The Białowieża Forest in Poland is still the kind of place, one of the last in Europe, which looks like it is truly straight out of a fairy tale. And when European fairy tales were being written about forests in all their vast complexity, forests still looked like Białowieża Forest.
Several months ago, I wrote about the Polish government’s plans to log large amounts of ancient woodland in the protected Białowieża Forest. In spite of considerable opposition and lawsuits from conservationists, scientists, and European government agencies, the logging went ahead.
Now that the logging has been underway since early summer, the European Union has slapped sanctions on Poland in the amount of €100,000/day (USD 119,000/day) for violating EU law.
The government insists on cutting trees against a background falling timber prices, and in spite of the gains in eco-tourism in and around the forest – not to mention the scientific importance of a forest still home to astounding biodiversity. The undertaking certainly raises the question as to how much money is being made on the sales, and by whom. It’s bad enough to watch Poland log Białowieża, Europe’s largest remaining primeval forest and a UNESCO World Heritage site, for old-growth wood and short-term profits.
It’s worse to see Poland’s environment minister, Jan Szyszko, use spurious claims to justify the straightforward gain and greed of the plan. In a similar vein to the Japanese government easily refuted assertion that whaling is still necessary for scientific research while it sells off the resulting whale meat at high prices, Poland’s government claims that the felling of old trees is required to control a spruce bark beetle outbreak.
In the habit of many of today’s governments, any media or scientific coverage that contradicts official plans is simply labelled as fake news. As the truth become more uncomfortable, the lies become more implausible.
The government’s odd argument that the forest isn’t really worth declaring ‘primeval’ because “it was made by local people, and we have facts and books that show that people were there from the beginning,” says less about the forest and more about a spokesperson grasping at a narrative straw.
Fairy tales were written to guide listeners and readers through moral dilemmas, to instruct on dark impulses and their consequences. The issues at the heart of the Polish government’s current tale are the ones we know so well: Greed, and the stories people tell to get what they want.