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Poles march to save their primeval forest
Poles march to save their primeval forest
Maciej Chołodowski

-OpEd-

WARSAW — The Narewkowska trail runs through the middle of one of Europe's last remaining protected nature reserves, Poland"s Białowieża Forest. But now, the trail is slated to be paved over to become an automobile roadway. If plans ultimately move forward to pave the 24-mile trail, the entire forest would become vulnerable to industrial toxins and other ecological risks, says a group of scientists and non-governmental organizations in a written appeal this week to Poland's Minister of the Environment, Henryk Kowalczyk.

The letter to the ministry argues that the construction of the road will take a significant toll on the entire ecosystem of the Białowieża Forest, introducing more cars to its "heart," more unfamiliar and invasive species, more noise and pollution, as well as increase long-term deforestation and fire hazards. Roads that cut through natural forests and wildlife reserves have become sites of ecological disaster around the world, and this proposed forest road in Poland is no exception. The Narewkowska road plan poses a threat to protected species such as bison, lynx, and wolves, since even the death of a single animal can affect the stability of its entire species' local population, says Nuria Selva from the Institute of Nature Protection of the State Academy of Sciences.

A disgraceful disregard of the demands of nature protection and environmental law.

Even as a designated Natura 2000 site under the protection of UNESCO, the State Forestry Department has allocated over $3.27 million for the construction slated to commence on July 1. "While we cannot find any rational or economic justification for paving a road of marginal importance to public transport, we discover great resistance to minimizing the threat to local wildlife," writes Radosław Ślusarczyk, a nature protection coordinator who signed the letter to Kowalczyk.

The current trail is composed of natural terrain, which provides safe conditions for animals to perceive and avoid threats. A dirt surface also ensures relatively low vehicular speed as well as necessary levels of noise and vibration with the passage of people. A paved road attracting more tourists also means increased chances of animals in dangerous positions. Pavement therefore acts as an ecological barrier for animals.

"Robin Wood" environmental organization members protesting logging in Białowieża — Photo: Paul Zinken/DPA/ZUMA

The letter also cites research from several other European countries indicating that many small species avoid crossing paved paths. The construction of a paved road would also mean the need for building a more efficient drainage system, including creation, deepening and widening of ditches that will further displace small animals, while increased traffic will negatively affect local bird habitats.

The letter concludes: "We take the position that to achieve the investment objective, which is to increase the convenience of driving and increase the tourist accessibility of the forest, it is enough to simply refurbish the existing natural surface. This work has been done before. We consider the paving of Narewkowska to be a disgraceful disregard of the demands of nature protection and environmental law."

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