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One of the last larger forests in Europe in trouble of being thinned …

Ian Harvey
The Forest

If you’re planning a trip to Europe any time soon, notice that there really aren’t any forested areas left. That isn’t just in Europe; it’s most likely worldwide that forests are slowly disappearing as farmlands are created and more urbanization takes place. However, there is one major forested area left in the Polish-Belarussian border called Bialowieza Forest.

Thankfully, the majority of the forest is protected by UNESCO World Heritage, which prevents any cutting from being done there. At first, the crowned heads kept the area safe as a game reserve, then it later had many different forms of protection like national parks and nature reserves. To add to the preservation, the forest was managed by the National Forest Holding from the middle of the 20th century and was given special management instructions.

The Forest

The Forest

 

The researchers at the Minister of the Environment are still working on and studying the biodiversity in the forest. However, that could all change if there is a massive logging permit approved.

Bialowieza Forest is one of the last temperate broad-leaved forests. These forests used to cover the European plain but the area is now reduced to 0.2% of its original size. The forest now is not that huge, measuring about 1,500 kilometers. However, that does not stop the wild bison from roaming in the area, and there are also wolves and lynx and several other rare specials that are nowhere else found in Europe.

For the researchers and biologists, biodiversity is valued, and how this forest has accumulated the occurrence of large and old trees is being studied. They also value the high amounts of the dead-wood, and the dynamics of how the forest stands. The trees support many different special species, from birds to mammals, that rely on the tree canopy. The wildlife also rely on the lichens, fungi, and microbes on the trees.

Emperor of the South oak

Emperor of the South oak

The forest is one of the most researched forests worldwide, as well as one of the most visited; it’s even compared to Yosemite Forest in the United States. Number of visitors and the quality of biodiversity of the Bialowieza Forest are greater than at Yosemite, so if that’s the case why are there still plans for logging the Forest?

The decision was made as a result of a debate about the outcome of the long-term conflict over the forest – whether or not it maintains its value without human intervention. Many foresters in the area believe that the forest requires continuous silviculture. That involves taking measures of protecting the forest from unwanted changes like the accumulation of dead-wood, lack of regeneration of desired species, and the presence of dying trees being perceived synonymously with dying forest.

While that is the foresters’ point of view, the focus of environmentalists and scientists is on the value of the forest’s biodiversity, which is linked to the natural processes. For a while, the environmentalists and scientists have been proposing to include the Polish part of the Forest into a National Park, instead of the 16% of it currently set aside.

Patriarch Oak, one of the oldest oaks in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park

Patriarch Oak, one of the oldest oaks in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park

The conflict was solved three years ago. The Park at the time was not enlarged but had new management plans that drastically lowered logging levels in the managed parts of the Forest.

The foresters did not stop lobbying for the increase of logging, and the outbreak of the bark beetles that were killing the older spruce trees provided a valid excuse for taking down some of the older trees. The limited logging levels maintained in the management plans are supposed to be increased about five-fold. After several decades of using silviculture instead of clear-cutting, the new regulation would allow it.

The environmentalists believe that the changes in the environment would be disastrous for the forest and its biodiversity. They are trying everything in their power to stop the pending law that would allow the foresters to cut some of the older trees.

Photos WIkipedia