Poland approves logging of Europe’s oldest forest

The goal is getting rid of a pest but scientists, environmentalists and the European Union don’t agree.

In the Bialowieza forest, which reaches across the Polish border with Belarus, time seems to have stood still since its surface, of about 1,500 square kilometres, has remained almost unchanged since the last glaciation. Since then the forest hasn’t been cut, unspoiled or damaged due to human activities. For these reasons, the forest of Bialowieza is a unique ecosystem and the continent’s oldest primeval forest.


bison poland
The European bison is the continent’s biggest land mammal


In this area, which is home to an incredible variety of animal species, almost 20,000, including the European bison (Bison bonasus), elk (Alces alces), deer (Cervus elaphus), European beaver (Castor fiber), lynx (Lynx lynx), wolf (Canis lupus), wild cat (Felis silvestris silvestris), and otter (Lutra lutra), there are the tallest trees in Europe.


Poland decided to endorse large-scale logging in the forest to fight the spread of a pest, the European spruce bark beetle (Ips typographus). This small beetle, which is 4 to 5 millimetres long, attacks the bark and is one of the most destructive pests in the forests of European spruce fir.


spruce fir
The spruce bark beetle (Ips typographus) is one of the most destructive pests for these trees


“We’re acting to curb the degradation of important habitats, to curb the disappearance and migration of important species from this site” the environment minister, Jan Szyszko, said. He also stated that the oldest part of the forest, which is a Unesco world heritage site since 1979, won’t be cut. But scientists, ecologists and the European Union are still not convinced by the planGreenpeace accused Szyszko of “ignoring the voices of citizens and scientists, the European Commission, Unesco and conservation organisations”.


The Bialowieza forest is home to 20,000 animal species including the European beaver (Castor fiber)


Under the new plan, loggers will cut more than 180,000 cubic metres of wood, against the 40,000 cubic metres of previous plans over the same period. According to environmentalists, the increased amount of logged trees will cause permanent damage to the forest threatening its tourism potential.


“An attempt to fight the bark beetle with a chainsaw and an ax will bring more damage than benefits”, said Robert Cyglicki, CEO of Greenpeace Polska. According to Greenpeace, Poland could also be punished by the European Union for violating the EU Natura 2000 programme for the protection of biodiversity.

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