Poland’s Illegal Natural Heritage

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Jan Szyszko, the Polish Minister of the Environment, is known for not being a big fan of… environment, and of trees in particular. As of January 1, 2017, the so-called Lex Szyszko came into effect. According to its provisions, landowners need not inform the local authorities if they plan to cut down trees growing on their privately held lands, nor are they required to do any replanting to offset tree felling. The new Polish environemntal law has been subject to a prevalent criticism both from the European Union and from many groups and communities (not only environmental) in Poland.

However, average trees were not enough for Mr Szyszko and the forestry industry. The minister put his hands on the oldest European primeval forest, the Białowieża forest.

Białowieża, straddling Poland’s eastern border with Belarus, is one of the largest surviving parts of the primeval forest that covered the European plain 10,000 years ago. It boasts unique plant and animal life, including the Europe’s largest mammal, the bison.

image_galleryNonetheless, the state itself is involved in a massive logging programme in Białowieża. Nearly 10,000 acres of Białowieza is earmarked for logging. This summer big parts of the forest wre closed for tourists (which is especially heartbreaking for birdwatchers for whom Białowieża is a paradise).

Polish foresters have massively increased their operations, slicing down trees in the areas that had remained free of any human intervention for centuries. According to NGOs, loggers have recently moved into the oldest parts of the forest. According to the ministry, these drastic loggings are conducted in order to stem out a bark beetle outbreak, and to “ensure safety” for the 120,000 tourists visiting Białowieża every year.

Last Tuesday, the minister said  in the parliament that UNESCO “illegally” added the Polish Białowieża primeval forest to the World Heritage list (sic!). “In 2014, in an illegal move, [the Białowieża forest] was listed as a UNESCO natural heritage site, not a cultural and natural heritage, but only as a natural site – one untouched by human hand in the past”. Minister Szyszko said that he has already contacted the prosecutor’s office to investigate the case.

I_love_puszczaLuckily, Polish activists and the friends of the Białowieża forest from all over the world are still fighting. Environmental campaigners chained themselves to the logging equipment. Today (Saturday), thousands of people will be protesting in Warsaw and other Polish cities against the outrageous governmental policy.

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Milosz Hodun
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