Nr 3 (81)
English language version of Dzikie Życie
The Białowieża Forest: An Unfulfilled Promise
-A. Janusz Korbel
The Scientific Park Council decided to expand national park status to the entire Białowieża Forest on the Polish side of the border in 1991 (all of the Białowieża Forest on the Belarussian side of the border already has national park status).
The Beginning of the Campaign
In 1993 Pracownia (Workshop for All Beings), after learning of the cutting of trees in Białowieża, undertook efforts to document this destruction through photographs and film. After consulting with environmental scientists, the organization decided to take action to save the forest. During this same period, a handful of English and Danish environmental journalists, after spending a month in Białowieża, published a English-language report about the logging of this rare forest. This document was sent to environmental organizations throughout the world.
In 1994, the first issue of Dzikie Życie (Wild Nature) was published; it was mainly devoted to the protection efforts of the Białowieża Forest. Scientists conducting research in this Białowieża also expressed their concerns. This issue was printed in English and was widely distributed. Two of these scientists worked out a plan to enlarge the national park to include the whole of the forest. The plan was forwarded to the Ministry of the Environment in 1994.
In September of 1994 Pracownia (Workshop for All Beings) transported the stump of a 300 year-old oak that had been cut down in the Białowieża Forest. Images of this event reached the world. Several organizations were united in their demands to enlarge the park, including the State Nature Protection Council, the Nature Protection Committee of the Polish Academy of Sciences, and the president of Poland’s environmental council. We received letters from world-famous nature authorities who could not believe that the entire forest did not have national park status in Poland.
Białowieża Becomes an Issue throughout the World
In November of 1994 the organization BISON was formed in the United States (Białowieża International Support Organizations Network). The Native Forest Network also recognized the protection of the Białowieża Forest as a high priority. The result was an international demonstration on December 5, 1994 at various Polish consulates and embassies throughout the world. Protesters criticized the Polish government’s hesitancy in expanding the national park.
In April of 1995 activists from at least 15 countries traveled to Warsaw. They participated in a demonstration in front of the Ministry of the Environment, with some of them chaining themselves to the gate The media informed the world about this event. Shortly after the Society for the Protection of the Białowieża Forest was formed, composed mainly of scientists whose research is focused on the forest.
Polish Environmental Organizations in Support of the Forest
In May of 1996, at a special meeting of Pracownia about Białowieża Forest, plans were suggested to form a coalition of different organizations to support the expansion of national park status for the entire forest. This plan was approved and a coalition agreement was signed on June 17, 1996 by several Polish environmental organizations, including the Society for the Protection of the Białowieża Forest which coordinated activities and played a leading role in this campaign. For Earth Day, a television station took a survey on whether or not the entire Białowieża Forest should be granted national park status. A majority of Poles supported an expanded park. The expansion of the park was also supported by important cultural figures (including journalist Ryszard Kapuściński and writer Czesław Miłosz).
As a result of both domestic and international pressure, on July 16, 1996 the Council of Ministers announced that the park would be expanded by 5.5 hectares. However over 80% of the forest still remained outside the park.
In May of 1998, the minister of the environment announced the “Białowieża Forest Contract”
which promised that the entire forest would be granted national park status by 2000 and provided suitable provisions for the local community. An English language version of this contract was printed and was widely distributed throughout the world. Polish government officials lauded their achievements with regard to Białowieża at a world exhibit in Hanover.
In 1999 the Polish government allotted 20 million złoty for the expansion of the national park.
10 million was to be for investment, and the other 10 million was to fund various projects.
The local governments of Białowieża, Narewka, Dubicze Cerkiewne and the city of Hajnówka were to receive 8,750, 000 złoty; only 1,250,000 was to go toward direct investment in the Białowieża National Park. In 2000, 10 million złoty were also allotted to the expansion of the park.
Throwing Eggs at the Minister
On April 14, 2000 demonstrators against the expansion of the park threw eggs at the minister of the environment when he visited Białowieża. This crowd of a couple hundred people was organized by the local forest district (which itself is supposedly controlled by the Ministry of Environment). This campaign against the park took on demagogic qualities, with opponents of the park expansion claiming that it would be harmful to the Belarussian minority in the area. On one radio program outlandish claims were also made that the park would serve as a military base for NATO to install nuclear arms against Russia.
Why Isn’t the Entire Forest a National Park?
Is it the End of a Dream?
In January of 2001 the Polish Ministry of the Environment took back all its promises. The national park was not expanded within the designated time period and it might not ever happen. New nature protection laws put the decision to establish national parks in the hands of local government, and local governments (which is more influenced by the State Forest administration than by nature specialists) generally fight against all forms of nature protection.
The State Forest Service, which is supposedly subordinate to the Ministry of Environment, does not want the national park to be expanded. Instead the forest service is lobbying to expand logging in Białowieża and to end the current moratorium on cutting old growth trees in the forest.
Why is the Tail Wagging the Dog?
The demonstration against the Minister of Environment in Białowieża was organized by State Forestry officials who sent faxes summoning locals to protest against the park’s expansion. The end result was that the demonstrator threw eggs at the minister. Is the State Forest Service subordinate to the Ministry of Environment or is the ministry subordinate to the Forest Service?
No one should tolerate duplicity from its governing officials. Nature does not belong to local governments, to Polish politicians, or municipalities; it is part of the common good. It belongs to all of us and it is our responsibility to protect it.
Nature absolutely needs defenders, people who are ready to defend it against politicians, special interest groups, and the manipulation of misleading information.
We need reliable people in the struggle to defend nature, this is why we are calling for action on behalf of Białowieża. Nature protection efforts will not be legitimate in Poland until government representatives stop shirking their responsibilities and live up to their earlier promises. Until all of Białowieża is granted national park status, Poland will not be credible with regard to its environmental declarations. It’s not the forestry service or local communities which are to blame for the present situation. Foresters have to look after forest productivity and local government must look after its citizens. Its our politicians who lie to society and peddle pro-environmental views abroad while at the same time shirking difficult decisions, disregarding the advice of scientific authorities and misleading local communities at home. Politicians’ promises regarding Białowieża are already history. The time has come to hold politicians accountable to their promises.
Please send letters to the prime minister of Poland demanding a rapid expansion of the Białowieża National Park to include the entire area of the forest.
Sample letter below:
Przezez Rady Ministrów
Pan Jerzy Buzek
Al. Ujazdowskie 1/3
Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
For the good of Poland, I strongly urge you to take all possible action to expand the Białowieża National Park to include the entire Białowieża Forest. The Polish government has promised to extend national park status to the whole forest and the January deadline for this expansion has already passed. Further indifference regarding this matter threatens one of Poland’s greatest natural treasures and undermines the credibility of Poland in the eyes of the world.
Stop the Destruction of Nature in the Bieszczady Region!
Łokiec is one of the most beautiful recesses on the Osława River in the Bieszdzady region. It is located near the towns of Duszatyna and Komańcza; it’s name Łokiec (“elbow”) refers to its unique geographical formation--a semi-circular bend in the river. On March 28, 2000, due to the efforts of foresters, naturalists, and pressure from environmentalorganizations, the surrounding area became a nature reserve (referred to as “Osława Gorge”).
In mid February the editors of Dzikie Życie (Wild Nature) received telephone calls and letters informing us that this unique river reserve might be destroyed. According to this information, the head of the Podkarpacki Voivodeship has plans to build an hydro-electric plant that would sacrifice Łokiec and the surrounding nature reserve. While the scale of this investment is not large, it would irreparably damage this beautiful area. 23 organizations signing the "Agreement for Wild Nature" sent letters of protest regarding this matter to the local voivodeship, the Polish Minister of the Environment, and to the national head of Nature Conservation. Several other environmental and nature conservation organizations and private citizens have also indicated their opposition to the plans to build the hydro-electric plant in this area. You can also play a part in stopping these insane plans. Please send letters to the following officials:
Wojewoda Podkarpacki, Zbigniew Sieczkoś
ul. Grunwadzka 15
Minister of the Environment, Antoni Tokarczuk
ul. Wawelska 52/54
Glówny Konserwator Przyrody, Janusz Radziejowski
ul. Wawelska 52/54
What’s Chirping in the Forest?
Interview with Andrzej Bobiec, a scientist from Białowieża National Park and president of the Society for the Protection of the Białowieża Forest.
Janusz Korbel of Pracownia (Workshop for All Beings) spoke with scientist Andrzej Bobiec about the Białowieża Forest and the campaign to save it. In this interview, Bobiec mentions that the Białowieża campaign is perhaps the longest, most intensive social campaign in the history of the third Republic of Poland that has not attained its goals. He discusses the resistance to the expansion of the national park, suggesting that until the prime minister of Poland signs a decree making the park a reality, its opponents will do all in their power to ensure that the expansion does not happen. In response to Korbel’s inquiry about the resistance of the local population to the expansion, Bobiec says that it is difficult for him to understand. "They have one of the most valued natural treasures in Europe, and they continue to see the future of the region in terms of logging and agricultural and industrial development." However, he also mentions that at the same time, many new business are springing up in response to the increased volume of tourists to the area. This is especially true with regard to various kinds of agro-tourism.
Bobiec indicates that he does not blame local inhabitants or foresters for derailing the expansion of the park, but rather national politicians who went back on their decision, as well as those who exacerbated the conflict with local people. He believes that expanding the park and preserving this last primeval forest of its kind would be an important symbolic action, and would be a step toward preserving the unique cultural richness of the area. Bobiec also mentions his doubts about the effectiveness of a forest certification system with regard to granting real protection to forests.
Stop the World!
In this article, Marta Lelek contemplates the role of "bioregions" in the lives of people in the past and present. She describes a time when people did not move far beyond the places where they lived. A time when lives were simple, but when the body and soul co-existed. Lelek mentions how this changed when people began to travel more, first there were wanderers and eventually traveling merchants. Eventually such trade led to a quickening in the paces of our lives. She writes that, "nowadays, we have the impression that if we don’t move around from place to place we are not living. A successful life is measured in terms of the distance covered." This tendency has led us to an expanded tourist industry which often strips places of their individuality, rendering tourist destinations more and more like one another.
Lelek discusses the dilemma of the "eco-tourist." According to her, this is a person who has lost their soul, someone who is now in search of it, looking for this sense of soul in a given bioregion. Such individuals travel to remote regions and have the sense that they are (for a short time at least) existing in harmony with their immediate surroundings. However, this is only an illusion. Everywhere the tourist travels they carry with them the seeds that can potentially destroy a local bioregion: disease, greed, and phobias. They teach locals that the bioregion can be treated and exploited as a resource.
Lelek points out that tourist development in areas where only scraps of bioregionalism remain may be acceptable, even desirable. However, in those areas where the bioregion is intact and functions as a more harmonious unit, eco-tourism is destructive insofar as it is also a form of globalization. The author states that, in order to save the last bioregions, we must stop, or at least slow our pace. "Saving these disappearing worlds requires a form of ideal love. It requires that we stop taking, stop consuming, and this is very difficult. It’s akin to loving something that one shouldn’t touch or look at. Does such love exist? We should remain in our own places, and hope that in other, remote places, bioregions will continue to thrive. Instead, we should direct our innate need to act toward our own surroundings, to our own bioregion in which certain potential still exists. Who knows what potential lies dormant, waiting for a breath of new air? Potential or soul? It’s only a question of what you call it ."
What’s Happening with the Białowieża Forest?
The single oldest remaining mixed lowland primeval forest in Europe continues to be exploited as an economic resource in Poland.
· In 1994 Pracownia (Workshop for All Beings) transported the stump of a 300 year-old tree from the Białowieża Forest to the front of the Polish parliament building in Warsaw. This marked the beginning of our campaign to save the Białowieża Forest--a campaign supported by people throughout the world. In 1994 a “Forest Promotional Complex” was established in Białowieża Forest. According to authorities, its purpose was forest and environmental protection, it was also to be a training ground for “balanced and multi-purpose forest management”. The World Bank financed the international project of turning Białowieża into an international biosphere reserve. However, neither of these measures guarenteed the protection of the entire forest and ultimately inhibited efforts to enlarge the national park further (national park status guarantees the highest form of protection in Poland).
· In 1995 activists from 15 countries traveled to Poland to demand that the Polish government protect the Białowieża Forest and that the entire forest be granted national park status. Demonstrators appeared in front of Polish embassies on nearly every continent demanding protection for Białowieża. The Polish government received over half a million letters regarding this matter.
· In 1996, as a result of these efforts and the pressure placed on Polish authorities, the park was enlarged slightly, after which the Białowieża National Park included 17% of the entire forest.
Neither the establishment of the Forest Promotional Complex, nor the
enlargement of the park to include just 17% of the entire forest protected
remaining old-growth trees outside park borders from logging (in the last mixed
lowland primeval forest in Europe). Therefore, the campaign continued, pushing
for a moratorium on the cutting of old growth trees throughout the entire
· At the beginning of 1998, the minister of environment (Jan Szyszko) announced the governent’s support for extending national park status to the entire Białowieża Forest during its administration period. Soon after the National Director of Nature Conservation (Janusz Radziejowski) stated more concretely that the whole of Białowieża Forest would be granted national park status, at the latest, by January of 2000.
· In July of 1998, the General Director of the State Forest Service (Konrad Tomaszewski) gave a directive banning the cutting of all tree stands and single standing trees that were a hundred years old or older. So far, this is the biggest success of our campaign.
· The enlargement of the park was supposed to be undertaken by the Ministry of Environment under the title of “The Białawieża Forest Contract”. This document was also published in English and widely dissemitated at international meetings (including those with the European Union).
· In conjunction with this "contract", the Polish Sejm (lower parliamentary body) designated 30 million złoty toward the “expanision of Białowieża National Park” (according to an item listed in budget legislation from 1999/2000). Based on these plans, the money was supposed to support the costs of restructuring the Białowieża Forest region. A few million złoty were designated to go to the Białowieża municipality.
· In February of 2000, the minister of environment approved the directive on the enlargement of the Białowieża National Park to include the entire forest by January 1, 2001, thereby making it legally binding.
· On April 14, 2000 demonstrators protesting plans to enlarge the park threw eggs at the minister of environment when he visited Białowieża. This demonstration was organized by the State Forest Service and included approximately 800 people. The foresters also undertook a campaign to spread negative propaganda to local inhabitants, suggesting that an enlargement of the park would cause economic decline in the area.
· A victory for the State Forest Service, a defeat for Białowieża Forest. In January 2001the environmental minister withdrew support for enlarging the park and the Polish parliament approved a new law making it generally more difficult to establish national parks (now all surrounding municipalities must agree to the park’s establishment, before the passing of this legislation the national government could decide to establish parks without consulting local municipalities). Economic exploitation of resources from the Białowieża Forest are dependent on decisions made by the local Forest Promotion Complex. The foresters are demanding that the government revoke the moratorium on cutting old-growth trees (currently designated as trees that are 100 years old or older). Their efforts are supported by the council of the Forest Promotion Complex. Foresters are demanding an intensification of logging in the forest; that part of Białowieża Forest outside national park borders (83% of the total forest) is threatened with destruction.
We demand the following:
· Politicians must be held accountable. The Polish government on several occacions announced its support for the expansion of Białwieża National Park, however the approval of new legislation making it very difficult to establish national parks renders their promises meaningless.
· There must be accountability for funds that were to be designated toward the expansion of Białowieża National Park.
· Political steps must be taken to ensure the successful negotioation toward extending national park status to all of Białowieża Forest.
· There must be unconditional maintainance of the moratorium on logging of old-growth trees in the forest and an improvement in the standards of protection for trees remaining in the jurisdiction of the Forest Promotional Complex. The forest service is ultimately accountableto the Ministry of Environment, and since the current government has announced its dedication to the expansion of Białowieża National Park, it has a duty to oversee the economic management of the entire forest. The government must ensure that these principles of protection comply with those for areas designated to become national parks and also has a duty to see that legislation includes conditions which benefit local inhabitants, thereby encouraging their support for an expansion of national park status.