Our Belovezhskaya Pushcha, the National park, Biosphere Reserve, and National World Heritage Site, is in danger!
In ancient times, most of Europe was covered by dense, impassable forests, but now only disconnected islands remain of those primeval areas. Located on the border between Poland and Belarus, Belovezhskaya Pushcha is the largest of these surviving woodlands. In recognition of its unique status as the last remaining primary deciduous and mixed forest in the European lowland, Belovezhskaya Pushcha has been named to the World Natural Heritage List, declared a Biosphere Reserve, and awarded the European Diploma for Protected Areas.
The current situation in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha
Despite its protected status, the Belovezhskaya Pushcha finds itself in great danger. Management methods now being applied in the park are threatening to destroy this unique treasure of the past. Powerful financial managers appointed as directors of the National Park are cutting down healthy trees.
Intensive economic activity is unfolding within the borders of this unique natural forest.
Incompetence, ecological and economic ignorance, and adventurism on the part of the former leaders of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha resulted in a grave financial situation for the National Park. A loan of several million dollars financed the start-up a woodworking enterprise within the park to help allevieate the problems. However, the main threat to the Belovezhskaya Pushcha now comes from the timber industry, which began to work at full speed several years ago. To solve the park's economic difficulties, the current park administration decided to more intensively exploit the natural resources of the Pushcha, beginning with its most obvious riches - timber. Centuries-old pine, spruce and oak are now being cut down and processed into lumber at the sawmill inside the forest, and then sold both domestically and for export.
Under conditions of complete secrecy, uncontrolled logging, including the harvest of live trees, is being carried out. In a move unprecedented since the Second World War, 2001 saw the National Park administration begin a program of clear-cutting live forest in protected areas under the pretence of a struggle against the spruce bark beetle. This is a clear violation of all norms for managing such an environment as the Belovezhskaya Pushcha. In 2002, the best stands of living old-growth forest were felled, also in total secrecy. Even the oldest of the Pushcha's residents cannot remember such a barbarous attitude toward the heritage of the Belarusian people as they are seeing now.
Nature protection, conservation of bio-diversity, and scientific and ecological education, the traditional tasks for a national park and biosphere reserve, have faded into the background. They now exist only as shadows, pitiful likenesses of what they were ten years ago. In addition, the tourism industry, which could provide much-needed financial resources, has not been adequately developed. Unique ecological systems are degrading; the biodiversity that is characteristic of primeval forests is diminishing. Small rivers are drying up and bogs are disappearing. The very existence of many rare species of plants and animals is being threatened. The amount of pristine wilderness area is shrinking, and with it the natural and cultural value of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Exploitation of natural resources has taken the place of protecting the Belovezhskaya Pushcha.
It is no comfort that the core zone, the central, strictly protected area of the Pushcha, has not yet been cleared. This small area cannot take the place of the whole Belovezhskaya Pushcha Forest. It does not contain the variety of life of the primeval forest, nor does it display the greatness and beauty of a whole, undamaged Belovezhskaya Pushcha. The core zone by itself cannot ensure the stability of the natural complex.
The continued existence of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha as a Reserve is doubtful. It is fair to say that the Belovezhskaya Pushcha is not actually a reserve at all: The National Park has gradually transformed into a specialized timber farm. To be frank, it is a protected natural area in name only. The present activity in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha not only violates patterns of ecology and the scientific rules of nature preservation, but also Belarus' own nature protection legislation and the international conventions which the Republic of Belarus has signed.
Deceit and disinformation have come to be widely used to cover up the intensive economic activity, and to distract public attention from the essential problems of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Public intervention is not welcomed and not encouraged here. Today, there is no place to openly discuss problems or to air alternative points of view. Any of the scientists and experts who deviate in the slightest way from the "party line" of the administration is ruthlessly expelled from the Park. In just the last two years (2001-2002), the number of dismissed workers and those taking retirement runs into the hundreds. Temporary workers from other areas of Belarus, indifferent towards the Belovezhskaya Pushcha and ready to execute any order, have been invited to take the jobs of dismissed local employees. Colonizers intent on controlling the riches of new continents and subjugating the local population used similar tactics centuries ago. It's difficult to believe that the same thing is happening in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha, in the middle of Europe, in the 21st century.
Events occurring in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha are the result of well-planned policies conceived by the adventurers and temporary leaders who are currently managing the famous reserve and national park. The fact that any attempts by experts and the public to prevent or change illegal and destructive activity in the Pushcha are ignored or meet rigid resistance is proof of concerted efforts to hide such activities. Even attempts to create a dialogue directed at solving the park's problems are rejected out of hand. Tomorrow will be too late to stop these policies. Belovezhskaya Pushcha will become a timber plantation masquerading as a "wilderness protection" or "nature conservation" area. What remains of the ancient Belovezhskaya Pushcha Primeval Forest will be wiped out, and species of flora and fauna only found in the Pushcha will perish.
What can be done?
The situation is dire, but not hopeless. To affect change we need:
Help us rescue and protect the Belovezhskaya Pushcha! We ask everyone who is not indifferent towards the Belovezhskaya Pushcha, the natural heritage of the Byelorussian people, to support efforts for the protection of this unique corner of the nature!