Poland’s difficult balance between logging and forest preservation


The amount of forest area in Poland has steadily increased over the past decades. So why are forestry experts sounding the alarm?

Nearly 30% of Poland, approximately 9.1 million hectares, is now covered in forest, up from 21% in 1945. The vast majority of this area is managed by State Forests, a government organization that reports regularly fire from scientists and pro-nature activists.

Critics accuse the state forests of misguided exploitation of ancient forests, most recently in the Białowieża Forest on the Polish-Belarusian border.

One of the largest remaining parts of the primeval forest that once stretched across the European Plain, the Białowieża Forest suddenly found itself last year at the receiving end of Europe’s most recent migration crisis.

When thousands of people from the Middle East and Africa tried to enter the European Union via Belarus last summer, the Polish authorities decided to stem the tide by building a wall 186 kilometers along of the border.

The 2.7 kilometer section that will cross the Białowieża Forest Strict Reserve may not seem so large at first glance, but scientists say it will have a disastrous effect on local wildlife.

Although it is debatable whether the barrier will have any real bearing on the migrant crisis, which has since subsided, it will certainly disrupt the migration patterns of bison, wolves, lynx and other local endangered species, putting the genetic health of these populations even more at risk. peril.

In another puzzling moment, the Regional Directorate of State Forests in Łódź recently published a calendar whose coverage clearly defeats the very purpose of the institution. In the photo, two children look at freshly cut trees, while the caption below reads: What youth is used to, age remembers.

tree plantations

According to official data, Poland produces around 40 million cubic meters of timber every year, which usually requires the felling of around 40 million trees.

Although these figures have more than doubled since 1990, the country’s total forest area has nevertheless increased over the years. No less than 500 million young trees are planted each year, an impressive average of 1,000 trees per minute.

And yet, according to Michał Żmihorski, director of the Institute of Mammal Research at the Polish Academy of Sciences, mathematics alone is far from explaining the true nature of the change taking place.

“What we have to remember here is the difference between a forest and a plantation,” Żmihorski said. Emerging Europe. “In my opinion, a large part of the planted forests in Poland nowadays are indeed nothing more than tree plantations, and I also know that many biologists and foresters agree with me on this point. .”

“There is an empty field somewhere, a tractor comes and plows the field. Young trees are planted in rows and sprayed with pesticides, and often these places are even fenced off. It’s a classic example of a plantation,” adds Żmihorski.

Krzysztof Cibor, biodiversity expert at Greenpeace Poland, says state forests are clearly focused on timber sales figures rather than a bigger good.

“It is high time that the authorities understood the need for a major change in the management of Polish forests,” says Cibor. “The way we treat nature and produce wood should change dramatically. Of course, we need wood, but we have to fell trees much more intelligently and selectively. »

“Logging should move away from large areas such as Białowieża Forest or Noteć Forest. At least 15% of Polish forests should be permanently excluded from our long-term logging strategies,” continues Cibor.

I can’t see the wood for the trees

According to Rafał Szefler, director of the Polish Economic Chamber of the Wood Industry, the heart of the problem is that there is no long-term thinking.

“State forests say they have a strategy, but they also change it very often,” says Szefler.

“One day I came across a wonderful publication that detailed how Polish forests could be restructured over the next 50 years. For example, it showed how we could reduce the dominance of pines in our forests,” says Szefler. “Unfortunately, such ideas always end up being shelved.”

Michał Żmihorski, from the Institute of Mammalian Research at the Polish Academy of Sciences, says that ultimately it’s about setting the right priorities.

“The question we need to answer is what main function we would like our forests to perform. Is it timber production, nature conservation or tourism? If a given forest is located near a big city, then the recreational value of such a forest is certainly much higher than the production of planks,” says Żmihorski.

“Might as well take [Kraków’s] Wawel Royal Castle into pieces and use the bricks to build something else. And yet, we all agree that the reason for keeping the castle in good condition is quite different,” concludes Żmihorski.

State Forests has been approached several times for comment on its long-term strategy, but the organization has not responded.

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