Position of the Białowieża Forest World Heritage

Position of the Białowieża Forest World Heritage Site Steering Committee on taking into account the current degradation of stands in the Białowieża Forest resulting from spruce bark beetle (Ips typographus) gradation when formulating the management plan for this public good.
29.07.2017

Position of the Białowieża Forest World Heritage Site Steering Committee on taking into account the current degradation of stands in the Białowieża Forest resulting from spruce bark beetle (Ips typographus) gradation when formulating the management plan for this public good.

At a meeting held on 22 March 2016, the Białowieża Forest World Heritage Site Steering Committee of considered a motion by the following committee members: the Regional Directorate of the State Forests in Białystok and the Forest Managers of the Białowieża, Browsk, and Hajnówka Forest Districts. Following a discussion of the current state of the Białowieża primeval Forest as a World Heritage Site, the committee is submitting its position to the Minister of Environment so that urgent measures can be taken to slow the further degradation of stands in the forest.

The entire Polish part of the Białowieża Forest was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites by a decision of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee adopted during its thirty-eighth session on 23 June 2014. In addition to the Białowieża National Park, the areas administered by the Białowieża, Browsk, and Hajnówka Forest Districts form an integral part of this public good lying within the borders of Poland. The framework principles for managing it were presented in the documentation sent to the World Heritage Centre. It was stated therein that tree cutting and timber harvesting in the area administered by the forest districts will be carried out with the sole aim of protecting valuable natural habitats and species as specified in the planning documents approved for this area.

When the Białowieża Forest’s application for re-nomination as a World Heritage Site was being prepared in 2011–2013, the stand degradation – especially that of the spruce stands – was proceeding at a considerable rate. It nevertheless seemed possible that it could be controlled within the framework of national law and the solutions for managing this public good that were established and adopted in the application.

Białowieża Forest World Heritage Site Steering Committee (PDF.)

Poland made an undertaking to UNESCO to place the old-growth forest of the Białowieża Forest under special protection. The contents of the documents sent to UNESCO, in accordance with which all stands over one-hundred years old were formally excluded from commercial use, reflect the situation in 2012–2013 and the Forest Management Plan by which the forest districts were bound. Yet the situation in the forests, which is changing very rapidly, and the pressing need to take appropriate protective measures, compels us to adopt a position that takes into account the processes currently underway in the ecosystems of the Białowieża Forest. It is necessary to change the approach to the forests set out in the application sent to the World Heritage Centre. This especially concerns “partial protection Zone II” and permitting tree cutting and timber harvesting to ensure public safety and fire security and as an element of the active protection of species and habitats.

The pace of degradation of forests containing spruce was exceptionally high in 2014 and 2015 and now covers 30% of the forest complex outside the Białowieża National Park. Both the natural conditions, notably drought, but also the regulations in force, have caused the degradation of the forests – especially those containing the common spruce Picea abies (L.) H.Karst. – to enter an exponential phase. The phenomenon, which is found in almost all habitats, is particularly threatening in the dry-ground habitats of Tilio-Carpinetum, however. The spruce dieback, which includes trees in the juvenile phases (sapling stands), affects 20 000 hectares of forest land. Spruce bark beetle gradation, which has resulted in the mass dieback of spruce and the degradation of stands, has been intensifying since 2012 in the Białowieża Forest. So far, more than 500 000 common spruce trees have died, and stand degradation has occurred across an area of several thousand hectares.

It is necessary to take measures to preserve natural values, including habitats and species under special protection within the Natura 2000 site. The dominance of spruce in dry-ground habitats is the result of distortions brought about by earlier human activity. The re-naturalisation of dry-ground stands should be carried out gradually, including as a component of measures to restrict spruce bark beetle gradation, and alongside the promotion of deciduous species adapted to the habitats. The proportion of spruce can also be restricted in stands that are over one-hundred years old.

In conditions of pronounced fragmentation and deformation of forest ecosystems, widespread and long-term spruce bark beetle gradation, which is a factor of change in such ecosystems, threatens important natural habitats such as subboreal peat spruce forest or valuable old-growth forest. The retreat of certain species, such as oak, maple and elm, at the cost of other more expansive ones, such as hornbeam, should also be taken into account when planning action in the Białowieża Forest. These changes could lead to the loss of some forest habitats, and also of priority species, which we are bound by EU regulations to protect.

The Białowieża Forest UNESCO World Heritage Site was established on the basis of criteria IX and X, with which the planned actions do not conflict. The preventive measures designed to slow the degradation of the stands comply with the provisions of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage of 16 November 1972.

Considering the evidence set out above, the Steering Committee of the World Heritage Site is submitting its position on the need to instigate active protection of this public good in order to avoid further degradation of forest habitats. We hereby inform the World Heritage Committee and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) of the very rapid processes at work in the Białowieża Forest and of the pressing need to adopt a course of action aimed at a change of approach to the forests specified in the information sent to the World Heritage Centre – especially in “partial protection Zone II” – and at permitting tree cutting and timber harvesting to ensure public safety and fire security and as an element of the active protection of species and habitats.

 
FOREST INSPECTOR                
 
Grzegorz Bielecki

DEPUTY DIRECTOR
Acting Director
 
Aleksander Bolbot

List of Participants at a Meeting of the Steering Committee of the Białowieża Forest World Heritage Site, Hajnówka, 22 March 2016