An infestation of spruce bark beetle has split opinion about how to manage Białowieża Forest in Eastern Poland. Drawing on the country’s long history of forestry management, the government has more than trebled the annual quota of timber from 48,000 cubic metres to 180,000, in a move it claims will reduce damage to the trees. Scientists disagree.
Białowieża is a temperate, broad-leaved forest straddling Poland’s border with Belarus. Huge, brooding and straight from a European fairy tale, it is one of the last parts of a primeval woodland that once stretched across the continent. In its deepest, most protected areas, it is strewn with deadwood and moss, and called home by wolves, lynx and around 800 bison.
‘The logging has already started,’ says Lucinda Kirkpatrick, PhD researcher in forest ecology at the University of Stirling. ‘There are three main concessions surrounding the small, 100sq km of protected national park.’
“Once you start interfering with a particular part of the forest and hacking at the edges, you’re likely to make your problem a lot worse”
The government’s move has been criticised by scientists, who believe Białowieża would be healthier left alone. ‘There is a lot of evidence that says once you start salvage logging, you cause more damage to surrounding healthy trees,’ says Kirkpatrick. ‘Besides, if you want to get rid of the spruce bark beetle in the Białowieża forest, you will have to chop every tree down.’
According to the protesters, the infestation could be part of a natural regeneration, where infested Norway spruce will likely give way to oak trees – a species more resistant to bark beetles, as well as climate change. Logging, they say, could also put wildlife populations at risk; its largest mammals have ranges and territories that exceed the 100sq km of protected park.
‘There’s a recognition amongst scientists that the forest is working together as a whole,’ says Kirkpatrick. ‘Once you start interfering with a particular part of it and hacking at the edges, you’re likely to make your problem a lot worse.’
This was published in the June 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.