The Białowieża Forest – a UNESCO Natural Heritage Site – protection priorities
Gutowski, Jerzy M.
Mysłajek, Robert W.
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Despite the fact that only parts of the Białowieża Forest are protected as a national park and nature reserves, the forest is nevertheless as a whole considered a UNESCO Natural Heritage Site, Biosphere Reserve and an integrated Natura 2000 site. In the presently ongoing debate on the conservation priorities regarding the natural value of this forest and the current bark beetle outbreak, two distinct approaches can be recognized: (1) management assumed to involve considerable interference with the forest ecosystems; (2) maintenance of ecological processes and spontaneous restoration of the forest communities. The Białowieża Forest – especially its strictly protected parts – is a “bastion” where species characteristic of ancient forests (including so-called primeval forest relicts) have survived until today. This has been achieved by maintaining the forest’s complexity in areas with considerably reduced human influence, but most of all by maintaining a full spectrum of forest communities, naturally developing forests diverse in age, species composition and spatial structure including stand dieback and breakdown. The following factors need to be taken into account in the protection of the Natural Heritage Site: (1) the internationally recognized value of the Białowieża Forest including its biodiversity, the level of preservation of forest communities and the ongoing natural processes; (2) existing documents and policies concerning nature conservation; (3) research findings from the Białowieża Forest and other natural forest complexes. The key priority is to limit any activities in this forest to an indispensable minimum, mostly concerning security close to roads and tourist tracks as well as collection of fire wood by locals. Without this strict protection, successive and slow anthropogenic transformation will result in the Białowieża Forest sharing the same fate as other forest complexes of the temperate climate zone in Europe or America and lose its globally appreciated value.
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