GB No. 9, autumn 1992
The Bieszczady Mountains ought to remain intact, says one scout and ecologist. We have a right to demand that the ministry responsible for environmental protection should defend our natural environment. Yet it seems that now again, just like a few years ago, we ll have to organize protests against ill-conceived plans for the development of the Bieszczady and against the ministry itself.
The Bieszczady, like the Białowieża Forest and the Biebrza river Valley, are quite unique as European habitats go. That at least is the opinion of specialists from the US National Park Service and the McArthur Foundation, while scientists at the local station of the Polish Academy of Sciences speak of 250 animal species, of the last refuges of the brown bear, and go on to mention the lynx, the eagle and the wagle owl. That is not the view of Polish hunters and forestry staff.
For them, a deer represents just so many pounds of meat and a lynx, so much hard currency; in the rustle of forest trees they hear the whir of the chain saw.
It has always been like that. Natural scientists have favoured a speedy increase in the size of the protected area, something they have been advocating for the last ten years. The forest service managed to intensify logging in the most valuable parts of the forest by 250 per cent in the 1980s alone. The ecologists have prepared expert opinions, organized discussions and collected signatures for their petitions, while the three natural reserves in the Bieszczady have been almost totally cleared. Soon, there will be nothing left there to be protected. The Bieszczady streams, once renown for their purity, are full of waste from large stock-raising farms.
The Bieszczady are facing a greater than ever threat now that the top level officials at the Ministry of Environmental Protection lack professionalism or indeed even an elementary knowledge of the problem. As professional conservationists put it in their alarmed letter to Prime Minister Suchocka, the actions of the new minister of environmental protection, Mr Zygmunt Hortmanowicz, have resulted in "the devastation of the most precious parts of the Polish natural environment."
National Parks are about to be transferred to the authority of the State Forestry Enterprise, whose main interest is logging, and the Chief Inspector for Environmental Protection is to become subordinated to the vice-minister for forestry. The State Council for Environmental Protection, whose status is guaranteed by law, is to be abolished. The World Bank, in the meantime, has come up with a "programme for forestry development" that will lead to the lowering of the "cutting age" and in fact to unrestrained destruction of the Polish forest resources.
But it is not only the forestry people who are getting the upper hand. Another group that stands to gain are the hunters. The new director of the State Forestry Enterprise has ordered the hunting of elk "down to zero stock", a decision that not only does violence to nature but also illustrates the unprecedented arrogance of those who are supposed to protect our environment.
August 4th 1992 will go down in the annals of Polish ecology as the day when the efforts of many naturalists over a period of several decades were wasted with one stroke of the pen; on that day Minister Z.Hortmanowicz authorized the "stock control shooting" of the European deer in the period from 10 to 31 August, i.e. exactly at a time when hinds and calves are protected by a close season. It was not until a few days ago that the minister revoked that unfortunate decision. At the same time an open season was declared on disobedient foresters: on the pretext of decommunization, nine out seventeen regional directors of the State Forestry Enterprise lost their jobs.
The minister's ignorance is becoming the subject of common talk. It seems that even the Popular Alliance, the party to which he owes his present position, will soon withdraw its unconditional support for his actions. The Bieszczady bears would breathe a geat sigh of relief then, but for the time being they prefer to keep to their lairs.
The reason is that Minister Hortmanowicz has just appointed a representative for the Biosphere Reserve of the Eastern Carpathian Mountains, i.e. the Bieszczady. The representative is Mr Witold S. Michałowski, who is very well known in these parts. The Bieszczady bears have withdrawn even deeper into their lairs.
More than a year ago, W.Michałowski wrote a letter to the director of the Bieszczady National Park in which he authorized his partner to "represent the interests and take charge of the organization of a Safari in the San River Valley and to negotiate the purchase of a residential building in the close vicinity of the Bieszczady National Park".
Minister Hortmanowicz s present representative had at that time an intense private interest in a certain charming little valley down which the deer of the Połonina Wetlińska make their way to their watering holes. It was there that he wished to organize his Safari . No wonder that the Park director showed him the relevant regulations and told him exactly what the thought of the whole idea.
A few days later.
W.Michałowski, now acting in his capacity as director of the Trade and Technology Company "VIBATAX", made this application to the Lutowiska Forest Inspectorate: "In connection with the start of an investment project designed to stimulate tourism in your region we request an offer for the sale of a residential building fit to be restored and situated as close as possible to the San river Valley." He would not be put off by the National Park director s refusal.
Anyone who has ever descended from the Połonina Wetlińska towards Tworylne will know how many animals there are there. The knowledge is also shared by the representative of the Minister of Environmental Protection and member of the Polish Hunting Union, the very same Witold S.Michałowski. The plans of the friendly forest inspectorate of the Czarna rural district speak quite openly even now of hard-currency driven game management and of continued exploitation of the ancient beech forest. There will be no opposition from the ministry responsible for environmental protection. One can hardly expect such opposition to the forest inspectorate s and private investors plans from a Chief Inspector for Environmental Protection who is about to become subordinated to the vice-minister in charge of forestry.
At the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Protection of the Polish Academy of Sciences I am told, "In the eyes of many, a Bieszczady bear still is just a pile of meat covered in fur. If we were to ask people whether they wanted to hear a wood grouse or get a close-up view of a hind, or would they rather have a pound of meat and a compact disc, guess what the answer would be."
Ecological awareness is very low, but the controversy about the development of the Bieszczady should be resolved as soon as possible. There can be no room here for any vested interests, any "Safari" or personal incompetence.
An unconventional plan fo the development of the Bieszczady has long been proposed by students, tourists and scientists. It envisages restrictions on investment and use of resources, and the setting up of a small student camp for qualified tourism. The idea is to create a "tourism reserve" compatible with the principles of ecological development, where environmental protection would stimulate growth. Services would be placed outside the Park, while its interior would be open to researchers and individual tourists. No space would be left for either the reckless logger or the fanatical hunter.
But those who are planning to set up a Station for Ecological Education have had the greatest obstacles put in their way by ...the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Natural Resources and Forestry. With preparations for the opening of the station well well advanced and funds collected, despite the approval of and tremendous assistance from the local authorities, the provincial administrator, on the initiative of the forest inspectorate, has blocked the sale of land to the young ecologists and ordered the head of the rural district to transfer it instead, free of charge, to ... the forest inspectorate.
What is happening in the Bieszczady today is, alas, not an isolated phenomenon. Difficulties in creating new national parks and maintaining the existing ones (a bare 0.56 per cent of the total area of Poland, one of the lowest ratios in Europe) have been multiplying recently, as have elementary errors and obviously harmful actions. But the great hunt will continue."You can go on staging your protests, a fat lot we care about them," the new top people at the ministry seem to be saying. For we live in a country where officials lose their jobs as a matter of course in a government crisis, but hardly ever at all because of incompetence, ineptitude or misuse of power to further their personal goals.
"Sztandar Młodych" 27.9.92
transl. by Sigullum Ltd.
Very shortly it will be 30 years since I have received in the town of Rzeszów the badge of the Beskidy Ranger. (...)
Although admittedly I am a hunter, like both my dad and granddad were before me, I never ever wanted to introduce SAFARI into the Bieszczady National Park, advocating PHOTO-SAFARI instead (...)
PHOTO-SAFARI allows to "shoot" the very same deer several times and brings in far more revenue to the Park Administration than the real one (...)
I do find it totally incomprehensible therefore, why J. Radzisz and M. Bogdanowicz in their article "THE GREAT HUNT" are hell bent on twisting the sense of my letter by dropping "PHOTO" from "PHOTO-SAFARI". I regard it as a most primitive manipulation.
Allegedly, I was also "as the current Plenipotentiary of Minister Z. Hortmanowicz taking keen interest in one particularly picturesque little dale in the proximity of the Połonina Wetlińska range, used by the resident deer as a shortcut to their watering hole. It was there that he was planning to run his safari."
I should think that the authors had the little dale of Tworylne in mind. I have to disappoint them here, however, as I have by no means stopped taking "keen interest" in it. Far from that, I am strongly advocating that the little dale be promptly incorporated into the Bieszczady National Park. Some twenty years back I was already lobbying for increasing the Park area and hope sincerely that it will eventually become reality (...)
The dale of Tworylne cannot be subjected to any kind of "development". Maybe we might find some common ground with the authors of "THE GREAT HUNT", so that by pooling our efforts we might still save some of the Bieszczady for posterity.
Please note, however, that by taking high moral ground one is by no means excused from journalistic diligence in establishing facts prior to proferring conclusions, a professional principle well worth adhering to in all circumstances.
Witold St. Michalowski
Plenipotentiary of the Minister
of Environment, Natural Resources and Forestry
"Sztandar Młodych" 16-18.10.92
transl. by Sigullum Ltd.
Long before the publication of "THE GREAT HUNT" we have been trying to get in touch with the Plenipotentiary of the Minister [of Environment], though to no avail whatsoever. Today, as we are faced with Mr Michałowski's vigorous rebuttals regarding our article and his attempts to convince us that "in the majority of National Parks hunting, though only on a limited scale, is perfectly admissible", whilst our arguments are branded as "incompetence, errors and inaccuracies", we have no alternative but to reexamine some of the letters signed by Mr Michałowski himself, initially as a private citizen, later as the Managing Director of VIBATAX LTD, and lately as the Plenipotentiary of the Minister [of Environment] Z. Hortmanowicz for the Bieszczady Region.
P.S. In the wake of the publication of our article "THE GREAT HUNT" many people thanked us for taking up this issue. We are planning to come back to it, although by no means do we relish the prospect.
"Sztandar Młodych" 23-25.10.92
transl. by Sigillum Ltd.