Poland’s deep and revered Bialowieza forest is under attack from small beetles. A recent spruce bark beetle infestation has rangers concerned, who state that the beetles damage healthy trees.
The infected trees need to be logged before the beetles breed and move on to infect other trees, posing a serious problem for the wildlife rangers and the forest. Logged trees reveal an extensive network of deep tunnels within their trunks created by the beetles. Andrzej Antczak, a forest ranger in Bailowieza, states that once the beetles population reaches a critical point within an infected tree, they will move on to a new, healthy tree, and repeat the infestation process.
Bialowieza forest itself is recognized by UNESCO as one of its World Heritage sites. The forest also contains some of the largest, longest surviving parts of the primeval forest that once covered the entire European plain many thousands of years ago. Unfortunately today this beautiful heritage site has turned into a political battle between environmentalists who are lobbying against the logging, and wildlife officials who believe the logging to be necessary to prevent further infestation.
Whilst government officials insist the logging is necessary, environmentalists and even some leading scientists argue that the threat posed by the beetle is vastly exaggerated, and that officials are using it as an excuse to cut down the trees and sell them to the logging industry.
The actual type of tree infected is know as the “spruce tree”, and these trees make up some 30% of the Bialowieza forest. Rangers insist that beetles have so far attacked about one fifth of all these trees in a square region of about a million cubic metres in size. In their eyes, to say the infection is exaggerated just isn’t true.
Every infected spruce tree is a potential threat for up to 30 of its neighbours. As the infections progress, the rate of tree infection increases exponentially, and can easily get out of control. Unfortunately the warm weather also allows the beetles to reproduce easier, with up to five generations being able to reproduce each year.
According to head forest ranger Grzegorz Bielecki, cutting even just a single infected tree and removing it can save up to 5 acres of forest each year.
Until now, the ancient forest has resisted all logging attempts. For the past few centuries Polish and Russian royalty have utilized the forest grounds for hunting exotic game, and thus have not allowed logging companies to enter into it. Last century the forest was occupied by both Russians and Germans respectively who logged vast amounts of woodlands in Poland – fortunately once again the forest survived relatively unscathed. Later, British industrialists and communist authorities had an interest in its wood, however all attempts to log the forest to date have been resisted.
Covering over 370,000 acres, the Bialowieza forest reaches the border with Belarus, who protect their part of it as a nature park.
Whether the forest may ultimately meet its demise at the hands of beetles or loggers is a matter of breaking concern.