The entire Białowieża Forest a national park? Senator Gawłowski: There is a draft of such a bill

Luc Williams

This is a project called: “About the UNESCO World Heritage Site Białowieża Forest”. It was created in cooperation with the Workshop for All Beings, other organizations, scientists and lawyers.

Fulfillment of forest protection obligations towards UNESCO

“This is a draft bill in which we tried to include a whole range of (interests – PAP) very important from the point of view of both the local community, local governments, people and entrepreneurs operating there, but also goals related to nature conservation, protection of this area, to include interests that concern foresters working there,” Gawłowski said. He added that it is also about the development of the region, but also about fulfilling the forest protection obligations towards UNESCO.

Gawłowski noted that this project is the beginning of a debate on the protection of the Białowieża Forest as a unique place with unique natural values ​​on a global scale. “We believe that we need to start a serious discussion, without emotions, let’s leave emotions at the door, let’s try to talk to each other in the Polish Senate about how to ensure protection of this extremely valuable area, not only for Poland,” Gawłowski said at the committee.

He explained that work on the project lasted three years. The document is to be published so that interested parties can read it, he added. The project was also submitted to the Ministry of Climate and Environment – deputy ministers Mikołaj Dorożała and Urszula Zielińska were on the committee.

“Today we want to return to the discussion at the meeting of the climate and environment committee on extending this very valuable area for Poland, Poles and Europe with the same form of protection as is assigned to national parks,” Gawłowski said.

The project limits the possibility of industrial use of this area

The discussion during the committee meeting lasted over three hours. It was attended by scientists, local government officials, non-governmental organizations and representatives of the inhabitants of the forest area.

“This project takes into account both the natural rent for the local governments located there, secures access of the people living there to the raw material that is wood, but at the same time eliminates the possibility of industrial use of this area in the form of commercial forests (State Forests – PAP), and at the same time provides the same form of protection for the entire area of ​​approximately 60 thousand hectares of the Białowieża Forest, as for the national park,” Gawłowski said.

Attorney Karolina Kuszlewicz, who spoke about the bill at the committee, informed that it reflects the thinking about the Białowieża Forest as an ecosystem whole, so that it “is not just a forest” but a primeval forest where natural processes, biological diversity, but also cultural values ​​are protected, which are a value on a global scale, which is consistent with the UNESCO convention.

She said that the project assumes that the Białowieża Forest “is to become an institution”, it would have a director elected in a competition for terms of office, a Scientific Council, but also an opinion-giving and advisory Local Government and Social Council, in which local government officials, non-governmental organizations and tourist organizations would participate. Just like in a national park, there would also be a service for such a facility, a guard. The money to finance the facility would come from the Forest Fund.

150 percent forest tax from a given area, which would be received by local governments

Kuszlewicz also pointed to the natural rent, also known as the Białowieża pension. It would be 150 percent. forest tax from a given area, which would be received by local governments. They would also receive 50 percent. money from making the forest available to tourists. Kuszlewicz emphasized that the act would eliminate all possibilities of “manipulation” in forest matters.

Deputy Minister of the Environment Mikołaj Dorożała said that the ministry would review the draft act and accept it for work in the ministry. He emphasized that parallel ministerial work is underway on the “Constitution for the Białowieża Forest”, announced in January, to create a legal document for better management of the Białowieża Forest UNESCO World Heritage Site. Dorożała did not rule out that the two documents could be combined and invited people to talks.

The deputy minister said that the Integrated Management Plan for the Białowieża Forest World Heritage Site will be consulted by the end of 2024 (the plan was prepared in 2023 after two years of work by the Institute of Environmental Protection-PIB at the request of the previous authorities of the ministry, and is required from Poland by UNSCO – PAP). Dorożała informed that there are comments on this document regarding the construction of a dam on the border with Belarus (the dam is also in the forest), corrections of the proposed protection zones and the forest fire protection plan. The deputy minister also added that analyzes are underway as to what type of document the constitution for the forest should be. This document is also to be subject to public consultations.

Deputy Minister of Climate and Environment Urszula Zielińska said that the ministry would like to comment on the forest issues as soon as possible, but is under time pressure because it has to answer questions related to the forest from both UNESCO and the European Commission. She assessed the draft bill presented in general as “balanced”, combining solutions to various problems.

Mayor of Hajnówka: The forest region needs development

Local government officials from the Hajnówka district present at the Senate committee emphasized that no one had consulted them or the residents so far or discussed the draft law on the forest. They talked about it, among others: the mayor of the Hajnówka commune, Lucyna Smoktunowicz, and the councilor of the Podlaskie Voivodeship assembly, Mikołaj Janowski. The staroste of Hajnówka, Andrzej Skiepko, accused the lack of taking into account the issue of the region’s inhabitants in the ongoing discussion on the protection of the forest.

The mayor of Hajnówka, Jerzy Sirak, emphasized that the forest region needs development. He recalled that an integrated plan for this development has been prepared, adopted by local governments, which assumes investments of PLN 2.6 billion. He assessed that such a development plan should be part of the act on the forest. He assessed the proposed amounts from the natural pension as “pennies”.

Deputy Speaker of the Senate Maciej Żywno (Trzecia Droga, senator from Podlaskie) said that there is a need for a solution good for all parties and to lead to a situation where “the Białowieża Forest will truly unite and will not be a reason for discord.” He emphasized that a draft bill had been created, not a ready-made solution, and that this bill should be subject to broad discussion by all interested parties.

The Białowieża Forest is not managed by one entity. Approx. 10 thousand ha of the most valuable areas are protected by the Białowieża National Park, the rest are commercial forests, where three forest districts of the State Forests operate: Białowieża, Browsk and Hajnówka. The forest is – as scientists reminded the committee – the last primeval forest in Europe, a unique facility in the world.

author: Izabela Próchnicka


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