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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » September 30, 2009
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Bia這wie瘸 Forest: Power of the Primeval
September 30, 2009   
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The Bia這wie瘸 Forest is the last well-preserved fragment of primeval forest in the European Lowlands. It is the most unique and most valuable natural forest area in Poland and has significant value internationally. Bia這wie瘸 Forest is a forested area of 150,000 hectares which straddles the Poland-Belarus border. The western part, located in Poland, comprises an area of 62,500 hectares; the eastern section, located in Belarus, has an area of 87,500 hectares and forms the Byelavezskaya Pushcha National Park. One-sixth of the Bia這wie瘸 Forest found in Poland today is under strict protection in the form of the Bia這wie瘸 National Park. Founded in 1921, it was the first national park in Poland.

The Bia這wie瘸 National Park Area of Special Protection was added to the prestigious UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites in 1971, due to its cultural significance and its importance to world heritage. In 1992, UNESCO expanded coverage to include a section (4,500 hectares) to the east of the Belarusian border. In this manner the world's seventh and Europe's third trans-border world heritage site was formed. This year marks the 600-year anniversary of the forest's protected status. The date is symbolic: in the 15th century King W豉dys豉w Jagie陶o designated the forest as his private, protected domain. As the forest's treasures were considered the property of the king, hunting was forbidden. The king also forbade tree cutting in the forest.

Plans to expand the national park
The conference in Bia這wie瘸 was an opportunity for Nowicki to present to townships of the Hajnowka region plans to carry out the Bia這wie瘸 Development Program: a unique program aimed at promoting versatile development projects in areas to be included within the boundaries of the national park following a threefold increase in area.

This year's 600-year anniversary celebrations are an excellent opportunity for the environment minister to present the Bia這wie瘸 Development Program (BDP) as well as the Bia這wie瘸 Forest Partnership.

The BDP is a plan to expand the area of Bia這wie瘸 National Park, which will increase the attractiveness of land around the forest as well as contribute to the quality of life of residents in the Podlasie region. The goal of the partnership is the introduction of complex and innovative initiatives aimed at promoting commemorative events, as well as promoting the value of the forest as a priceless national treasure. The BDP was prepared by the Ministry of the Environment on the basis of preliminary studies focusing on the needs of local residents. However, local authorities are not altogether satisfied with the plans, fearing they may dampen other forms of investment. Warsaw has proposed funds of zl.100 million to local authorities which border Bia這wie瘸 Forest for their agreement to incorporate their land into the biosphere reserve. Currently negotiations with local governments are pending. The program is scheduled to be carried out in 2010-2014.

Bia這wie瘸 Forest contains Europe's largest concentration of monument-sized trees. Of all the trees growing in the forest, oaks grow to be the largest. Also worthy of mention are the lime trees, which grow to sizes similar to the oaks, and goat willows, which in the forest grow to heights of up to 22 meters.

Astonishing diversity
Bia這wie瘸 Forest features a bird habitat not found anywhere else in Europe. More than 12,000 animal species exist here (there are 35-40,000 species in Poland), starting with invertebrates: protozoans, flatworms, aschelminthes, gastrotrichs, snails, worms, tardigrades, spiders, mites, as well as other types of insects, and ending with vertabrates: fish, reptiles, birds and mammals. This is an impressive number considering Poland's climate zone. It is estimated that only 50 percent of the area's fauna has been discovered, meaning that as many as 25,000 species could exist in the forest.

The oldest section of Bia這wie瘸 Forest, which is under special protection, is the Or堯wka Protective Unit. This area can only be toured with a guide.

Dominik Skurzak

The focus of this year's 600th anniversary celebrations of Bia這wie瘸 Forest's protected status was an international academic conference that took place Sept. 11-12 in Bia這wie瘸, at the Bia這wie瘸 National Park headquarters. Taking part in the conference were Poland's environment minister Maciej Nowicki, deputy environment minister Janusz Zaleski, Lithuanian environment minister Gediminas Kazlauskas, and Belarusian environment minister Vladimir Calko. The main goals of the conference were to promote environmental values as well as cultural, social, and economic awareness. The international importance of the forest in light of current environmental dangers to the wilderness was highlighted. This international conference was also an opportunity to spread information in Europe and around the world about Polish and Belarusian efforts to protect the forest. Forms of environmental protection and the direction of protective efforts in the forest were also discussed during the conference, as were efforts to safeguard this unique resource for future generations.

During the second day of the conference, agreements on mutual cooperation for environmental protection were signed. Agreements were signed by Nowicki and Kazlauskas, the Polish and Lithuanian environment ministers, as well as by Belarusian minister Calko. Among invited guests, in addition to the environment ministers, were officials from UNESCO, UNFF (United Nations Forum on Forests), the European Environment Agency, and the Regional Environment Center. Other speakers included local administration officials, researchers, NGOs, and media representatives. The special guest was internationally acclaimed American professor Alan Weisman, best-selling author of The World Without Us, who presented a lecture entitled My Bia這wie瘸 Forest.

Weisman said the forest "is home to weasels, pine martens, raccoons, badgers, otters, fox, lynx, wolves, roe deer, elk, eagles, and, of course, bison. I explain to readers that more kinds of life are found here than anywhere else on the continent-and yet there are no surrounding mountains or sheltering valleys to form unique niches for endemic species. The Bia這wie瘸 Forest is simply a relic of what once could be found east to Siberia and west to Ireland."

Weisman said that the Bia這wie瘸 forest "invokes deep symbolic, even religious feelings in people."

He added that because the Bia這wie瘸 Forest is one of the oldest intact forests anywhere, "it provides something extraordinarily rare and precious to ecologists: it provides a baseline of what healthy temperate forests might have been like. A baseline is an invaluable tool, because from one we can track changes, especially changes caused by human activity, far more easily than we can in a forest that has been severely altered by humans."

The conference concluded with the unveiling of a commemorative stone-a four-ton block of granite with the engraved inscription: "Ancient forest, exist eternally in your might and beauty, and teach us how to love our native wilderness." The event was organized by the Ministry of the Environment.

Bia這wie瘸 Forest-"Stop the cutting!"
During the international conference organized to mark the 600th anniversary of the forest's protected status, NGO officials presented the environment minister with a petition demanding action to prevent losses to the forest's ecosystem. Over 100 activists from various organizations unified into a coalition for the forest.
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