Europe’s last remaining primeval forest faces World Heritage in Danger listing

Posted on June, 10 2016

Intensive logging backed by the Polish government is putting rare forest site in peril.
A World Heritage Committee draft decision released today by UNESCO signalled a possible “in danger” listing for Europe’s last primeval forest with the UN body expressing “utmost concern” for the site.
The Białowieża Forest World Heritage site, which covers an area of over 140,000 hectares spanning the border of Poland and Belarus, is threatened by industrial-scale logging, which was recently approved by Polish authorities. The government’s plan allows a tripling of the logging limit in part of the Polish section of the World Heritage site.
“Today’s expression of concern from the international community demonstrates the severity of recent events. Intensive logging would be devastating to the Białowieża forest and could cause its immediate inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger,” said Zach Abraham, Director of Global Campaigns at WWF International.
“If adopted by the World Heritage Committee next month, this decision would send a clear message to Poland that this scale of logging is unacceptable in one of Europe’s last great wildernesses,” Abraham said.
Poland has argued that the logging expansion is a necessary measure to combat an infestation of bark beetles in the area. Scientists overwhelmingly dispute that claim stating that such outbreaks are part of natural processes that shape the forest. A coalition of environmental organizations, including WWF, recently filed a complaint with the European Commission over the legality of the logging.
Described by UNESCO as an “irreplaceable area for biodiversity conservation,” Białowieża is home to 20,000 animal species including the largest population of European bison, a species reintroduced to the area after it was hunted to extinction locally in the early 20th Century. The biodiversity hotspot contains 59 mammal species, over 250 bird species, 13 amphibians, seven reptiles, and over 12,000 invertebrates.
The 21 member countries of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee will gather in Istanbul, Turkey in mid-July to debate the status of Białowieża Forest and other extraordinary natural places, such as the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System and Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve.
Earlier this year, WWF called for greater protection of natural World Heritage sites from harmful industrial activities such as oil, gas and mining operations, large-scale infrastructure projects, and industrial-scale logging, fishing and poaching.
“Today’s draft decisions highlight the pervasive threat posed by harmful industrial activities in World Heritage sites, from oil in Belize, to mining concessions overlapping most of Tanzania’s Selous Game reserve, to the logging of Bialowieza. We will be looking to the World Heritage Committee to take a strong stand against these entirely avoidable threats, and the governments and corporations that allow them to persist.”
The Bialowieza World Heritage site is Europe's oldest remaining forest filled with ancient trees.
© WWF-Poland / Adam Lawnik
About 580 European bison live in Poland's Bialowieza forest.
© WWF-Poland / Adam Lawnik
The Polish government has authorized clear cutting in the Bialowieza forest complex, potentially in violation of EU law and the UNESCO World Heritage Convention
© WWF-Poland / Dariusz Gatowski