Attempt to execute sanitary clear cuttings in protected compartments, May - July 2001

Infringements: Clauses 25 and 27 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus «About Special Protected Natural Territories and Objects» are violated; Clauses 1 and 55 of «Forest Codes» of the Republic of Belarus; cutting down of the living forest without a sanction of republican control bodies and without the coordination with Scientific Council of the National Park; violation of rules for selective felling of trees and infringement of the technology of selective sanitary cuttings by the Bark beetle infection; cutting down live old-age Spruce trees (giants); autocratic permission of sanitary clear cuttings; violation of the ecological balance within the protected forest; infliction of damage to biological diversity.

Events, facts, documents and evidences: In 2001 the new administration of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National park, led by the general director Nickolai Bambiza, undertook an attempt to execute sanitary clear cuttings in protected compartments of the Regulated Nature Zone (protection category II). The occasion for this action was the mass breeding of the Bark beetle in Spruce forests of the Pushcha. Mass breeding had begun in this time as a result of extremely adverse weather conditions of previous years.

Without an official sanction of cutting down living forest and even without the coordination of this question with the Scientific Council of the National Park, the woodcutters started to cut down the Spruces infected by Bark beetle in masses. They had been demanded orally to do so by the director of the National park and the action included cutting of living trees.

On these pictures just a few sites are shown where this kind of cuttings began.

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(Pictures 1-4 - compartment 553, pictures 5-7 - compartment 552, picture 8 - compartment 529; July 12, 2001)

Many trees faced their destiny to be cut down by axes. The cutting included old-age trees which did not show any attributes of lesion by Bark beetle.

These were giant and healthy living Spruces before they were cut down «for the company» together with infected trees by the Bark beetle.

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(Compartment 553, July 12, 2001)

The control inspection undertaken at July 12, 2001 in compartment 553 confirmed that healthy trees had been pulled down. Patches of the bark of freshly cut Spruce trees were investigated. A great number of trees did not show any trace of the presence of Bark beetles between the bark and the core of the trees, although tens of these healthy trees had been cut in this stand of Spruce.

These pictures present the moment at which patches of bark from felled Spruces were inspected. Not even the slightest attributes of presence of Bark beetles could be noted however.

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(Compartment 553, July 12, 2001)

Further, the administration of the National Park had without an official sanction and autocratically begun to bring sanitary clear cuttings into practice on separate sites where the structure of the forest stands was characterized by a high percentage of Spruce trees.

These pictures show clear cutting at one site of this type of forest. All trees were pulled down and taken out of the forest, while even young trees and the growth of seedlings, undergrowth and other vegetation were destroyed on these places. As a result many sites made the impression to be «ecological deserts».

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(Compartment 529, July 12, 2001) (Compartment 586, July 12, 2001)

Our information. Sanitary clear cuttings in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha are not allowable. The fact that the Pushcha's forests are unique can only be explained by the high age of its trees, the complexity of the composition of the species and of the structure of the forest stands. Woods as the ones under discussion may only develop under the conditions of a total absence of clear cuttings.

When Spruces decay and Spruce stands are under massive attack of Bark beetles Pines, Oaks, Hornbeams, Ashes and other kinds of trees naturally remain vital as ever, as well as individual Spruces which sustain the attack of the Bark beetle or are not attacked at all. On such sites, where Spruce decays naturally, a sufficient number of young trees are available to fill the gap that was opened up in the forest complex. In allowing natural recovery of the forest, a continuous process, young trees with a varied age, growth of seedlings of forest-forming species as well as a rich undergrowth of shrubs and plants remain part of the ecosystem. Huge giant trees will be growing side-to-side with forests of a younger generation. These trees do shape the unique character of the wild forest, which shows patches of younger and older parts of forest within Belovezhskaya Pushcha. The small scaled variation in the forest, differing from place to place, creates a mosaic of forest types and ecological niches. The natural regeneration and process increases the biological diversity of the forest and raises the sustainability of the forests ecosystems as well.

This natural process is continuous in time and is infinite. It is this process which shaped the unique Belovezhskaya Pushcha Primeval Forest through time! This Forest will maintain itself as the local natural vegetation. But clear cutting of the forest leads to a simplification of the structure of the young forest. Clear cutting also leads to felling trees which are potential candidates to become giants of the forest in coming ages and they possess a unique fond of genes as well. So, as result of clear cutting the natural and ecological «quality and quantity» of Belovezhskaya Pushcha Primeval Forest decreases!

These photos show stands of Spruce forest in which Bark beetle devastated old trees. The Bark beetles aroused locally 20 to 25 years ago. Since these insects killed the trees the forest has been renewing itself. It is well visible that the remaining Pines and Spruces of old-age are surrounded by young generations of Spruce, mixed with Birches and Oak. They will naturally reshape the forest on longer term.

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(Compartment 844, July 12, 2001)

In order to cover the illegal activities carried out by the administration of the National Park it hurried itself to form a commission of ten members. The members mainly represent the administration of the Park itself; experts of the Forest Department as well as the department of Property Management Department of the President (Order ?87-p from July 4, 2001). The commission grounded clear cuttings on the protected territory and consequently appropriate documents allowing intense management in disharmony with the preservation of the forests fragile ecosystems. The document was presented as the so-called Act «About results of inspection of Spruce forests in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park» on June 27, 2001. These documents were submitted to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Protection and the Ministry of Forests, at the moment that the clear cuttings were to be sanctioned.

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(Pictures 1 and 2. The Act «About results of inspection of spruce forests».
Picture 3. The sanction on sanitary clear cuttings)

However journalists and experts of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Protection raised alarm immediately after they learned about the recent actions executed. Scandalous publications exposing far-reaching plans of cuttings in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha have appeared in press.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Protection has suspended the sanction on cuttings. Minister L. Khoruzhik created a State Commission to make decisions concerned to expediency of sanitary clear cuttings in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha (Order No 178, July 24, 2001). Parties involved in the Commission were the scientists and experts of the National Park, the National Academy of sciences, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Protection, the Ministry of Forests, and the Belarusian Forest Protection Department. The Commission was headed by Professor Victor Parfenov, a leading scientist-biologist and the Director of the Institute of Experimental Botany of the National Academy of sciences.

The State Commission affirmed an infringement on the rules of selective sanitary cutting. The infringement included cutting down the living forest in protected compartments. In compartment 685 the Commission noted that a considerable patch of the forest has been marked wrongly to be felled later. This patch of forest included giant Spruces. Rough marks hewed in the stems with a wide of the palm of a hand had been made at this location by axes, indicating that these trees were to be felled shortly after. Most of the trees filled the marks completely themselves with their pitch within one week. This indicates that these vital trees had great force which allowed them to fill burrows of bugs by their pitch as well as the more serious damage made by axes. Nevertheless there was a purpose to fell these trees axes shortly after! The felling included old-age trees of particular natural worth! In compartment 507 clear cutting of an area of 2.5 hectare of mixed forest (60% Spruce, 30% Pine, 10% Birch and Oak) was planned.

The State Commission, which visited the Belovezhskaya Pushcha forests, found as well that timber was left behind in the forest. This is another violation of the rules which apply to safe and selective sanitary cutting of Spruces suffering infection of Bark beetle. The decaying timber left behind after sanitary cutting serves as a hotbed for the distribution of Bark beetles and other insects!

The trees which make up this stack of wood of Spruce were felled in May 2001, while these photos were made in July of the same year. Bark beetles have seriously been damaging these felled pieces of wood, while the bark already began to scale off and fall of the stem. Later newly felled trees, infected as well as non-infected specimens, were put on top of the old stack. It allows Bark beetles to expand their local hotbed for further distribution of the species.

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(Compartment 553, July 12, 2001)

The Commission made notice of all mentioned violations in an act.

The Commission noted that, except for sanitary cuttings, the administration of the National Park did not undertake any other action to solve the struggle of Bark beetle. Traps attracting the bugs by pheromones as well as spreading logs of Spruce in order to attract Bark beetles as well for example have not been set up.

After having studied all data carefully the Commission draw the conclusion by majority that sanitary clear cuttings in the National Park should be prohibited as these acts are contradicting to the basic goals and tasks which the Park should aim for. The Commission has forbidden to cut down separate Spruce trees as well. Any living Spruce, independent of the fact that it is or not infected by Bark beetle may not be felled. A permission to cut trees can only be obtained if obvious attributes of death can be observed.

However, the act prepared by the Commission, has not been signed as a legal act. The administration of the National Park together with representatives of the President's Property Management Department felt «offended» by the act and refused to sign it so far.

Immediately after the State Commission officially commented sanitary cutting the administration of the National Park prepared a letter addressed to L. Khoruzhik and V. Parfenov. On behalf of the administration and so-called «old» workers of the Park the board of the National Park proved an inaccuracy of the decision of the Commission. The board offered to reconsider the decision of the Commission. The letter was signed by nine people. Truly photocopies of three more signatures were added at the end of the letter as well as four more signatures which were put on an additional sheet. Later Nickolai Marchuk, one of the best educated foresters, expressed that he had not signed the version of the letter which had been sent to Minsk. He personally paid the price of being taken off from the task of being a forester at first and being dismissed from the National Park later.

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(Pictures 4, 5, 6. The letter on behalf of the administration and «old» workers)

After this event took place a new order of the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Protection was issued. The State Commission inspected the management of Belovezhskaya Pushcha on location once again on September 18-21, while their support counted in number of members had grown at that time already. The Commission repeatedly confirmed an interdiction on sanitary clear cuttings of live forest. However it authorized cutting newly-infected Spruces in the months May and June.

Still this decision was not suitable either for the administration of the National Park. As a result the second act prepared by the Commission remained unsigned as well up to today.

On the contrary, the administration of the Park and leaders of the President's Property Management Department expressed their opinion regarding sanitary woodcutting through printed media. They accused scientists and experts to have acted «irresponsible» towards the forest. According to them scientists and experts failed to defense protection of the Pushcha as their restrictions (i.e. no felling in May and June) lead to a strong strike of Bark beetles on the forests of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, at least in their view.

Successively a great number of dismissals have been expressed by professional experts of the National Park, which were not supported by the administration of the National Park which repeated its attempts to organize sanitary clear cuttings in protected parts of Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

The situation led to a grandiose scandal, with major exposure in press and thanks to the persisted resistance of the scientists of the National Academy of sciences, the experts of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Protection and of the Ministry of Forests, as well as some of the scientists and experts of the National Park the Commission in the end managed to halt sanitary clear cuttings. The administration of the Park was compelled to stop cutting down living trees which showed no attributes of a visible infection by Bark beetle.

However, it was nothing more than a temporary «time-out». A short time later felling of living trees in the protected forest has started again.

Further: Felling of giant living Spruces as traps for Bark beetle