People, Environment

Ancient European Forest on Verge of Destruction

Ancient European Forest on Verge of DestructionAncient European Forest on Verge of Destruction

Poland’s Bialowieza is considered by many ecologists to be Europe’s last standing primeval forest — and all of it is protected as a nature park. But the Polish government has just given the green light to loggers to harvest some 180,000 cubic meters of timber, in what is home to over 20,000 species, including bison, 250 bird species and Europe’s tallest trees.

The old management plan allowed for the harvesting of 40,000 cubic meters of wood over the next decade, but the new plan paves the way for the cutting of nearly five times that many trees.

Poland says the decision was made in an effort to combat a nasty invasion of spruce bark beetles, but Greenpeace and other environmental organizations say the country is ignoring science and large-scale public opposition to the project, and that the country should “allow nature to protect itself.”

But Poland’s officials are sticking to their guns despite intense public outcry. “We’re acting to curb the degradation of important habitats, to curb the disappearance and migration of important species from this site,” said Environment Minister Jan Szyszko, according to

Dariusz Skirko, chief forester of Bialowieza, said, “We are stepping up what we call active protection measures. One tree attacked by the beetle can lead to the infestation of thirty other trees within just one year.” But Greenpeace and other NGOs disagree.

“Scientists’ findings show us that the unprecedented bark beetle outbreaks are driven by large-scale factors like climate change, landscape, local droughts or light winters,” Greenpeace Warsaw Director Robert Cyglicki said.

“What really worries us is that, in [Jan Szyszko’s] statement, he explained to the public that there is about 600 million Polish zlotys [worth of deadwood] left rotting, which shows that he doesn’t see Bialowieza forest as a natural forest, as a place that deserves protection,” Cyglicki rebuffed.

Still, some foresters and other parties, blame a lack of logging for the beetle infestation to begin with, saying that uncleared deadwood left a place for the pest to fester.

Szyszko said the plan is already a compromise because it designated one-third of the forest to remain as-is — logging-free and without man’s interference. “We have decided to exempt one third of the forest outside the national park from man’s intervention.” In the rest, active measures will be taken to quickly eliminate the destruction by the bark beetle,” the minister said at a press conference in Warsaw last month.

Those assurances offered little consolation to activists and environmentalists who say the other two-thirds will no longer be considered “primeval” after the plan is carried out.