Paths to efficient communication in conservation biology

Workshop convened by:
Barbara Pietrzak & Zofia Prokop (& Szymon Drobniak)



[Please please please tell us what your thoughts and impressions are after the workshop…]

Workshop materials:

[1] Text 1 [click here for pdf]:

  1. Why is the Białowieża Forest valuable?

Large parts of it have never known a lumberjack’s axe, there are many old trees and many rare species, its ecosystem is still shaped by natural factors, almost like it was thousands of years ago. As the only such place in Europe, it is well known to naturalists in the West, who envy us a lot. The Białowieża National Park covers 17% of the Polish part of the Forest.

  1. Why is there a bark beetle outbreak in the Forest?

It is a natural phenomenon, to which foresters have contributed by cutting down deciduous trees and planting spruces for years. To make matters worse, the Forest was dehydrated for many decades (in Belarus as well) to facilitate forest management, which weakened the shallow-rooted spruces. This led to many spruces being in poor health – a bark beetle paradise. Thus the outbreak.

  1. Is the bark beetle a pest?

In production forests the bark beetle is treated as a pest threatening lumber production, which leads to interventions. This requires at least 80% of invaded trees to be logged and removed from the forest before the beetle can leave them and invade more.

  1. What is the role of the bark beetle in the Białowieża Forest?

Just the opposite: it is not a pest but rather a natural facilitator of changes in the forest caused by climate changes. There are more spruces in the forest than there should be, so some of them have to die, sooner or later. The bark beetle removes the surplus, leaving the fittest ones, and so corrects the foresters’ mistakes. Therefore, bark beetle control is not only unnecessary, it is harmful to the Forest.

  1. Will logging the infested trees limit the bark beetle outbreak?

It is completely unrealistic. The bark beetle is 5mm long and can fly, the forest is huge, with spruces scattered throughout it. As a result, it will not be possible to find all infested trees in time, and logging only some of them is pointless. Besides, some spruces grow in Belarus and in the National Park (which covers 2/3 of the Forest), where they cannot be cut. So, the spruce logging method is doomed to fail, and even the foresters admit to it off the record. What is more, this method is extremely harmful.

  1. Why do foresters want to fell infested spruces?

First, they fell spruces infested by the bark beetle in order to limit the outbreak, just as they do in commercial forests, even if it should harm rare species and lead to the loss of the Forest’s biodiversity. Second, they fell dry spruces in order to sell the lumber they yield.

  1. Dry trees are dangerous for people

But definitely less dangerous then steep slopes of the mountains. Dry spruce can stand for years, but will fall someday, and that is the reason why you can’t enter the forest during heavy winds. In the National Park where there are lots of dead trees and thousands of tourists, no one was ever hurt. Also, dry spruces can be cut down if the stand close to houses and roads –no one will protest it. The scientists are not crazy. But there is absolutely no reason to cut thousands of spruces in the middle of the forest and put them in lumber mills, because it has nothing to do with the safety but it is only about making money and destroying the biological variety of the forest!

  1. The ecologists were blocking the cutting of first infected spruces couple of years ago and that is the reason of invasion of the bark beetle.

The foresters increased the number of spruces almost twice in the agricultural part of the Bialowieza Forest and it had to leave to the gradation of the bar beetle. Cutting or not cutting of the trees would not change anything. – There is no way to stop the gradation. It is a natural and wanted occurrence.”

excerpts from: Kowalczyk R., Tryjanowski P., Żmihorski M. 30 questions about the bark beetle, foresters, and ecologists in the Białowieża Forest – scientists answer frequently asked questions and set the record straight (June 2017) http://save-bialowieza.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/SCIENTISTS-ABOUT-THE-FOREST.pdf

[2] Text 2 [click here for pdf]:

  1. Why is there a controversy over the Białowieża Forest?

The controversy arises over the methods and human involvement in protection of this precious area. The Białowieża Forest, as we know it, is a unique remnant of ancient forests. But its biodiversity will decline without human help. Foresters want to prevent this. However, the opponents of the State Forests’ activities are in favour of leaving the nature to itself and preserving its processes – even if it involves the extinction of certain species or valuable habitats.

  1. What threat does bark beetles pose?

The European spruce bark beetle feeds under the bark. It can kill a tree within a month. Usually, only old or weakened trees fall victim, but presently the teeming population of bark beetle also attacks young, healthy and strong trees. Insect outbreaks, called gradations, happen cyclically every few to dozen odd years. So far, the foresters have countered them effectively, but a few years ago their actions were hampered.

  1. Was it ever possible to save those trees from the bark beetle?

Yes. Actions based on scientific knowledge and experience would allow the foresters to end the gradation at its onset. This had been done numerous times in similar situations over the last decades. In the Białowieża Forest districts, all affected spruces were removed to prevent the bark beetle from spreading to other areas. But the scale of logging was usually very limited. This was changed by the new forest management plans for Białowieża, Browsk and Hajnówka districts for the years 2012-2021. Wood harvesting limits were radically decreased and more areas of the forest were excluded from human involvement. This prevented the foresters from removing necessary numbers of infested spruce trees. The bark beetle population thrived, attacking more and more areas of the Białowieża Forest.

  1. Why do foresters fight the bark beetle?

It is required by law. According to the Forest Protection Act, the foresters’ task is to protect the forests, which includes detection and control of infestations. The only known method of fighting bark beetle is to remove the affected trees before it spreads. Although stopping the gradation is no longer possible, the scale of disaster can still be reduced.

  1. Are dead spruces dangerous to people?

Dead spruces, especially the ones located by road sides and hiking trails, are extremely dangerous. After its death, a tree may stand from 2 to 8 years, then it breaks. There are over 100 thousand of such trees standing around the roads. Soon, dozens of thousands of trees killed by the bark beetle will start collapsing. If they are not removed by the foresters, access to the Białowieża Forest will have to be prohibited. Dead trees also increase the risk of fire, especially during dry summers and intensified tourist traffic.”

  1. Why cannot the Białowieża Forest be left to itself?

Due to strong human imprint on the Białowieża Forest in the past and to its relatively small area, leaving it at this moment would be very risky. Today, the post-infestation areas left without any human intervention are dominated by hornbeams, hazel and invasive grass at the expense of other, more indigenous species. Research conducted within a strict nature reserve shows that leaving the forest to itself leads to reduction of biodiversity and disappearance of many valued species.

excerpts from: 6/9/2018 Frequently Asked Questions about the Białowieża Forest — State Forests


[3] Difficult conversations model

[4] Questions (Activity 2):

  • are the authors (/are you) convinced they are 100% right about what is happening and what should be happening?
  • what do they/you assume about the other party’s intentions? can they/you be wrong in these assumptions? what are some other options?
  • do they/you place blame on someone for something?
  • are any feelings addressed? whose? how?
  • are any (not openly acknowledged) feelings seeping through? what? where?
  • what are your feelings about the problem?
  • what should be changed in the form of communication so that it becomes an element of a Learning Conversation about the problem? Or, perhaps it shouldn’t?