Bialowieza Forest: Major Field of Conflict Between Government and Conservationists

Bialowieza Forest: Major Field of Conflict Between Government and Conservationists

The Bialowieza Forest (Puszcza Białowieska) has been a serious field of conflict between the Polish government and conservationists.

Saving Europe’s Last Frontier

The Puszcza Białowieska or Bialowieza Forest, is one of Europe’s oldest and last frontier. These prehistoric forests became a war zone for conservationists, concerned about the prevalent forest logging. Likewise, it became a battlefield for increased tensions with the current migration crisis and neighbouring Belarus.

All throughout Poland, the exorbitant logging with political stimuli agitates conservationist worries. The surge in gathering timber from the forest brought complaints up to the European Commission.

This ancient forest is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the only flora and fauna site in Poland to be listed. According to NGO Puszcza Pracownia, Bialowieza Forest encompasses the most exemplary and intrinsic natural habitats for biodiversity conservation, including endangered species.

However, some in the Polish government aren’t that
nature-friendly.” They perceive nature conservation as a step for tomorrow, to uphold economic growth, and not essentially right now.

“In the West, first they built their infrastructure, and then laws to protect nature began to be introduced. We — through no fault of our own — have been developing for only 20-odd years and we are forced to (protect the environment) now, taking into account the restrictive environmental protection law,” said MP Jan Duda, ruling party Law and Justice (PiS).

PiS destroyed the Bialowieza Forest through a “special act” and divided the forest in two with a fence. Due to this, several hundred scientists protested from Europe. The fence separates the forest, people and community of protected plants and animals. At the same, it endangers the genetic linkage and biodiversity.

Conflict Between EU and Poland

From 2016 to 2018, the prehistoric forest became the centre of conflict between the EU and the Polish government. In 2018, the European Court of Justice suspended logging in the forest and ruled that Poland broke EU law by cutting trees over a century old.

However, the Polish government contested that logging would clear courses. At the same time, it would protect trees from spruce bark beetle infestation. The EU has already forewarned Poland with financial sanctions if it doesn’t abide by the ECJ ruling.

What is Bialowieza Forest?

UNESCO declared Bialowieza Forest as one of the World Heritage sites. Situated on the border between Poland and Belarus, Bialowieza Forest is a massive range of primaeval forest, including conifers and broad-leaved trees blanketing an entire area of 141,885 hectares. It’s a sanctuary to the largest population of the legendary species, the European bison.

The European bison is an iconic mammal species living in the protected Bialowieza Forest. (DmitriyGuryanov/WikimediaCommons)

In 1979, the Bialowieza National Park, Poland was included in the World Heritage List. It also embodied Belovezhskaya
Pushcha, Belarus, in 1992. A vast extension of the property stretched to 141,885 hectares in 2014 with a buffer zone of 166,708 hectares.

The said expanse safeguards a plethora of rich wildlife, including 59 mammal species, 13 amphibian species, 250+ bird species, 7 reptile species, and more than 12,000 invertebrate species.

Image Credit: WildberryPassion/WikimediaCommons

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