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Dispute over the future of the Białowieża Forest: myths and facts. A voice in the debate

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Article 2(2016): 1 Dispute over the future of the Białowieża Forest: myths and facts. A voice in the debate [English version of the article published in Polish as Wesołowski T. et al. 2016. Spór o przyszłość Puszczy Białowieskiej: mity i fakty. Głos w dyskusjiwww.forestbiology.org (2016), Article 1: 1-12.
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WWW.FORESTBIOLOGY.ORG Article 2(2016): 1
Dispute over the future of the Białowieża Forest: myths and
facts.
A voice in the debate
[English version of the article published in Polish as Wesołowski T. et al. 2016. Spór o przyszłość
Puszczy Białowieskiej: mity i fakty. Głos w dyskusjiwww.forestbiology.org (2016), Article 1: 1-
12.
Tomasz Wesołowski1, Anna Kujawa2, Andrzej Bobiec3, Adam Bohdan4, Lech Buchholz5, Przemysław
Chylarecki6, Jacek Engel7, Michał Falkowski8, Jerzy M. Gutowski9, Bogdan Jaroszewicz10, Sabina
Nowak11, Anna Orczewska12, Robert W. Mysłajek13, Wiesław Walankiewicz14
1Laboratory of Forest Biology, Wrocław University, Sienkiewicza 21, 50 335 Wrocław,
tomasz.wesolowski@uwr.edu.pl; 2Institute for Agricultural and Forest Environment, Polish Academy of
Sciences, Bukowska 19, 60-809 Poznań, anna.kujawa@isrl.poznan.pl; 3Rzeszów University, Ćwiklińskiej 1a,
35-601 Rzeszów, a_bobiec@ur.edu.pl, 4 Foundation "Dzika Polska", Petofiego 7 lok. 18, 01-917 Warszawa,
adam.bohdan@wp.pl; 5Polish Entomological Society, ampedus@poczta.onet.pl, 6Museum and Institute of Zoology,
Polish Academy of Sciences, Wilcza 64, 00-679 Warszawa, pch@miiz.waw.pl; 7Greenmind Foundation,
Kaleńska 7/33, 04-367 Warszawa, jacek.engel@greenmind.pl, 8the Mazowiecko-Świętokrzyskie Ornithological
Society ul. Radomska 7, 26-760, Pionki mfzuraw@wp.pl; 9Department of Natural Forests, Forest Research
Institute, Park Dyrekcyjny 6, 17-230 Białowieża, J.Gutowski@ibles.waw.pl; 10Białowieża Geobotanical Station,
Faculty of Biology, Warsaw University, Sportowa 19, 17-230 Białowieża,
b.jaroszewicz@uw.edu.pl; 11Association for Nature WOLF, Twardorzeczka 229, 34-324 Lipowa,
sabina.nowak@polskiwilk.org.pl; 12Ecology Department, Faculty of Biology and Environmental Protection,
University of Silesia, Bankowa 9, 40-007 Katowice, anna.orczewska@us.edu.pl; 13Institute of Genetics and
Biotechnology, Faculty of Biology, University of Warsaw, Pawińskiego 5a, 02-106
Warszawa, robert.myslajek@igib.uw.edu.pl;14Institute of Biology, Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and
Humanities, Prusa 12, 08-110 Siedlce, wieslaw.walankiewicz@uph.edu.pl
Date of publication: 12 March 2016
© 2016 The authors. The paper is published under a Creative Commons licence CC BY 3.0 PL, which permits
distribution and reproduction in any media as long as the authors and the original source are given.
Recommended citation: Wesołowski T. et al. 2016. Dispute over the future of the Białowieża Forest: myths and
facts. A voice in the debate. www.forestbiology.org (2016), Article 2: 1-19.
Translation from Polish not authorized by authors.
The last months have seen the return of the long-standing dispute between the supporters of
intervention into the natural processes and human management in the Białowieża Forest,
and the advocates of extending its protection, arguing that it is a unique forest and an
invaluable treasure of nature. We demand maintaining the current restrictions on forest
management, and hence we are a party in this dispute. Below, we summarise the most
important conflict issues, debunk myths and correct the half-truths which regularly appear
in some media.
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What is forest?
Central to the dispute over the form of the Białowieża Forest's protection is the different
understanding of the word FOREST. For the proponents of Forest utilisation, a forest is a
management object subject to various treatments, which ensure the best effects in obtaining
an economically valuable timber resource. Consequently, a forest is mainly an association of
trees in a given area (tree stand). Because the wood of different tree species has a different
market value, the species yielding the highest income are favoured (e.g. oaks, pines or
spruces) at the cost of other species of low economic value, such as aspens, hornbeams or
lindens. The attention of managers is focused on tree stands of the most desired (profitable)
species, at an age that allows for their current or future economic use. Protection of a forest
understood in this way is based on preventing any events that might diminish future yield. As
a result, all the organisms that hinder the growth of the profitable tree species, or cause their
premature death, become pests, which should be extinguished. Achieving the economic
goals requires that man seize control over the forest processes and constantly intervene into
them.
For the advocates of nature conservation, a forest - as argued by Jan J. Karpiński, Professor in
Forestry Science, in the 1950s - is a dynamic creation of nature, in which, through a network
of relationships, associations and mutual effects, coalesced into an undividable whole are:
specific vegetation, dominated by trees; the animals associated with it; and the geological
substrate, soil, water and climate, used by the plants and animals. All the organisms are equal
in such a forest, there are no less and more valuable species, nor there are useful and
harmful ones. There are no better and worse processes. The growth of a forest is a result of
natural events and does not require human intervention.
The word forest used with so strikingly different meaning loses its communication value; for
this reason, to avoid ambiguity, we shall henceforth use two terms: managed (cultivated)’
forest, referring to a forest controlled by man and subjected to his constant intervention, and
natural forest , in which man does do not interfere with natural processes. In this
distinction it is not relevant whether in the past a natural forest experienced some form of
human exploitation, since the natural forest is not identical with the primeval forest.
These two forms of forest (managed and natural) are mutually exclusive; only one of them
can exist in a given place and time. However, it is possible that they are separated in space;
the managed and the natural forest will then cover different parts of a single forest
complex.
Who are the parties of the dispute?
Typically, the dispute over the protection of the Białowieża Forest is publicly presented as a
conflict between 'foresters' and 'ecologists'. Some media regularly create an image of an
ecologist, a green or an eco-fanatic - an obsessed, unstable and unqualified person. Labelling
people with a different opinion in this way means that they are defeated from the very
beginning. The public learns that irrational amateurs, for some foul reasons, put a spoke in the
wheel of rational actions of experts (foresters). All is clear then, no need to read/watch
further, it is immediately obvious who is right.
Who are the 'ecologists' then? This term is used to refer to all the persons/organisations
which demand the Białowieża Forest to be protected as a natural forest and which oppose
the plans to dramatically increase logging. These include, among other:
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State Council for Nature Conservation (PROP) an advisory body at the Ministry of the
Environment, consisting of prominent specialists in nature conservation and environmental
protection (PROP .. 2015).
Committee on Nature Conservation PAS an autonomous body of the Polish Academy of
Sciences, set up in 2015, consisting of representatives chosen by the scientific community,
gathering international specialists in nature conservation. (KOP PAN .. 2008, 2015).
Scientists from several universities, institutes and non-governmental organisations, the
authors of Why dead spruces are necessary in the Białowieża Forest, (including some
members of the Advisory Committee to the President of Republic of Poland in 2006) (Bobiec
et. al 2016).
The Council of the Faculty of Biology and Environmental Protection, University of
Silesia. (Council UoS 2016).
The Council of the Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Wrocław (Council of
UoWr 2016).
The Scientific Council of the Białowieża National Park (Council of BPN 2015).
In addition, for more than 20 years the Councils of the Biology Faculties at the University
of Łódź and University of Poznań have been calling for discontinuation of logging in the
Forest sections of natural origin and protecting the whole of it as a national park.
These demands have been signed by many representatives of forest sciences, including the
ones with professor title.
Increasing logging in the Forest has also been unanimously backed by the most
important nature non-profit organisations, who postulate that it should be retained a natural
forest. These include e.g. the Greenmind Foundation (Greenmind 2015, Stanowisko. .2016),
Greenpeace (Greenpeace 2015, Stanowisko. .2016), Naturalists' Club (Klub Przyrodników
2015a, 2015b), Polish Ethological Society (Polskie Towarzystwo Etologiczne 2016), Polish
Society for Nature Protection Salamandra (PTOP Salamandra 2016), Polish Society for
Bird Protection and 13 other ornithological societies (PTOP 2016), the Pracownia na rzecz
Wszystkich Istot (Pracownia... 2016, Stanowisko. .2016), Association for Nature WOLF
(Stowarzyszenie dla Natury Wilk 2015), WWF (Stanowisko. . 2016, WWF 2016), as well as
co-owners of the Białowieża Forest - the Polish citizens, most of which demand a better
protection of the Forest and not increased exploitation. The appeal to Prime Minister Beata
Szydło was signed by 119,958 people (as of 8 March 2016, Kocham Puszczę 2016).
Who are the foresters’? They are persons/organisations that have a direct or indirect
financial interest in continuing forest management and increasing the amount of timber
logged in the Forest. These comprise: representatives of the State Forests administration
authorities; representatives of timber processing plants; part of the Ministry of Environment
civil servants and part of forest scientists (the forest scientists with opposite views
automatically become ecologists). This group, in its own economic interest, will search for
all possible reasons and justifications for increasing logging.
It should be noted that the ecologists group contains a number of forest faculties alumni, as
well as people with scientific titles in forestry science. Consequently, the dispute over the
Białowieża Forest is not one between foresters and ecologists, but between interest groups
of people/organisations involved in exploitation of timber resources of the Forest on the one
hand, and scientific and non-profit organisations, as well as a large part of Polish citizens that
demand protecting the Forest as a natural forest on the other hand.
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Nature conservation in the Białowieża Forest at present
The Białowieża Forest is a continuous forest complex bordering Poland and Belarus, of
natural value acknowledged worldwide. The whole of the Belarussian part, along with its
forefront, is protected as a national park, while the Polish part (about 62,000 ha) is comprised
by a national park (10,500 ha), nature reserves (about 12,000 ha) and other forests (about
39,500 ha).
The whole of the Białowieża Forest has been recognised as the only one in Poland UNESCO
natural world heritage site, as it fulfilled the selection criterion IX (an outstanding example
representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and
development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of
plants and animals) and criterion X (a site containing the most important and significant
natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing
threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or
conservation). Hence, the Białowieża Forest is a transnational good. It could be awarded
the UNESCO world heritage status only after Poland obliged to protect the
spontaneous processes taking place in forests and cease logging also in the managed part
of the forest sections of natural origin.
The Polish part of the Białowieża Forest has also been recognised as:
- an integrated Natura 2000 Special Protection Area and a Special Area of Conservation (PLC
200004),
- an international IBA (Important Bird Area) bird site (PL046),
- a protected landscape area (almost the whole of the Forest),
- a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve,
- the Promotional Forest Complex Białowieża Forest’.
What determines the Białowieża Forest’s world-class natural and cultural value?
(1) The Białowieża Forest has the best preserved fragments of lowland deciduous
and mixed forests in the European Plain, which used to cover Europe between the Atlantic
Coast and the Ural (Faliński 1986, Wesołowski 2007, Askins 2014).
(2) A considerable part of the Białowieża Forest is subject to natural processes not
disturbed by direct human intervention. They affect all the components of the forest, from
plants, through herbivores and predators, to organisms decomposing dead debris. Examples of
these processes are long-term pulsing rhythms of tree seeds production (e.g. by the oak,
hornbeam and maple), cyclic mass insect (e.g. winter moth, European spruce bark beetle) and
rodent outbreaks, regulation of animal populations size through variable food resources
and predation, and gradual decaying of trees and long-lasting decomposition of their debris
(reviewed in Okołów et al. 2009).
(3) The Forest is one of the few places in Europe with very well-preserved communities
of organisms characteristic for natural forests and their habitats as well as substrates. In the
Forest, there are naturally diverse assemblies of mosses, fungi and lichens, growing on old
trees and decaying logs; communities of insects and plants inhabiting wind throws and logs;
natural communities of mammals, including a complete (five species) ungulate community;
communities of predators and their prey, parasites and their hosts, and many others (Gutowski
and Jaroszewicz 2001).
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(4) The Forest is characterised by a well-preserved, especially in the already protected
areas, species, age (including the decaying sections) and spatial structure of tree stands, as
well as the presence and substantial amount of the tree species not occurring (or occurring
only occasionally) in other forest complexes in Poland: linden, elm and maple. These features
often determine the occurrence of very rare organisms and the completeness of their
assemblies.
(5) An enormous number of species of living organisms occurring in the Białowieża
Forest makes it a Europe-wide diversity hotspot (about 1,070 species of vascular plants, about
260 species of bryophytes (Faliński 1986) and about 4,000 species of fungi, including over
400 lichen species (Cieśliński and Czyżewska 2002), over 10,000 insect species, 180
breeding bird species and 58 mammal species, including the largest terrestrial mammal in
Europe - the bison (Gutowski and Jaroszewicz 2001). Many of the species living here
(especially invertebrates, lichens and fungi) are relict species, globally threatened with
extinction, associated with the ecosystem of primeval forests (e.g. the species dependent on
extensive complexes of hundreds-year-old tree stands, large amounts of decaying logs, etc.
(reviewed in Gutowski et al. 2004).
(6) Preservation of the primeval (developed in the course of evolution) life cycles of
many organisms (Tomiałojć et al. 1984, Wesołowski 1983, 2007, Jędrzejewska and
Jędrzejewski 1998).
(7) The most numerous in the world free-ranging population of the European bison, the
largest terrestrial mammal of the European continent. The Białowieża Forest, as it is well-
preserved thanks to the several-century targeted protection, became the backwoods for the
bison and could host this species in a restitution scheme, after it was exterminated during
World War I (Krasińska and Krasiński 2004).
(8) 600-year-long tradition of targeted and effective protection of the complete forest
ecosystem. From the 15th century until the end of the I Rzeczpospolita (the PolishLithuanian
Commonwealth, 1569–1795), the Białowieża Forest was protected as royal land, and in the
19th century - as a hunting area of Russian Tzars. The protection system, developed for
several centuries (1500s-1700s) with the help of numerous well-paid local services, is unique
in Europe and worldwide an example of effective protection of a forest with the most valuable
animal species (reviewed in Samojlik 2005).
The natural values of the Białowieża Forest mentioned above make it an invaluable hotspot
of species and genetic diversity; a living laboratory; a unique model for biological
and forest sciences, nature conservation and natural resource management; an
irreplaceable model and a point of reference for any comparisons with environments
that have been more transformed by man (Hunter 1990, Angelstam 1996, Rebane et al.
1997, Angermeier 2000, Stutchbury and Morton 2001, Wesołowski 1983, 2005).
Thanks to its values, the Białowieża Forest attracts thousands of tourists and hundreds of
scientists from all over the world. It is not for its beautiful spruce sections but for the fact that
it is home to unique animal, plant and fungi species, as well as diverse tree species in a range
of growth stages, lush development and slow death. It is because it allows for studying
responses, relationships and links between forest organisms in unique conditions of close-to.
natural forest.
The key threats for the natural and cultural values of the Białowieża Forest:
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(1) The cutting of natural forest, started at an industrial scale in 1915, has endured until this
day in a considerable area of the Forest, and timber was intensively logged until 2012. In the
last 100 years, several millions of cubic metres of timber were logged in the Forest. Cutting
old-growth stands of natural origin and replacing them with new tree plantings led to a major
change in the natural processes, a dramatic decline in the native diversity due to loss of
species - especially Forest relicts - and reducing the amount of substrate (e.g. decaying wood),
which are critical to forest biodiversity (Kimmins 2004, Wesołowski 2005).
(2) Sanitary cutting (removing dying trees) and other forms of fighting pests, leading to (just
as in the case of felling old-growth stands) substantial disruption of the natural processes and
impoverishing forest biodiversity.
What will happen if the proposals of the Białowieża Forest Division are implemented?
In October 2015, the Białowieża Forest District (Nadleśnictwo Białowieża) submitted a
request for approval of an annex to the Forest Management Plan (‘Plan Urządzenia Lasu )
for 2016-2021. What will happen if these proposals (Dokumentacja 2015) are
implemented? Within only six years, additional 318,000 m
3
of timber will be felled, on an
area of 6,922 ha. Timber production and other management works will take place in ca. 60%
of the Białowieża Forest District (excluding nature reserves), including the currently excluded
from human intervention old-growth tree stands of natural origin (and felling 200-year-old
trees), as well as wet and swamp forests. As a result, the area of the highest natural
value old-growth tree stands (more than 100 years old) would decrease by as much as
20%! In February 2016, the forest administration changed their mind and submitted to the
Regional Directorate of Environmental Protection in Białystok another request for a
permission to log 188,000 m
3 of timber in 2012-2021 (TVP Białystok 2016), which means
cutting additional ca. 120,000 m3 in this six-year period. The felling will take place mainly in
the oldest tree stands. The main target will be - especially important for the maintenance of
the biological processes characteristic for a natural forest - large and old, as well as dying and
dead trees. Removing thousands of such trees in a short time will significantly worsen the
conditions for all the specialist species living in old forest. Planting the resulting clearings
with selected tree species will only increase these losses. One strong disturbance - a bark
beetle outbreak - would be addressed by a disproportionately larger disturbance, a large-scale
intervention into natural forest development. The medicine would be worse than the
disease’.
Myths and facts about the protection of the Białowieża Forest
Below, we present our replies to the statements made in the debate over the protection of the
Forest, available in the public space. Our comments are provided with references to sources,
the list of which is given at the end of the paper, allowing each reader to independently verify
the facts that we mention.
1. The Białowieża forest conflict is an ideological conflict and not one based on facts and
knowledge (Chałupka 2016)
In some media and in some opinions published on the webpage of the State Forests the
experts opinions discoradnt with the foresters views are ignored (see Who are the
foresters above). Emotional statements are emphasized, while opinions of specialists are
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omitted, shortened or taken out of the context. Instead of using counter-arguments, the term
ecologists is used (see Who are the ecologists above). Indeed, the debate over the
protection of the Białowieża Forest is partly a dispute over values (what should be protected),
however, most other issues concern verifiable and observable natural events. For example, if
it is known that halting an outbreak of the bark beetle through cutting the invaded spruces is
not effective (see p. 2), but nevertheless, using the bark beetle as a justification, enormous
intensification of logging is proposed, then it is certainly an action that is justified
ideologically (or economically) and not by specialist knowledge.
2. Tree felling is the only remedy for a bark beetle outbreak (Kotarski 2015, Fronczak 2016,
Hilszczański 2016, RDLP Białystok 2015, Stanowisko 2016c, Świstak 2016)
This opinion is not confirmed by facts. It has not been observed that - compared to areas in
which the bark beetle was never combated (strict reserves) - intervention in managed forest
(sanitary cutting) reduced the number of dying spruce trees and the rate of their
dying (Schlyter and Lundgren 1993, Gutowski and Krzysztofiak 2005, Grodzki et al. 2006).
This method could be effective only if, in the whole forest, it would be possible to detect and
quickly (before the beetles leave trees) remove at least 80% of the spruce trees attacked by the
insects (Fahse and Heurich 2011). In the Białowieża Forest, due to large reserve areas and
the national park, this is not possible, which is well known to the forest administration
authorities. Consequently, using the slogan about the necessity to combat the bark beetle as
a reason for increasing cutting is not supported by the available knowledge. That it is merely
an easy excuse, can also be seen in the changed demands of the forest administration.
In October 2015, the State Forests claimed that in order to reduce the numbers of the bark
beetle it is necessary to cut additional 318,000 m
3
of timber. Four months later (February
2016) it turned out that - to achieve this goal - it is sufficient to cut only about one third of this
amount and there is no necessity to apply sanitary cutting in wet and swamp forests (see
What would happen... above). Is it because during these four months, the number of bark
beetles dropped so dramatically and because they stopped attacking spruces in riverine and
alder forests? If the outbreak is indeed coming to end spontaneously, then the only reason
for increasing cutting is not justified.
3. If, as foresters and ecologists, we do not act and let bark beetles spread to areas with
healthy trees, woodpecker species, especially the Three-toed Woodpecker, will lose their
breeding and foraging habitat (Hilszczański 2016, Goździewska 2016a).
The Three-toed Woodpecker is actually four times less common in the managed part of the
Białowieża Forest, in which dead spruce trees have been removed while fighting the bark
beetle, than in the strict reserve of the Białowieża National Park, despite the low amount of
spruce in the latter (Walankiewicz and Czeszczewik 2010). This woodpecker species avoids
forest patches with management and maintenance works, even if they cover a small area and a
low number of trees (Kajzer and Sobociński 2012).
4. A sudden end of life and decomposition of [spruce] tree stands in such an extensive area
can be hardly named anything else than a great tragedy/disaster for the Forest (Mucha
and Liziniewicz 2013, Fronczak 2015, Kotarski 2015, Niedzielski 2015, RDLP Białystok
2015, Goździewska 2016a).
The current outbreak of the bark beetle is certainly a large-scale disturbance. It results from a
combination of various factors, of which of considerable importance are the mistakes made in
the past (planting spruce in a large area of the Forest). Hence, uniformly-aged spruce stands
appeared in large areas, which today are attacked by bark beetles (see p. 10). Still, it is not the
most intense of the outbreaks that has been observed in the Forest (Mokrzecki 1923), as 80-
90% spruce trees will survive it (see p. 6).
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5. When spruces die, shortly afterwards vast open areas will appear in the Forest, covered
by grasses, raspberries and ferns. Later, with time, they will be settled by pioneer tree
species, such as willows, birches or aspens. These pioneer tree stands, in terms of natural
and aesthetic values will not differ much from the early forest succession stages which can
today be frequently seen in abandoned farmland, e.g. near Warsaw (Kotarski 2015, RDLP
Białystok 2015, Goździewska 2016b, LOP 2016, Świstak 2016).
First, no vast open areas will appear, since the overall area of dying spruces will cover not
more than 2-3% of the Forest. Second, the most recent studies in mountain areas that were
affected by bark beetle outbreaks several years ago (the borderland of Germany and the Czech
Republic) indicate that gaps appearing after the death of spruces enable growth of numerous
young spruce trees, which soon replace the dead trees, thus initiating natural
regeneration. Any pioneer tree species (willow, birch or aspen) that manage to sprout in the
gaps quickly give way to the abundantly growing spruces (Zeppenfeld et al. 2015).
Occurrence of pioneer species leads to a temporary increase of the Forests biodiversity. This
is a normal process in natural forest dynamics (Begon et al. 2006).
6. The spruce has been declining in the Forest and this is bad news; the spruce will
disappear from the Białowieża Forest if no protective measures are taken (= cutting trees
invaded by bark beetles) (LOP 2016, Radio Maryja 2016, RDLP Białystok 2015, Świstak
2016).
Until the climate changes, the spruce will be present in the Forest as it has been present over
the last thousands of years. The current outbreak has so far caused the death of about 10% of
spruces. Even if twice as many died by the end of the outbreak, 80% of them will survive.
Thus, arguing that the spruce will disappear in the Forest if the attacked trees are not cut, is
not true. In addition, in the nature reserves and parts of the Białowieża National Park that are
left untouched, the place of the spruce trees killed in the previous outbreak (2001-2003) was
taken by vigorously growing young spruces, which today are a few meters high (Fig. 1).
Today, spruce trees are overrepresented in the managed part of the Forest due to promoting
(excessive planting) this species in the past. Hence, the death and slow decay of some of them
can even have a positive effect, as it will allow for the development of a more diverse forest.
7. Without human intervention, the Forest will die (Goździewska 2016a, Stanowisko
2016c). Foresters want to rescue the Forest (Sasin 2014, Fronczak 2015, Niedzielski 2015,
Chałupka 2016, Goździewska 2016a, Hilszczański 2016, Stanowisko 2016c, Świstak
2016).
The Forest, in contrast to crops, is not a human creation. Trees settled in this area
spontaneously, after the retreat of the glacier and - despite many disturbances - they have
grown there until this day. In the current climate conditions in Poland it is not possible that a
forest could go extinct. Rather, there is a problem with maintaining open forestless areas. If
overgrowing is not prevented, these areas are rapidly colonised by trees (Falińska 1996). The
current model of a plantation forest, seemingly indispensable for the existence of the
Białowieża Forest, was not introduced there earlier than 100 years ago (in 1915) by German
invaders.
Since the Forest is not going extinct, there is no need to rescue it. It is the natural forest that is
in fact declining, being turned into a managed forest, planted in line with the human concepts
of what a forest should be like. Currently, the spruce trees invaded by the bark beetle are
dying. If they are left in the forest, for several years the dead and decaying trees will serve an
important biological function: they will provide habitat for numerous species, slowly giving
back to the environment the matter accumulated in their tissues; they will fertilise the soil and
facilitate growth of a new generation of trees. Cutting and removing them from the forest is
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WWW.FORESTBIOLOGY.ORG Article 2(2016): 9
harmful in nature terms and leads to substantial impoverishment of the whole forest
ecosystem (Gutowski et al. 2004, Bobiec et al. 2016). The Forest will last so long as the forest
trees are let die and decompose, and young trees are let grow naturally.
8. In the case of complex forest ecosystems, the passive protection causes their actual
decomposition and loss of their natural values, which are the object of protection and must
be permanently preserved (Chałupka 2016).
Allegedly, a forest left on its own (surrendered to natural processes) disintegrates. This view
is indeed astonishing. The nonsense of this statement is evident if one is aware that the human
(Homo sapiens) appeared on the Earth about 200,000 years ago, forest management in the
contemporary form arose in the end of the 18th century and its methods were first applied in
the Białowieża Forest only 100 years ago. On the other hand, the forest - the most complex
terrestrial biological system - developed hundreds of millions years ago and survived great
geological disasters without the help of humans. Similarly, the tropical rainforests that for
several millions of years have existed in the valleys of the Congo and the Amazon Rivers
have thrived well without the help of humans. It is man, by cutting and burning, who has
created the highest threat to them today.
Spruce trees attacked by the bark beetle
die and remain in the forest. Photo by G.
Hebda
Dead spruce trees fall and form a cover for
young trees. Photo by G. Hebda
The place of the killed old spruce trees is
taken by young spruces and deciduous Changes that take place in fewer than ten years
from the death of big trees. Photo by A. Bohdan
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WWW.FORESTBIOLOGY.ORG Article 2(2016): 10
trees. Photo by A. Bohdan
Fig. 1. What will happen if humans do not intervene; how natural processes cope with an
outbreak of the bark beetle.
9. The Forest, without active protection measures, is losing its biodiversity; in places where
man ceased its activity, there are a number of processes which compromise the condition of
the valuable priority habitats. The object of protection, for which sections of the Forest
have been exempt from human activities, ceases to exist (Fronczak 2015, Hilszczański 2016,
Radio Maryja 2016, RDLP Białystok 2015, Goździewska 2016a, Świstak 2016, Brzeziecki et
al. 2016).
Biological diversity (biodiversity) is an ambiguous term, referring to several levels of
diversity. In order to speak about the loss of diversity, it is necessary to first explain what
exactly it means. Cutting a section of old-growth stand of natural origin and planting young
trees in its place will always cause a dramatic drop in the diversity of species, processes and
structures. Organisms dependent on the presence of large and dying trees will lose their
habitat. A diverse, 3M forest (multispecies, multilayer, multigenerational) will be replaced
by a simplified, 3S forest (single-layer, single-aged and often single-species). Hence,
preservation of the diversity typical of a natural forest requires abstaining from intervention
into its processes.
Human management, in turn, enhances diversity through the creation of new types of habitats,
previously non-existent in the Forest, mainly non-forest ones (such as fields, meadows,
clearings, roads, etc.). This invites organisms requiring open areas and alien species, which in
turn increases the total number of species occurring in the Forest. However, many of them are
non-native species, not to mention that some of them, due to their invasiveness, can even pose
a threat to the native species. Maintaining such habitats requires constant human action to
prevent encroachment of bushes and trees. These anthropogenic areas, however, cover less
than 5% of the Forest (Faliński 1986). In the remaining 95% of the area, abandonment of
forest management will enhance biological diversity.
10. That the composition of the tree stands in the Białowieża Forest is becoming less
complex is bad; changes in the Forest tree stands are disadvantageous (Sasin 2014,
Goździewska 2016b, Kruczek 2016, Brzeziecki et al. 2016).
Natural forest is much more than tree stands. The main reason for the simplified tree stand
structure is forest management, or replacement of diverse forest areas of natural origin by
forest plantations consisting of only one or a few favoured tree species, which produce
economically desired resource (see What is a forest? above and p. 17).
11. The oak does not regenerate in the Forest (Vera 2000, Antczak 2009, Program
ochrony 2011, Brzeziecki et al. 2016)
In line with its life strategy, young oaks hardly ever appear under the canopy of old trees
(including oaks), and hence they should not be expected to grow there. Young oaks grow
in gaps created by dying trees, especially numerously in the areas exposed following a bark
beetle outbreak, overgrown by grass and raspberry (Bobiec et al. 2011; Bobiec and Bobiec
2012).
12. The hornbeam will be the dominating species in the Forest, which is wrong (Sasin 2014,
Goździewska 2016b, Hilszczański 2016, Kruczek 2016, Winiecki 2016).
The hornbeam is the main species in an oak-hornbeam forest, which means that it will
naturally be abundant in the spontaneously developing oak and hornbeam communities
prevailing in the Forest. Because this species does not produce valuable timber, in managed
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WWW.FORESTBIOLOGY.ORG Article 2(2016): 11
forest it used to be eliminated to give place to more economically profitable species. A natural
response to an earlier disturbance is - after the human pressure ceases - an increase in the
abundance of hornbeam in the forest. However, in the oak-hornbeam forest in the strict
reserve of the Białowieża National Park, in which for nearly hundred years the natural
processes have not been interfered with, the hornbeam remains only one of the many co-
occurring tree species.
13. In the managed section of the Forest, the oak and pine, which are very important
species e.g. for preserving the primeval nature of tree stands, were restored on purpose.
This is why their current condition and demographic structure are much
better (Goździewska 2016b).
In the case of natural forests, one cannot speak of a favourable demographic structure. This
structure will vary depending on the stage of forest development and should not be assigned
value. Speaking of a more favourable demographic structure of tree stands in economically
managed forests is a typical example of the cultivation view, as opposed to the ecological
view. Trees are removed from the managed forest when their rapid growth ceases, i.e. when
they reach one third up to a half of their biological age. Regulations do not take into account
the existence of older individuals. If a human population lacked people older than 30 years,
could we consider its demographic structure favourable?
14. These