The Last Stand? Rallying Behind a Primeval ForestUnited States
New York Times
John Collins Rudolf
Reuters Irreplaceable timber in the Bialowieza forest is being logged, environmentalists say.
In the opening chapter of his best-selling 2007 book “The World Without Us,” the journalist Alan Weisman ruminated on a trip to the Bialowieza forest, the last remaining stand of primeval forest in all of Europe, which straddles the border between Poland and Belarus:
“Think of the misty, brooding forest that loomed behind your eyelids when, as a child, someone read you the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales. Here, ash and linden trees tower nearly 150 feet, their huge canopies shading a moist, tangled understory of hornbeams, ferns, swamp alders and crockery-sized fungi.
“Oaks, shrouded with half a millennium of moss, grow so immense here that great spotted woodpeckers store spruce cones in their three-inch-deep bark furrows.
The air, thick and cool, is draped with silence that parts briefly for a nutcracker’s croak, a pygmy owl’s low whistle, or a wolf’s wail, then returns to stillness.”
The chapter describes a decades-long struggle to fully protect the 580-square-mile forest, divided about evenly between Belarus and Poland. On the Polish side, only 17 percent is national park, with the rest subject to selective logging.
Polish officials contend that the harvesting is for the good of the forest, and that only diseased or pest-infested trees are felled. Environmentalists say irreplaceable old-growth timber is being logged for commercial purposes.
The struggle over the forest continues, and on Wednesday, activists from Greenpeace staged an eye-catching stunt to draw attention to its fate, scaling the Polish Environment Ministry and unfurling a massive banner reading “I Love Trees.”
“We expect the minister to halt logging in the Bialowieza forest until new forest management plans are drawn up which limit logging to the minimum required for local residents and ban it during (bird) nesting season,” Robert Cyglicki, the head of Greenpeace Poland, told reporters, according to Agence France-Presse.
The Polish environmental minister said that new protections for the park would need to be negotiated with local residents.
The Bialowieza forest hosts a number of endangered species, including the European woodland bison, which lives nowhere else in the wild. The forest also provides habitat to wolves, wild boar, tarpan (a species of wild horse), badgers, moose, lynx, eagles and woodpeckers.
Jane Perlez of The Times described the proliferation of wildlife in a 1997 visit:
“Descendants of the bison that appeared in early man’s cave paintings still roam through bogs and swamps,” she wrote. “Small gray horses, a sedate subspecies of the wild horses of the steppe, still graze on native grasses. And in the early dawn, thin shafts of light pierce the darkened world hidden beneath a towering canopy of oak, ash and elm trees.”
Such dense, wildlife-rich forest once covered much of the European plain but began to disappear in medieval times as human populations rapidly grew in size. Bialowieza was spared from the ax by the dictates of a 14th-entury Polish king, Sigismund the Old, who declared it a royal game preserve. Human encroachment chipped away at the forest over the centuries, but protection from a long and varied succession of rulers kept portions of it intact into the modern era.
Selective logging is widespread in much of the forest today, but Polish officials contend that the harvesting is beneficial for the forest, and that only diseased or pest-infested trees are felled.
Environmentalists and scientists say the logging of old-growth timber poses a threat to the biological integrity of the forest.
“Its importance compares with the new multibillion-dollar physics laboratory in Switzerland,” Bogdan Jaroszewicz, director of the Bialowieza Geobotanical Station at the University of Warsaw, said of the forest in a recent interview with the Earth Island Journal. “It is unique, and logging surely degrades its nature.”
The felling of trees, however, does provide income to the thousands of villagers living nearby, who oppose the expansion of the park and restrictions on logging. But with the forest already drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, environmentalists contend that ecotourism has the potential to replace timber harvesting as a driver of the local economy.
The news content in this section is responsibility of the information agencies and does not necessarily reflect the position of the Government of Mexico on this or other related topics.
El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.
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