GB No. 12, winter 1994



June, 1992. A document entitled "Programme of development of Polish Forestry and protection of national park ecosystems in 1993-97" is introduced by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Protection of Natural Resources. This programme involves taking out a loan from the World Bank (Bank for Reconstruction and Development). It receives heavy criticism from both outsiders and from the majority of forestry scientists. OTOP sends letters of protest to Polish authorities. Over 1300 people, OTOP members and supporters, send letters of protest to the Polish Prime Minister.

October, 1992. A new, apparently "improved" version of the programme is announced. However, OTOP receives it for comments only at the end of December. It mostly repeats the shortcomings of the first version, though the total amount of timber to be logged is slightly less and the amount of money to be loaned much higher. OTOP’s opinion is that the whole project should be rejected: "the programme should be rejected, as its realisation will bring harm to our forests . . . it is urgent to call into being an interdisciplinary team, composed of foresters and naturalists, to prepare an integrated programme for Polish forestry." This opinion was sent to all the decision-making bodies and to interested NGOs. Our criticism has been totally ignored.

January, 1993. The programme is approved by the Polish government.

February, 1993. The Polish delegation (headed by Deputy Minister B. Mozga) reaches a preliminary agreement with the IBRD, to borrow US $ 146 million.

So, it seems that the programme is going ahead, and our chances to stop or to modify it have been exhausted. There is still the possibility, however, that Polish authorities and the World Bank, though they are ignoring criticism from inside, will be more sensitive to criticism from abroad. That is our last chance.


Major nature conservation problems in Polish forests

  1. The number and size of national parks and nature reserves should increase. The total surface area of protected woodland areas in Poland amounts only to 1651 sq. km, out of which only 307 sq. km constitute areas of strictly protected reserves. This constitutes only 1.9% and 0.35% of Polish woodlands respectively. The mean size of woodland reserves remains below 70 hectares. Only in three national parks does the woodland area exceed 100 sq. km. This does not suffice to protect a viable population of even a single bird species. The Forestry Development Programme does not contain any proposal to increase the area of protected land. On the contrary, in everyday practice, the forestry administration does everything possible to prevent increasing the area covered by national parks. The case of the Białowieża Forest is very instructive here. It constitutes the most ornithologically valuable Polish forest complex. Its area (580 sq. km), in spite of being less than 0.7% of Polish woodlands, houses about 5% of the Ciconia nigra, 10% of the Aquilla pomarina, 20% of the Circaeetus gallicus, and 25% of the Dendrocopos leucotos breeding in Poland. The national park there covers less than 10% of the forest area. Attempts to increase the park to cover the whole area of the forest are fiercely opposed by the forestry administration. Similarly the grant from the World Bank to preserve "biodiversity" in the Białowieża Forest is a good example of the hypocrisy of this institution. It has nothing in common with nature protection. It actually deals with preserving seeds and clones of a few, economically important trees such as pines or oaks.
  2. Rotation periods in Polish forests should increase. Trees are harvested when they reach only a third to half of their biological age. As a result of these short rotation periods, old (i.e.>80 yrs) stands, most attractive from a nature protection point of view, constitute barely 20% of Polish forests. The Programme of Forestry Development does not contain any proposal to increase rotation periods; on the contrary, the cutting age of Alnus was decreased this year by ten years (from 70 years previously to 60 years currently).
  3. The proportion of deciduous stands should increase. Deciduous stands have been replaced by faster growing coniferous plantations. Judging from areas with proper abiotic and soil conditions their share should be about 60% higher than is the case (instead of the current 21.9% it should be closer to 35%). Due to much higher productivity, deciduous stands form breeding habitats for richer bird assemblages (richer both in terms of species and individuals) than do coniferous stands. Densities in the former are three to four times higher. Thus, logging of old deciduous stands has more detrimental consequences for nature conservation than does removing coniferous stands from comparable areas. One would, therefore, expect that the very cautious exploitation of deciduous stands should become a high priority in forestry policy. The Programme of Forestry Development proposes just the opposite. While it is proposed to increase the overall timber harvest in Poland by 20% in 1993-97, it is planned that the deciduous timber exploitation will increase by 80%.
  4. Reclamation of forest wetlands should be banned. Old swampy, riparian stands are are the most species-rich forest habitats. Several species breed exclusively or primarily in this type of habitat (Ciconia nigra, Grus grus, Tringa ochropus, Scolopax rusticola, Aquilla pomarina, other birds of prey, Dendrocopos leucotos). Open bogs in forests are vital for lekking species such as Tetrao tetrix. Riparian forests, especially Salix-Populus forests, have been almost wiped out in Poland. They cover less than 5% of their original area. These areas should of particular concern to conservationists. Unfortunately, the Programme of Forestry Development contains no proposals regarding this subject, so it seems that the current wholesale destruction of wet forest will go on. Currently there are no limitations (minimum cutting age) on harvesting willows and very low ages (30 years) for poplars. Thus there is no chance for riparian stands to develop. An area of four to five thousand hectares is lost yearly due to reclamation works.
  5. Harvesting methods should be changed from the currently prevailing clear-cuts to less devastating selective logging practices. The Programme of Forestry Development proposes just the opposite. Under the programme, about US $ 92 million will be spent on new, highly efficient timber-harvesting machinery. That sort of forestry "combine-harvesters" would result in much larger areas of clear-cuts than it is found nowadays in our forests.
  6. Dead wood, snags, and hole trees, being important resources for woodpeckers and other hole nesters, should be permitted to remain in stands. According to the rules currently operative in our forestry programme, no such structures are allowed. On the contrary, for so called "sanitary" and "hygienic" reasons, the rapid removal of all dying, broken, or windfallen trees is one of the top priorities in forestry management. The Programme of Forestry Development does not contain anything to change this attitude.


IBDR, by loaning the Polish Forestry a sum of US $ 146 million, will enable our forestry administration to continue (and even expand) this anti-environmental policy. Though formally only a 26 million dollar part of the loan will be devoted directly to purchasing the environmentally dangerous harvesting equipment, by making more cash available, the loan will indirectly lead to the perpetuation of the current, very worrying forestry policy.

In case any further details are necessary please contact:

dr. Tomasz Wesołowski,
Department of Avian Ecology,
Wroclaw University,
Sienkiewicza 21,
50-335 Wrocław,
0-71/22 50 41;
fax 0-71/22 28 17

GB No. 12, winter 1994 | Contents