The director of the Bialowieza National Park removed from office for being against bisons cull

On the 15th of November 2017, Olimpia Pabian, the director of the Bialowieza National Park, was removed from the office by minister Szyszko. She was the director of the national park since 2016. The reason of the minister’s decision was not made clear. One of the possible explanations might be the fact that Ms Pabian was against the commercial cull of bisons in the Bialowieza Forest. Bison is said to be causing increasing damage in agriculture, therefore the Ministry of Environment wants to start a campaign in social media that will justify the necessity of killing these strictly protected animals. It should be added here that shooting to bisons is possible in Poland – it is a lucrative business – but not a commercial scale.

It has to be added here that Olimpia Pabian has been an avid supporter of Bialowieza Forest conservation. Frighteningly, the Ministry of Environment would gladly see their supporter as a new national parks’ director.

photo of the bisons: Adam Wajrak

Detained activists abused by the police after the peaceful protest in Warsaw

As we have written in our previous post, on the 9th of November a peaceful protest took place in Warsaw at the entrance to the State Forests’ headquarters. It was broken by a violent police intervention.

As a result of the intervention 24 persons were brought to the district police headquarters at Opaczewska street in Warsaw. All of them spent the night under arrest, the last persons to be freed left the station only after 10pm on the following day. All the detainees were charged with violation of domiciliary peace (article 193 of the Polish Penal Law) while one person was additionally charged with violation of bodily integrity of a public official (article 222 of the Polish Penal Law).

There is a political decision behind such absurd level of repressive measures. The authorities are afraid of the social movement in the defence of Białowieża Forest and decided to chasten it using the police, and soon perhaps also the courts of law. It has been affirmed by unofficial statements of the escorting police who complained of engaging such large forces in this action. They indicated it’s an effect of a decision “from on high,” and they themselves would have preferred to be after real criminals.

However, the consent from above lead to a whole chain of infringements of our rights. Here you can find only a few most vivid examples quoted after the detained activists. They report:

– our lawyers were restrained at the police headquarters for over 90 minutes, preventing them from partaking in some of the actions undertaken upon us by the police; we were also not informed on our rights, including the one to inform our families about our detainment.

– we were all handcuffed behind our backs despite the fact that none of us resisted the police nor tried to flee; it constitutes a breach of the § 6 of the regulation on determining cases, conditions and methods of applying means of direct coercion by the police.

– some of us were humiliated, denied the right to use the toilet and it has been suggested we were paid for our actions; this constitutes a breach of the article 14 of the Police Act, section 3 on fair treatment of detainees.

– cash has been impounded from some persons for future penalties. Additionally, a digital camera has been taken away from one person. The items and money are to be returned, but why did it happen at all?

– body searches were conducted in a humiliating and unlawful way (§ 16 section 2 point 2 of the regulation on conduct while executing some police powers), including manual checks on whether we kept razor blades in our vaginas or anuses; we were told to undress in men’s toilet where outside officers of the opposite sex would enter without notice; we were stripped of our medicines and sanitary items.

– most of us were denied food accordant to our dietary requirements and practice, some of us were denied access to any nutrition for a dozen hours after detainment.

While the activists were detained, the police conducted the so-called community interviews. They asked activists’ parents, neighbours, housemates questions about substance use, psychiatric treatment, relations with their friends and families and more. In one case they slammed into an apartment without consent, while people living there were still asleep.

Despite being under pressure to treat the activists like criminals, many police officers stood for the protection of Białowieża Forest in informal conversations and asked us about details. Some even declared admiration for their methods of protest.

Let’s sum up. About 80 Preventative Police officers and 20 forest rangers were engaged in suppressing the peaceful protest. After transporting the protesters to the headquarters at least (!) 70 other police were engaged to guard them, take statements, breathalyse us, frisk us and take them to police stations scattered around Warsaw and even outside the city (in Piastów).

The activists say, “We regard both the charges and the detention itself as political repressions and an attempt to criminalise and undermine a social movement. We stand against this: we are not guilty and we do not deserve this humiliating treatment. We are filing complaints against the decision on our detention and we will go against the breaches of law described above. Above all, we go on working on our issue and we’re not letting go as we know that the whole Białowieża Forest should be a national park. The repressive measures from the last days only strengthen our solidarity and bare the logging proponents’ lack of arguments. That may be why one of the commanding officers threw in a moment of frankness, ‘As for me you’ve already won.’”


Peaceful protest at the State Forests’ headquarters in Warsaw and repression by the authorities

Citizens, scientists, activists have been calling for months to withdraw harvesters and stop logging in the Bialowieza Forest. To no result. The only answer on the part of the state is violence.

Never after the 1970s was the Forest so intensely logged – until 2017, when the amount of timber harvested in all three forest districts of the Bialowieza Forest was increased a few times as compared to previous years. Dozens of demonstrations took place in recent months, hundreds of petitions were written, and in the Forest itself about 20 blockades of heavy equipment and timber transports were held. Earlier this year UNESCO Committee and then the European Court of Justice requested immediate halt to logging in the Bialowieza Forest. Nevertheless, things look the same. Activists who are still present in the Forest meet harvesters every day. Clearly, there is one state institution, closely knit with the government, that remains indifferent to any kind of protest – the State Forests that own c. 30% of Polish territory and are one of the richest companies in Poland.

As the State Forests ignore protests in the Forest itself, activists decided to organize and action at their headquarters in Warsaw. Activists called for repealing the decision no. 51, which permits logging in old-growth forest stands, for withdrawing harvesters from the Forest and for putting an end to sales of logs from the Forest. Last but absolutely not least, they stood for all of the Bialowieza Forest becoming a national park, which is in line with the project prepared by the President Lech Kaczyński, tragically killed in a plane crash in 2010, and a brother of Jaroslaw Kaczynski – leader of the current radical party in rule.

On November 9., at 9 a.m. a few dozen of people sat down on the ground by the main entrance to the building and in the hall that is open for public access. Activists put out their posters and banners, attached themselves to one another by means of pipes and chains and requested for a meeting with the directors of the State Forests. Instead of the State Forests principals, more and more police appeared. After 1 p.m. there were about a dozen of police cars for c. 100 protesters. Soon 20 people sitting inside the building  were cut off from the rest of the activists by the police line. Throughout the whole day nobody from the State Forests came down to talk to the activists. At 5 p.m. the police started pacification of the peaceful protest. About 70 police officers blocked the area in front of the building and started pulling the activists out. All the protesters were handcuffed, pushed into police cars and taken to the police station in Opaczewska Street, Warsaw. 22 people altogether ended up in custody, accused of violation of domestic peace, which may result in a year imprisonment.

After 6 p.m. the protest moved to the vicinity of the police station. All 22 activists spent their night in custody.  Later, in the morning the police invaded houses of some of the detained. They entered the premises without asking for permission and asked outrageous questions about, for example, protesters’ mental health.

Once again Polish authorities showed incredible arrogance, answering peaceful protest with repressions and violence. Over 100 people have their cases brought to courts of justice. Now, 22 activists are facing criminal charges. No matter how much force the state is going to put into stopping the protests, the actions are going to be continued in front of State Forests’ buildings all over Poland.

Journalists reporting on the logging taken to court

Four journalist of Gazeta Wyborcza (a newspaper gravitating towards the left-wing) who were reporting on the protests in the Bialowieza Forest have been taken to court. The official statement says: for breaking the ban on entering the Forest. The unofficial one: for spreading the news on the logging. Experts are of one mind – the freedom of media has been violated and the society is being deprived of their right to information.

On the 30th of May 2017, during the protest in Czerlonka, journalists reporting on the events were asked by the forest guards to leave the site of the blockade. When the reporters answered they were only doing their job, they were asked to confirm their identity, next, their data was taken down. The guards warned the journalist about the possibility of them being fined for breaking the ban. In October, however, the journalists were interrogated in Browsk Forest District of the Bialowieza Forest. They learnt that they could be asked to pay 3,000 PLN each for entering the Forest despite the ban and that the case would be brought to court.

This is not the first time journalists covering the story of logging have been taken to court. The same thing happened in October to a cameraman from Polsat TV. What is clear, the journalists are perceived and treated the same way as activists and not as people simply doing their job, namely, recording events and sharing the news.

The State Forests hide themselves behind excuses such as journalists’ safety, however, these are highly implausible and rather confirm the political reasons of such course of action.

After the interrogations, the journalists said that even the foresters stopped believing in the sense of the logging and agreed that at present it is just the policy and stubbornness of the Ministry of Environment. Yet, the State Forest employees could not understand that journalist had come to the Forest as a part of their job. Certainly, the presence of journalists makes it impossible to pacify the protesters without any rumour, which is what the State Forest are aiming at.

Amnesty International and other NGOs emphasized that neither the forest guards, nor any other forces should obstruct the work of journalists, especially that the issue of logging in the Bialowieza Forest has been such a significant one for the majority of Polish society.


Trial of activists in the court in Hajnowka

On the 25th of October 2017 another hearing of witnesses took place in the Court of Justice in Hajnówka as a part of the trial concerning the peaceful protest from Czerlonka (from the 8th of June 2017). Among the witnesses there was a representative of the local community – an inhabitant of Bialowieza that supports herself and her family from tourism, and the head of Hajnowka forest District, Grzegorz Bielecki.

While Eliza Lozowska from the local community gave a clear statement of why part of the local inhabitants are in favour of the blockades, the statement of Grzegorz Bielecki from the State Forests proved to be very contradictory.

Many of the local people are aware of the fact that the Forest is totally unique and cannot be treated as a source of timber. Those who have the experience of working in the tourist industry also know that this is the wild, natural Forest that attracts tourists and grants money for thousands of people in the area. Therefore, the blockades have been, as Lozowska said, a justified and ultimate form of protest.

Grzegorz Bielecki, responsible for Hajnowka Forest District, tried to convince the judge that harvesters have less impact on natural ecosystems that traditional methods of timber extraction. They do not cause much damage to the forest undergrowth or soil. He also said that the notion of safety had not been defined clearly and that anywhere dry trees could be found, there was risk. (It should be kept in mind that the logging has been explained in terms of public safety. The State Forests keep claiming that this means only sanitary cuttings along the roads.)

Bielecki was also unaware of Natura 2000 regulations and documents, despite the fact that he had signed them himself. Neither did he have any knowledge about the logging in old-growth forest stands near Czerlonka. He also claimed that the logging was aimed at fighting the spruce bark beetle, although he also pointed at the fact that the bark was left behind in the Forest.

The trial was postponed for the 23rd of November. New witnesses will appear in court and new evidence will be taken into consideration, among others, information on timber extraction in 100-year-old forest stands and agreements between Hajnowka Forest District and the unit in charge of harvesters.

It is one of many trials that have been taking place with regard to the protests in the Bialowieza Forest. So far over 100 activists have received subpoenas and the trials have only just started.


In Warsaw – a man on fire, in the Forest – violent actions against activists

A man set himself on fire in Warsaw. In his letter he mentioned that this was his protest against Polish government and destruction of nature (Bialowieza Forest). At the same time, in Bialowieza, foresters kept logging and forest guards – beating and arresting protesters.

Yesterday forest guards violently disrupted a 16-day blockade aimed against logging and selling old trees from the Bialowieza Forest.

Watch huge piles of logs from old trees for sale, which were blocked by the protesters:

Once again, activists were victimized and beaten by forest guards. One person was punched in the face twice and, then, it was him that got accused of an assault on the guards. As a result, he spent the night in custody. After the violent intervention, German activist was in a state of shock for an hour, lying on the ground. Next, she was taken to hospital, as she could not feel her arm, as a consequence of brutal pacification of the blockade. German Embassy has already been informed.

Watch video with guards brutality:

Today foresters started selling timber that had been blocked until yesterday.

Just a few days after hearing in the European Court of Justice [17.10.2017] activists from protester’s Camp for Forest revealed that foresters were logging in 100-year-old forest stands in Bialowieża Forest, and it should be kept in mind that the Court had banned logging in such old forest stands.

Wild Poland Foundation analysed data about logging in Bialowieza Forest that was obtained from the State Forest. According to the latest data, by the end of August over 138,000 m3 of trees were cut down. 35% of the total number was logged in the stands over a hundred years old, which was banned by the European Court of Justice. 60 % of the total harvesting was carried out in the protected  habitat of the lime-oak-hornbeam forest.

Taking into account the trend and observations of field work, we estimate that up to this day, the general harvesting may be about 180,000 m3 –  almost 400% of the average, annual harvesting plan.

Therefore the European Court of Justice should uphold interim measures, i.e. ban on logging in the forest, and punish financially Polish Ministry of Environment.

Camp for Forest try to block illegal logging in Bialowieza Forest. Since may in Bialowieza was about 70 blockades with participation about 1000 people from all over the world.


European Commission request financial penalties for every logged hectare of the Forest

European Commission wants Poland to pay for each logged hectare of the Bialowieza Forest, also, to be more precise about safety cuttings and to limit them only to roads connecting local towns or villages. At the same time, a blockade on Wilczy Tryb has been continued for about two weeks now without a stop.

Last weeks have seen ceaseless commercial logging in over 100-year-old forest stands and in protected habitats. The extracted timber was sold. The excuse was ensuring safety for people who find themselves in the Forest. That is also why making things clear about the cuttings is so important.

Latest data shared by local forest districts show that till the end of August over 138,000 m3 (c. 140,000 trees) were cut down in the Bialowieza Forest, 35% of which in old-growth forest stands. Taking into consideration current pace of works, activists estimate that up to the present the total timber extraction might be about 180,000 m3, which means four times more that the average timber extraction given in yearly forest management plans, says Adam Bohdan from Dzika Polska.

Lots of trees were logged especially in the precious old-growth forest near Wilczy Tryb – just next to the national park. Only a few months ago the place was covered by almost 200-year-old spruce-and-oak forest. Now, it is filled with a few metre high piles of logs. This timber, according to the European Court of Justice and in line with Natura 2000 protection plans, should remain in the Forest. Therefore, activists keep the blockade, making transportation and further works in that area impossible.

Minister Szyszko lies about the Forest

On Monday, October 9., conference Las2017 (Forest2017) began. This year’s motto is: Forests – our common good. The conference is accompanied by celebrations of the 4th European Forest Week.
Participants from over 50 countries took part in the event. Among the guests there were also ministers responsible for environment, forest management, also scientists, representatives of Polish and foreign timber industry as well as NGOs.
During the conference minister Szyszko once again repeated his interpretation of facts concerning nature protection in Poland. It has to be clearly said that this interpretation is very far from reality and can be called a lie.
On Friday, Oct. 13., participants of the conference were invited to Białowieża Forest. One of the first elements of the trip was a ‘spontaneous’ welcome on the part of Santa association – a local organization closely connected with timber industry, State Forests and minister Szyszko. According to Santa, 90% of Białowieża Forest was planted and therefore created by the local community. The chairman of Santa, Walenty Wasiluk, is also a manager of a company selling timber and wooden goods. On the day of the meeting in Białowieża, Santa blocked the Hajnówka – Białowieża road, hindering traffic, yet, the police did not even react. At 11 a.m., in front of the Mammal Research Institute of Polish Academy of Sciences in Białowieża members of Santa piled bark on the enterence road. Again, the police was unwilling to come, unless only after 5 p.m. Neither do forest guards react to any of Santa’s activities, so strong is the association’s connection with minister Szyszko.
Local inhabitants who are against the logging, were not allowed to enter the conference, even despite their previous requests directed straight to the organisers. So, ‘Locals Against the Logging’ protested during the greeting of the participants in front of Białowieski Hotel. Their slogan was: He is a liar!, because minister Szyszko does not tell the truth about what has been going on in the Forest and this fact cannot be denied.

Illegal logging – all timber removal limits much exceeded long ago

Only until mid July 93,916 cubic metres of timber were removed from the Bialowieza Forest (c. 10,000 trees). This number equals doubled yearly timber removal plan. As much as 41% of trees were cut down in over 100-year-old forest stands, which means – illegally. All of the logging in Białowieza Forest District is also illegal. Till the end of September the amount of removed timber increased to 138,000 m3.

Meanwhile, Ministry of Environment claims no commercial logging is taking place in the Forest and that the only works conducted here are necessary to protect forest stands of special natural value. As a result of such protection the Forest is disappearing and endangered species are losing their habitats. Beautiful forest stands around Wilczy Tryb – where the blockade is being held for over a week now – had qualified for protection as a reserve or national park. Now, they actually, exist no more.


And the nightmare is going on. So are the blockades.


Photo: Małgosia Klemens – Thank you!

Minister Szyszko and the Joint Session of the 39th European Forestry Commission

On the 9th of October Minister Szyszko opened the Joint Session of the 39th European Forestry Commission – 75th Committee on Forests and the Forest Industry in Warsaw.

Review of the activities from 2017 and those planned for the upcoming year can be found HERE.

The minister also wrote a letter to the participants, inviting them to a High Level Meeting on forest industry. The letter is an invitation to the European Forest Week, during which functional models of forests – ‘our common good’ – will be taken into consideration. You can read the letter HERE.

Minister Szyszko tries to show himself as a defender of forests. He also keeps claiming no logging is taking place in the Bialowieza Forest, only the sanitary cuttings, which of course is a lie. In some places there is no Forest anymore. Just have a look at the video below, made in a place that not so long ago was still wild and beautiful:

To protest againsts such hypocrisy Greenpeace activists threw sawdust at the minister during the opening of the conference in Warsaw.

At the same time, in the Bialowieza Forest, the blockade on Wilczy Tryb, blocking access to the Forest for tracks transporting timber for commercial purposes, is still going on – for a week now!