Europe’s World Heritage woods under the axe

15 abril 2016

Poland has approved plans to log vast areas in the ancient Białowieża forest, an important remnant of the temperate broad-leaved forests that once covered most of Europe.

The Environment minister announced that it would triple the harvest in the forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site, from 63,000 cubic meters to 188,000 cubic meters in 2012-21. Under national regulations, 32 per cent of the park is protected.

The decision prompted protests by environmental activists in Warsaw.

The authorities cite control of the spruce bark beetle as the main reason for the increase in logging. However, Polish scientists dispute that logging is the best way of dealing with the pest, stating that bark beetle outbreaks do not endanger the forest at large because more resilient tree species spread and replace spruce.

They accuse the Polish authorities of commercial motives, since loggers have already reached the 10-year volume limit set by the Forest Management Plan – after only four years.

The logging in Białowieża is just one part of a much bigger plan to increase the harvest from Poland’s forests, as seen in Poland’s Land Use Land Use Change and Forestry projections until 2050 (see graph).

The EU is currently deciding how to integrate LULUCF into the climate and energy package for 2030, but it is not clear yet if LULUCF can discourage plans such as those by the Poles to log ancient forests: decreases in forest carbon levels are measured against a business-as-usual reference level set by the country, whose criteria are under discussion. If the country is allowed to use a reference based on increased logging, it incurs no debits for the decrease in carbon storage. In addition, those decreases are often balanced by increases in afforestation, negating the impact in the overall LULUCF result

But, like the Bamiyan Buddhas, the loss of a World Heritage Site is irreparable.

Poland’s LULUCF account, in MT CO2

The overall LULUCF figure (in yellow) is obtained by combining the five mandatory LULUCF categories: Afforestation (dark green), Deforestation (red), forest management (light green), Cropland management (pink) and grazing land management (light blue). The rise in the light green line indicates the decrease in forest carbon stocks in Poland, which here signifies the effect of bringing a greater percentage of its forests into active forest management, which will deplete carbon stored in the forest.

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