Intensive, unsustainable logging in Belovezhskaya Pushcha’s primeval forest, 2010

Violations: Articles 26 and 27 of Belarus' Specially Protected Wilderness Territories and Sites Act, Article 55 and 63 of the Forest Code of the Republic of Belarus; violation of the environmental balance within the protected area, and damaging the biological diversity.

Events, facts, documents and evidences: On October 3, 2009, the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park in Belarus held a grandiose, much-publicized celebration of what the government called the 600th anniversary of the establishing the park’s wilderness and wildlife reserve status. (Read here why the slogan was misrepresented as "600 years of the establishing a wilderness and wildlife reserve status" instead of "600 years of the first nature protection act" or "600 years of nature protection," which it should have been). The event celebrated the park management’s, the Presidential Department of Affairs’ (the park’s patron organization’s) and the Belarusian leadership’s extraordinary "achievements" in wildlife protection. It was several years since the same leadership had promised to expand the Wilderness Protection Zone over all but a little of the forest’s historical area by the time of the anniversary. This meant the destruction of the primeval forest, primarily by large-scale logging, would give way to preservation. It is almost eighteen months since the celebration, but the government has yet to deliver on that promise.

The larger part of Belovezhskaya Pushcha outside of the strictly protected, i.e. two-thirds of its total area, is exposed to intensive commercial logging. Why commercial? The official designation is "sanitary felling to remove excessive deadwood." However, these activities actually have nothing to do with preservation of environmental balance or biodiversity. Scientists have long demonstrated that the wild primeval forest does a fine job regulating itself, whereas human intervention tends to upset the stability of ecosystems. Belovezhskaya Pushcha is facing de-facto planned logging to provide quality timber for a high-capacity sawmill and cover the local households’ and boiler-houses’ needs for firewood.

The logging operations tend to be intensive. They ignore environmental laws, contemporary achievements of wildlife reserve management and international good practices. Trees are being felled all year round, with little regard for conservation of biodiversity or sustainability, no effort at employing sustainable forestry techniques, and no consideration for Belovezhskaya Pushcha’s significance as a biosphere reserve and part of the World Heritage Site.

Our information. Traditional and generally accepted methods for forestry are often not suitable as management tools within Specially Protected Natural Territories (SPNT) like the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park is. The worldwide recognition of Belovezhskaya Pushcha as a Biosphere Reserve as well as a World Heritage Site does 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. It means that 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.

Cutting down of living forest stands are forbidden in Belovezhskaya Pushcha as a tradition for the last 60 years. Only selective cuttings for the sanitary purposes and dead wood clearing are allowed. It is important to conduct cuttings down at a high professional level and quality in the Bialowieza Primeval Forest to minimize the damage to the forest environment. Under those conditions the foresters cut down trees 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 should not burnt, bit should be left on the cutting site for the natural decomposition to get rich the soil with humus and to enhance the biodiversity. 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.

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 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.


The pictures below, taken in the course of a public inspection trip across Belovezhskaya Pushcha in the fall of 2010, show a system of unsustainable, utterly barbarous logging still in action.


This is what sections of the forest in the managed wildlife zone last exposed to logging a long time ago, look like. Beautiful, wild, if slightly disturbed primeval forest.

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(Korolevo-Mostovskoe forest area, October 30, 2010)

This section is free from excessive dead wood. The photographs show that a large, long-dried-up tree containing high-quality wood has been felled. This kind of trees is the first to be cut down for the sawmill, not to meet the needs of the protected relic forest.

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(A big dead tree to be cit down, compartment 843, October 30, 2010)

Belovezhskaya Pushcha does not have enough large dried-up trees to cover the needs of the national park’s wood processing industry. Therefore, medium-girth and even small-girth trees containing low-quality wood are being cut down as well. The entire operation is geared toward wood supply for the sawmill. There is not a hint of environmental protection.

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(Small-girth wood of a low quality to be harvested, compartment 826, October 30, 2010)
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(Big-girth wood of a medium quality to be harvested, compartment 826, October 30, 2010)

Tractors hauling large trucks and logs are leaving "scars" on the soil and damaging the trunks of living trees amid the protected forest.

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(A hauling large truck, compartment 826, October 30, 2010)
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(Bark of a tree to be damaged after logs' hauling, compartment 826, October 30, 2010)

Below are some examples of typical and atypical landscape left by intensive logging operations.

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(Stumps and sawdust after felling operations, compartment 826, October 30, 2010)

Trees are being cut down and removed on a year-round basis. In the rainy seasons, heavy timber trucks dig up glades in many places with their wheels.

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(Cuttings to be damaged much through timber lorries, compartment 826, October 30, 2010)

Some of the sections are being widened with bulldozers to clear space for larger trucks. The bulldozer blades push piles of earth right into the protected forest, damaging the micro relief.

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(A cutting to be widened with bulldozers, compartment 827, October 30, 2010)
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(Piles of earth to be pushed into the forest, compartment 827, October 30, 2010)