We live in the world where everything is commercialised. If it doesn’t make money, it shouldn’t exist, should it? In the UK, people question the need for royalty. What are they bringing to economy? In Poland, they decide to cut down a forest. And it’s not just any forest, either. Białowieża Forest is the last and largest part of the primeval forest that covered the European Plain after the ice age. So while I do not feel quailfied to answer the question about British royalty, let me tell you about the forest
American ecologist Alan Weisman described Białowieża Forest as “the misty, brooding forest that loomed behind your eyelids when, as a child, someone read you the Grimm brothers’ fairytales.” It’s where the tallest trees in Europe grow and the home to the biggest remaining population of European bison- which also happens to be Europe’s largest mammal. To be more exact, it’s the place where the species was restored after it was hunted down to near extinction at the beginning of the 20th century. Białowieża is also an IBA- Important Bird and Biodiversity Area. It is not a surprise, as there are over 20,000 animal species living there. Insects that were lost to the rest of Europe years ago still inhabit these woods. Fungi grow to a size of plate. Endangered mammals like lynx and wolves wander between the trees.
While Białowieża Forest is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, it (and, therefore, the EU) protects only 16% of the forest. The rest of it is pretty much free for taking, which is exactly what Polish Minister for Environment (oh, the irony) decided to do. Fun fact. It was the Romanovs who prohibited cutting down the Białowieża Forest in the first place. Yes, the Russian tsars infamous for their cruelty. And thank God that 58% of the forest lies in Belarus. It is not a country without its issues, but at least their politicians did not decide yet to cut down a World Heritage Forest for timber.
“Environmentalists agree that any intervention- not to mention large-scale logging- would cause more harm than help. Managing Białowieża would be like managing Amazonian Forest, and biodiversity would be lost”
You read that right. Timber. You would think that a country that is covered in 30% with forests would find another place for logging. It is not England during the World Wars, after all. Officially, it is the spruce bark beetle that is eating the spruce trees, and, in the Minister Szyszko’s words, Białowieża is “rotting away.” It does not matter that the environmental examinations said that there is no major problem and that young spruce trees are growing in the “rotting away” parts of the forest. It does not matter that environmentalists agree that any intervention- not to mention large-scale logging- would cause more harm than help. Managing Białowieża would be like managing Amazonian Forest, and biodiversity would be lost.
“Why nobody reacted?” you might ask. But they did. Greenpeace camped on the roof of the Ministry of Environment. Scientists and politicians shared their disapproval. WWF spoke against it. A number of world leaders together with Barack Obama expressed their concern. Online petitions went viral. Press all over the world picked it up. Still, most defense was done by local charities and scientists. The thing is, that if EU does not react, no one will help. And Poland is causing enough problems for anyone to pay too much attention to the forest. But I believe in the power of media. I believe that if we publicize the problem enough, we can achieve something.
Let me ask you: is nothing sacred anymore? Everyone has heard of the British royalty. Well, European bison is the Polish symbol. We love the animal. We named a major beer brand after it. Best-known Polish vodka is made of bison grass. We use bison-puns in advertising. And Białowieża forest is not only Polish and Belarussian heritage- it’s important to whole Europe. How can any politician have the power to overrule scientists, environmental charities and world leaders? How can we let a single person decide the fate of European biodiversity? And should politicians be allowed to interfere with the environment to such extent at all? Isn’t the problem of environment brought up often enough? Why contribute to it? Why doom the next generations for a bit of timber?
Let the forest manage itself.