within a unique natural complex like Belovezhskaya Pushcha should and must every time be based on one main principle, which is to strictly limit the impact on the natural forest.
Out of all possible methods and techniques for forest management only those should be applied that do the LEAST HARM to the natural development of Belovezhskaya Pushcha Primeval Forest. The methods should be as much as possible in line with natural processes.
The primeval forests of Belovezhskaya Pushcha feature a complex structure of the vegetation as well as a complex composition of its species. The natural woods show an exceptional biodiversity compared to other areas covered by lowland forests. For that reason the standards for forest management adopted by timber enterprises are not admissible in this specific old-age forest. The removal of stumps, clearing of forest sites and making furrows using mould-board ploughs which shift the sand up on surface area within Belovezhskaya Pushcha forest are not admissible totally. In time young plantations, characterized by simplified structure, leveled out biodiversity and a limited sustainability, will replace the natural forest. The planted monocultures are in disharmony with the type of forest that would grow thanks to natural succession on the site. As a result natural processes are broken down or interrupted. If, on sites where artificial planting is intended, furrows are made roots of remaining trees close to the surface are frequently damaged, which leads to sped up decay and preliminary death of the trees in concern. Sites on which artificial plantations have been made a frequently observed mechanism of an energetic colonization of «weeds». These species are not characteristic for the Belovezhskaya primeval forest (biological pollution). The unprecedented value, the unique and primitive character of Belovezhskaya Pushcha is based on its population of species and natural communities of living organisms which depend on the complex structures which are only present within primeval forests. Therefore the adoption of artificial afforestation based on the standards practiced within forests on which the management is especially focused on wood production contradicts the main tasks of «Belovezhskaya Pushcha» National Park - preservation of the specific biodiversity of the primeval forest. The afforestation leads to serious conflicts in regard to recent achievements from the field of wild life science.
A great number of the older foresters of the Pushcha possess the knowledge that duly cutting trees freshly infected by bark beetle and a simultaneous removal of these tree from the forest ecosystem allowed to locate and even to control the spreading of the pest within the forest. However, the research done by highly specialized, skilled experts has been essential in order to conduct a type of forest management with a strictly limited environmental impact. Under those conditions the foresters cut down doomed spruces with extraordinary care in order to avoid damage to surrounding healthy trees and the vegetation under the canopy during the felling. As a rule the remnants of the trees cut were not burnt, which prevented the living vegetation and young renewal of the forest of thermal damage. A great respect was paid to a skillful and cautious removal of the harvest timber with mechanized machinery; inevitable damage to the living undergrowth of plants, shrubs and trees - the future of the forest - was minimized. In line with this approach there was a strict prohibition to pile logs directly within glades to prevent unnecessary damage to the vegetation as well as to prevent the development of access roads towards these stacks of timber.
If sanitary cutting are conducted with skill and care within the forest stands and if their scale is small the glades and half-open spots within the forest affected by a pest will spontaneously be covered by a number of species, including spruce, pine, birch, oak, hornbeam and aspen, within three to five years. After 15 to 20 years, when the young generation of the forest as well as the surviving old-age trees in the canopy are both growing successfully and even a skilled forester will not always be successful in pointing sites which once have been the center of bark beetle infection. Thanks to respected natural processes Belovezhskaya Pushcha itself shapes the unique colour and appearance of the natural forest, with its complex composition of species and its typical well structured age-layers.
As Belovezhskaya Pushcha is a protected forest it is essential that specific measures are developed that are suitable for ecologically respectable forest management; this type of management clearly differs from commercial forest management as favored by the timber industry. Ecological forestry must take into account the entire scope of different forest communities and soils and adopt the broad experience of many generations of foresters. Artificial planting of trees and ploughing furrows are not compatible with this method, while open discussion should be made on ecological methods of saving the natural forest and on the support on renewal of the forest should be accomplished.

These pictures show that clearance of timber and harvesting of trees that were blown down by the strong hurricane of February 2002 is conducted. Currently work is made of rooting the trunks out of the site in order to facilitate the creation of artificial plantations in the near future. For rooting out powerful tractors and bulldozers are used.

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(Compartment 708, March 2003)

After the rooting out is finished naked soils appears. Stumps of trees that were pulled out of the soil are dragged away towards large heaps where they will rot through. Fertile soil is moved out as well together with the stumps. In this way, by use of bulldozers, long banks of ground and stumps are shaped on places where the relics of the primeval forest were vitally growing. These «stump mountains» are up to two meters high. When in future the stumps are rotten through and the banks of ground / earth remain in the shape of small hills they will have the character of the «Mamai barrows». In the imaginary situation that data on these events is not archived descendents will probably discuss the origin of these hills; they would attribute them to the cult origin of the ancient people that populated the territory. They would not expect that in the year 2003 director Nickolai Bambiza immortalized himself this way. These «Bambiza barrows» will be a perpetual element within the unique protected forests of Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

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(Compartment 708, March, 2003)

After preparatory works targeted at the creation of artificial forest plantations have been conducted such territory can be compared to a lunar landscape, fields on Mars or the earth after an apocalypse. There are no similarities with the character of the wild primeval forest that covered the area for thousands of years. Areas on which natural life was practically absent or where trees had been largely broken (by the storm) covered 120 hectares within Belovezhskaya Pushcha in 2003. On that area of the forest artificial plantations were made in that year. The remaining stands of Europe's primeval forest have been lost on these sites forever. Ordinary manmade artificial stands of pine will be present here in the future, which lack the wide ecological value of the primary wood.

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(Compartment 679, May 31, 2003)

On the site shown here rooting out of the stumps has been done in a less rigid manner. Thin grasses survived the works, as can be seen. Still the linear furrows, that were made with large ploughs in purpose of further artificial planting of the forest, do not leave the primary forest any chance to restore herself in the natural way. On this site unique primary wood is being replaced by ordinary manmade plantations of pine as well. For tens and up to hundred years clear traces of the furrows will remind people of a site on which once, and for millennia, the protected, natural, primeval forest of Europe flourished until recent years, while unreasonable ancestors replaced her by his artificial stands.

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(Compartment 742,
April 27, 2003)

It is clearly visible on this picture that damage was made to the root system of a huge pine of old age (on the right) and the roots of another pine and a young hornbeam (on the left) a little further were damaged when a deep furrow was made by use of a plough, which was done to prepare another planting of monocultures. The integrity of the soil cover was broken, while the humus layer was covered by sand that had been shifted to the surface.

If furrows are made by use of a plough with mould-board - in order to create artificial plantations - the local micro-relief is strongly broken up.

These pictures show furrows that were made by ploughs within an area of the reserved wood. The furrows wounded the ancient soil.

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(Compartment 742, April 27, 2003)

These kinds of violations towards the integrity of the cover of the soil will be noticeable on the land for decades; they will remind of the rigid intervention of man on mutual relationships between the virgin soil and the protected forest which depends on it. Apart from that it may be awaited whether the plantations will be successful in growing on such sites.

The furrows, made by use of ploughs, look like they have been made very recently, while in truth they were created six years ago.

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(Compartment 805, June 30, 2002)

These pictures were made on a place where, in entire discordance with the Byelorussian law on nature protection, clear cutting of spruce-pine forest of old-age was executed during autumn and fall 2002. The territory is adjacent to an area where the powerful hurricane of February 2002 terminated many adult trees. Once the valuable forest was cut and the harvested timber was moved out it was decided to set up one more nursery for young trees. Has it possibly been done to hide the traces of ecological crimes entirely from the eye of society in this inaccessible territory? The site was rooted out by use of bulldozers, the stumps were dragged from the site and shaped into long banks, while ploughs were used to make deep furrows. Has plantation of pine been the «crown» in the series of eco-crimes?

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(Compartment 708, May 31, 2003)

An interesting fact is the survival of huge pines ages 150 to 200 years. Many trees survived the extremely strong wind-storm of February 2002, but they fell later as a result of the activities of woodcutters. Machines set in to root out the stubs were not strong enough and many stubs survived another powerful attack. Currently these stumps remain single or grouped as a testimony of the barbarity and mockery the protected forest suffers as a result of the action of heartless, shameless and ecologically illiterate men.

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(Compartment 708, May 31, 2003)

Our information. Pines, oaks, hornbeams, ashes, resistant spruces and other species of trees remain on sites where spruces were infected by bark beetle and disintegrated as a consequence, after the infected spruces died. Other remaining elements on these sites are and abundant undergrowth of rich, living grass cover, as well as a rather sufficient number of multi-aged trees from a younger generation. Naturally pine and oak, species which thrive on light circumstances, occupy opened space within the forest after its (natural / managed) destruction and grow further successfully. The typical primeval forests, with its multi-aged, multi-layered character and its complex composition of species are shaped here gradually. Locally, and surrounding young forest generations, 300 to 600 year old giant trees are present. In this manner the primeval forest of Belovezhskaya Pushcha is reproducing itself over a period of thousands of years. Therefore priority must be given to management methods which support natural regenerations; if any management must be considered necessary first for of all.

Here the process of the return of the natural forest is shown on an old center of bark beetle infection, where the trees have been cut. The area is fenced out in order to isolate it from the possible consumption of young vegetation by wild ungulates. Therefore other natural processes are more successful, such as the creation of a mosaic-like pattern in the vegetation, the growth of a multi-aged and well-structured forest with a complex composition of its species. These are natural reflexes of a primary wood which recuperates from the natural disasters it is subject to on a regular basis.

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(Compartment 805, June 30, 2002)

Our information. In the view of saving primary types of forest stands, pine and oak forests, human intervention into the processes of permanent renewal of the forests in Belovezhskaya Pushcha can only be approved of if management methods are applied with an environmental-friendly character combined with ecologically acceptable method of afforestation. Such methods do not destroy the (local) primary environment of the forest and they are in line with the succession schemes of the tree composition that are typical for primary forests. Taking into account the primary goal of preservation of Belovezhskaya Pushcha afforestation of the kind applied broadly within the wood producing forests - rooting out, making of furrows by use of ploughs, planting in line - is not at all suitable. Instead afforestation should be based on methods that do support the growth of a young generation of the existing forest, including sowing seed, mineralization and loosening of top soil layers by use of specific instruments. The applied measures should favor better conditions for the germination of seeds. This way the future forests will show a composition of species that is very similar to that of natural forests as well as their structure. Artificial plantations can be recognized as a strong, decisive human influence onto the forest ecosystem, while sowing can not be recognized after a short period of natural regeneration of the forest. Sites of the latter type will become an integrated part of Belovezhskaya Pushcha primeval forest. The natural processes will be copied or will return and they will correspond completely it.

What kind of Belovezhskaya Pushcha do we wish to hand over to next generations? Will it be the wild, the mighty, the perfect and fascinating, beautiful remainder of the primeval forest that once covered large areas of the European lowland?

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(Belovezhskaya Pushcha, pictures 1, 2 - photo by V.Aleshko; pictures 3, 4 - photo by V.Ezhelov)

Or would we prefer to hand in the wild Pushcha's forest for the straight lines of the artificial monoculture plantations, which occupy more than half of the afforested territory of Belarus and which are characterized by a poor biological diversity and small ecological value?

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Artificial plantations in the vicinities of the village of Kamenyuki, October 27, 2003

Belovezhskaya Pushcha is an increasingly important part of the Worlds Natural Heritage of Mankind as it is the last remaining primeval forest in our lowland, which is populated by ancient and vulnerable flora and fauna. Therefore our task is to save this unique forest for next generations - instead of creation of artificial plantation for the pleasure and short-term benefit of a single generation of woodcutters.

Further: Cutting down of living old-age pines in protected compartments (2003), continuation