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Belovezhskaya Pushcha: They Go On Logging It Out, On and On and On …

Article in Narodnaia Volia newspaper

By Heorhi Kazulka

The threshold between the XX and the XXI century for Belarus would historically be remembered as a period of tremendous shocks, sufferings and threats. It is exactly in this period of time that the resources of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha started to be exploited in such a way and in such volumes, that there appeared to be a real threat to the very existence of the Belovezha Primeval Forest: this unique natural complex is now at a risk of being lost to future generations.

The Sawmill Project

IN 1994 when the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park was transferred under the jurisdiction of the President Affairs' Department, a new line of management was proclaimed, targeted at commercialization of Park's activities and development of intensive businesses in order to obtain profit. The supervisor of this process was the former manager of the President Affairs' Department, Mr. Ivan Titenkov. Naturally, science and nature conservation, which even in the past were far from being lead topics, became further overshadowed. The park was assigned managers, which in their background had nothing to do with nature protection.

They started to breed horses, geese, cows, they extended agricultural fields. At some point they even started developing an idea of establishing a pig farm. They took away shops from the state and put them under management of the Park's administration, they started wide trade. They reached high levels in procurement of birch juice, mushrooms, berries, medicinal plants. They started construction of woodprocessing shops and other smaller enterprises. The whole process culminated in 1998 when an idea of constructing a large wood-processing plant in the Kamenyuki village - the resident center of the Park - was realized. In order to equip that sawmill a huge national and foreign currency loan was taken to the amount over 1.5 million USD. Gradually, the National Park turned into a sort of an agricultural-trading-industrial complex.

It is necessary to point out, that many "innovations" did not buy out. Some were just risky adventures and ended up in complete failure, others were just unprofitable. No wonder - foresters can not horse-breeders while at the same time caring about geese. The foreign-loan sawmill project (which, by the way, was prepared secretly without broad consultations and without ecological examination in its true sense) was the pinnacle of unprofessionalism, tanetless management and stupidity. The sawmill turned to be a second-hand piece of equipment, so it got out of operation very often. Thus, the Park got into financial slavery and there is no way it can get out of it. Thousand people of Park's staff became hostages to this risky adventure.

In order to "break through" the situation, in May 2001 the new senior staff of the President Affairs Department appointed Nikolai Bambiza a new director. This person is well known to the people of Belarus by the scandalous media articles related to logging out of unique Pripyat floodplain oak-woods at the time when we was a director at the Pripyat National Park. (By the way, when he was the director there, a huge woodprocessing plant was constructed there as well).

So, the new head was assigned a holy mission of rescuing the land of Belovezha. One thing the general public and the workers of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha were worried about was the fact that the Belovezhskaya Pushcha was not just the sawmill. Belovezhskaya Pushcha is famous all over the world by the fact that it is a biosphere reserve. It is so valuable for Europe, that it was included into the World Heritage List! It is the only World Heritage site in Belarus!

Clear sanitary felling

Once the new head got acquainted with Pushcha, he ordered that the old trees with traces of diseases, drying out of tops and those found to be weak, be logged out. Foresters were shocked by this order: "This is Pushcha, this is not a forestry", experts tried to protect their reserve, "It is exactly because no one cut living tries but only dry standing trees, that it managed to stay preserved. If you apply forestry principles to Pushcha, more than half of the forest should be logged."

Many local people in love with their wonderful motherland first faced this sort of open vandalism to Belovezha nature. There was an unwritten law set up for Belarusian part of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha after World War 2: not a single living tree should be logged. Even if a tree has only one branch living, the tree should end up its life naturally. This has been a law of Pushcha. Trees of this type constitute habitat to many rare and unique plants and animals, which can not live in a different environment. Trees of this kind preserve great biological diversity. In this case efforts and work of several generations of Pushcha scientists and associats were crossed out at once, their experience and knowledge were simply thrown away. Some days later those same wood-cutters were cutting trees and covering the stumps with sand so that no one could find their traces…

Unfortunately, a month later there started a new breeding wave of the bark beetle, which destroyed trunks of spruces. The outbreaks were provoked by very unfavorable weather conditions several years in a row: as a result spruces became extremely weak. That is why, once there appeared the first signs of presence of bark beetles in spruce stands, the Director issued an order to log such plots out, including living stands in the natural regulated zone (II protection category).

Further it appeared to be insufficient. It was decided that purely forestry methods be used of management of Pushcha and clear sanitary fellings started in the Strict Protection Zone (Primeval Forest). For that purpose a commission was hurriedly convened. The commission justified clear felling of the first 50 hectares in the Strict Protection Zone. The justification documents were prepared and passed on to the Ministry of Environment and the Forestry Committee, which produced the necessary permission.

However, a public "safety valve" has worked. Right in that period, Belovezhskaya Pushcha hosted an international workshop on ecotourism. Belarusian "green" organizations who were present their as observers, as well as associates of the Ministry of Environment found out about this "vague adventure" and raised up noise. The media published several articles uncovering the long-shooting plans of fellings in Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

By its order # 178 dated 24 July 2001 the Ministry of Environment suspended the felling permission and established a Commission to study the feasibility expediency of clear sanitary fellings in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. The Commission included leading scientists and experts of the country. The Commission, having gathered together in Belovezhskaya Pushcha and having studied all the details of the matter, has by majority concluded that it is inadmissible to conduct clear sanitary fellings in the national park, since this type of activity contradicts the very goals and purposes of the Park.

However, the protocol which the Commission has prepared remained unsigned: "the offended administration of the Park" together with representatives of the President Affairs Department refused to undersign it. The administration was equally against another, second decision of an enlarged Commission, which was to re-affirm prohibition of clear sanitary felling of living forest but allowing logging of spruces freshly populated by the bark beetle.

Myths used by the proponents of Pushcha logging

The Commission uncovered numerous violations of logging technologies used for trees infected by the bark beetle. The trees, once cut, remained lying on the felling ground for months. 5 July 2001 there were 1,019 cubic meters of felled wood on felling grounds, while 1 January 2002 this stock amounted to 15,608 cubic meters. In other words, the main efforts were directed at cutting as much trees as possible. The further fate of those trees seemed to be no concern to the Park's administration.

Although there was no official permission issued for clear sanitary fellings, forest cutters, by the oral order of the Director, continued cutting living trees widely - those trees that had no signs of infestation by the bark beetle. In quarter 685, with no justification a whole plot of absolutely healthy trees was given out for felling, including tall old spruces containing valuable genetic material. In quarter 507 2.5 ha of mixed forest were given out for felling. All these facts are recorded in the Protocol of the Commission.

The Commission noted, that apart from felling, the Park made no effort to find any other solution to fight the bark beetle. No feromone traps were used, no trap trees were laid out.

Contemporary science and practice show that the best way to fight the bark beetle is a combination of the following: laying out of trap trees with their subsequent debarking and removal from forests once these trees get occupied by bark beetles; use of feromone traps to attract beetles to trap trees, and timely logging of infected trees, as well as high-quality monitoring and forecast of the situation. Just felling, especially if it is carried out not on time, without removal of trees, with violations of the technological discipline, has very limited effect, and may even contribute to further spread of the bark beetle.

None of the protected areas of Europe is subject to felling, which is to pursue the idea of biodiversity conservation. Nature handles the bark beetle itself. But the Administration of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha, in its effort to fight the bark beetle, has completely ignored the world's experience. In this part of the world, the main efforts are directed at cutting of trees. The only logical explanation of this course of things is the desire to take out as much valuable wood as necessary for industrial and commercial purposes.

Destruction of Pushcha continues

So, what conclusions did the administration of the National Park make out of the uncovering and the media and public scandal? Looks like, they did in fact draw conclusions and these conclusions were further realized into practice

1. All those who did not agree to the "general line" of the Administration were fired. The fired included many professional, sincere and wide experts, such as economists, foresters, scientific workers, and others - those who spent most of their lives working for Pushcha. They have even fired the former Director, a forester in the third generation Evgeny Smoktunovich, who did not agree to participate in the vandalism against the sacred natural treasures of the Belarusian people.

2. In order to implement felling plans, they have put together brigades of subcontractors from other regions of the country, who came to Pushcha to earn some money. Pushcha means nothing to them, and they are ready to implement any of the Director's orders.

3. Activities in the Park became even more secret, the access of the public and journalists to the territory of the park was limited. The associates of the Park were not allowed to give any information, even general facts.

4. Logging of living tress did not stop, it became secrete or labeled as "forestry activities". In spring last year 3,500 cubic meters of spruce wood was laid out to trap the bark beetle. But what they used for that purpose were not the worst thin-trunk trees, but rather they have cut out the best building-type old trees. Although they could have used spruces broken and damaged by the huge hurricane which had happened in Pushcha end of February: this way they would have preserved about 10 hectares of living spruce forest. But what happened was - hundreds of old, absolutely healthy, genetically valuable trees, including some of the tallest spruces, were logged out. Note - it is exactly these trees which make Pushcha unique.

In February last year the administration prepared an order for logging and laying out of 150 cubic meters of wet-growing asp trees for feeding of wild animals. None of the directors in the past permitted living forest to be used for that purpose.

Finally, note the logging out of old living pines, which have the highest quality of wood! First time I found such trees in Pashuki forestry in May 2002. After that cases of logging of these trees were recorded in summer close to a wind-fallen tree ground during cleaning works after the hurricane. In the fall mass logging of giant pine trees started in many quarters of the Koroliov-Most forestry. At the moment this same forestry is known to host clear felling of elite old forest.

5. Even the permanent monitoring plots were cut down: these have existed for 30-40 years and were used by scientists for monitoring. These plots represented huge value for science and have been awarded the UNESCO certificate issued to confirm that Pushcha was a biosphere reserve. The Poles have reached great successes doing science on such areas. We have logged them out.

6. Serious violations of the logging technology as applied to infected forests continue. The trees, once felled, continue to remain at the felling grounds for months. They have not removed and debarked on time even the trap trees. The question is - what did you log it out for? To spread more bark beetles?

7. Logging volumes have further increased. Note, the forest has piles of unremoved timber - up to 80,000 cubic meters (!). The sawmill is "piled" with roundwood. The timber is decomposing and becomes irreversibly damaged. But they continue to log Pushcha on an on and on…

Epilogue (pretty scary)

Under cover and hiding away from the rest of the world, ignoring and violating the nature-conservation legislation, the today's "bosses" continue to remorselessly destry the Primeval Belovezha Forest - a sacred treasure of the Belarusian people and the World's Heritage. Belovezhskaya Pushcha today does not face a threat from the bark beetle. It faces a threat from a "two-leg beetle" who does not count with the conservation science, who does not know the laws of the environment, a lying, tough and a voracious person. The unique and fragile in its balance Primeval Forest of Belovezha is now occupied by a wood-processing plant with very evident and clear objectives and tasks. Today this complex represents a fatal danger to Belovezhskaya Pushcha.

Under the headings of "conservation" and "preservation" of Belovezhskaya Pushcha this complex is operating full scale, resulting in destruction of nature-conservation principles and traditions built by generations of local Pushcha inhabitants, just imposing its primitive logging practice.

The only way out of the situation is drawing the attention of all international organizations to the problems of the Pushcha, primarily of UNESCO, Man and Biosphere, and the Council of Europe. By the way, end of January there is going to be a regular session of the Commission of the Department of Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Council of Europe on implementation by European parks and reserves of recommendations according to the Council of Europe's Diplomas they received. Belovezhskaya Pushcha is one of the holders of such a diploma.

Save Belovezhskaya Pushcha - unique European fores