An IUCN advisory mission was invited by the State Party of Poland to the Białowieża Forest this month to develop recommendations regarding how the recently adopted amendments to the Forest Management Plan for the Białowieża Forest District relate to the needs for protection of the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Property.
Covering an area of over 141,000 hectares and stretching across the border between Poland and Belarus, the Białowieża Forest World Heritage site may be threatened by a tripling of the logging limit recently approved by the Polish authorities.
Invited by the Polish government, IUCN experts participated in the mission that took place from 4 to 8 June in order to discuss the recently adopted amendments to the Forest Management Plan for Białowieża Forest District. Luc Bas, Director of IUCN’s European Regional Office, travelled to Poland as an observer of the mission in his capacity as IUCN’s regional director in order to participate in discussions with different stakeholders. The mission report will be finalised by the end of the month.
“There is clearly a reason for concern with the new forest management plan. We await the recommendations from IUCN’s World Heritage experts, but I would advise a precautionary approach to postpone any additional logging until the assessment is completed,” said Luc Bas.
The European Commission has also sent a fact-finding mission to the Białowieża Forest, which is a Natura 2000 site, to evaluate the situation on-the-ground. Based on the results of this visit as well as other evidence presented by the Polish authorities and various stakeholders, the Commission has decided to start an infringement procedure against Poland for breach of EU nature legislation (Birds and Habitats Directives). IUCN will collaborate with the European Commission on this matter.
On 10 June 2016 UNESCO published a State of Conservation Report on the Białowieża Forest in the run-up to the 40th Session of the World Heritage Committee. This report was prepared before the latest mission, but the mission findings should be available before the report is considered at the Committee meeting.
IUCN will submit a report with recommendations of the mission to the Polish authorities. The state of conservation of the Białowieża Forest will also be discussed at the World Heritage Committee session, which will take place from 10 to 20 July 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. The 21 member countries of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee will meet to discuss the status of the Białowieża Forest as well as many other natural and cultural World Heritage sites.
After the mission, Luc Bas met with Polish IUCN NGO members to discuss strengthening the Polish National Committee. A meeting was also held with Andrzej Konieczny, Polish Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of the Environment to build communication channels and explore collaboration with the Polish government on general issues of common interest in the field of conservation and restoration.