GB No. 3(22)/96
For more than a year, the chainsaws have been silent in the Białowieża Primeval Forest of Poland. Thanks to a multi-year international campaign led by the Polish NGO, Workshop for All Beings, the government declared a moratorium on the logging of old-growth trees in July, 1995. However, an impending decision by the Ministry of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection, and Forestry could unleash the chainsaw massacre again.
The Białowieża Primeval Forest, which covers a total area of approximately 1,400 sq km, is found straddled uncomfortably across the Polish-Belarussian border. It contains the last remnants of native lowland temperate forest in Europe and is famous as the most important refuge for European bison which were extirpated during World War I and reintroduced in 1929. It is also home to wolf, lynx, beaver, masked shrew, moose, and numerous threatened European birds.
For generations it served as hunting grounds for Russian Czars and Polish Kings, and was thus spared from conversion into agricultural lands. The Nazis even protected the forest for similar reasons during World War II, a war which devastated many other Polish forests. Thanks to these unwitting environmentalists, the Białowieża Forest survived in its natural condition for thousands of years, after which it began to suffer intensive timber exploitation beginning in the 1950's.
At the center of the Białowieża campaign is the demand to set aside the entire forest area as a fully protected national park. The Polish government and the scientific community have long accepted that the core protected area needs to be greatly enlarged in view of the immense conservation importance of the whole forest. The logging moratorium was seen as an interim measure by environmentalists to protect the old-growth forest while national park designation was secured by the international campaign.
Just prior to the 1995 moratorium announcement, only a small "island" of 47 sq km was completely protected as a national park, while logging in the remaining 550 sq km on the Polish side accelerated, primarily due to a large forestry sector development loan from the World Bank in 1993. (The 800 sq km of forest on the Belarussian side has been designated as a national park but it is not clear what kind of protection this status affords.) A little more than a year later, in August 1996, the Polish government finally acted on the national park question and disappointed environmentalists when it decided to only double the size of the national park, leaving more than 80 percent of the forest unprotected should the moratorium be lifted.
Soon after the enlargement of the national park, Stanislaw Zelichowski, Minister of Natural Resource, Environmental Protection, and Forestry announced he would rescind the memorandum leading to the logging moratorium. Immediate public pressure organized by the Workshop for All Beings forced Zelichowski to postpone his decision until December 15, 1996 when he would receive "expert" opinions from three advisory bodies, one of which is completely made up of foresters who are openly "hostile" towards efforts to protect the primeval forest.
If the logging moratorium is lifted, logging could resume in the spring of 1997. The Workshop for All Beings had estimated that the remaining old growth in Białowieża would have disappeared within three to five years at logging levels prior to the moratorium.
Now is the time to act. The Workshop for All Beings says that international pressure, letters, and demonstrations have been instrumental in the success of the campaign so far. They are requesting politely worded letters and faxes to the government officials below. Let these decision makers know that the logging moratorium should be left in place and that the whole forest area of the Białowieża Pimeval Forest should be designated a national park.
Mr. Stanisław Żelichowski
Minister of Environmental Protection, Natural Resources and Forestry
ul. Wawelska 52/54
Mr. Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz
Urząd Rądy Ministrów
Al. Ujazdowskie 1/3
fax: +48-22-628-42-22 or 628-68-46
Send copies of your correspondence to the Workshop for All Beings and/or the Ecology Center.
Workshop for All Beings
Pracownia na rzecz Wszystkich Istot
ul. Modrzewskiego 29/3
1519 Cooper Street
Missoula, Montana 59802