Tag Archives: #bison

Felling Heritage

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People used to intimately know places like theĀ Bialowieza Forest, the last primeval forest in Europe, the wild places that made us what we are.

Now these place are relegated to small corners. They mainly inhabit our stories, little bits of baggage we carry with our culture through the millennia.

Traveling Landscapes.
Artist: Kathleen Vance

Spanning the border between Poland and Belarus, the Bialowieza forest is home to the Europe’s tallest trees and is a refuge to countless species of birds, mammals and invertebrates. Although not unaffected by war, especially during and after WWI when most of its native bison were exterminated, the forest has remained largely intact and untouched for over 10,000 years.

This is the kind of mixed forest and rich ecosystem that once covered most of Europe, and this last remnant of 140,000 hectares (540 sq. m.) was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1979.

It’s a living museum piece, a sprawling natural monument to the world as it was when humanity was young.

Traveling Landscapes.
Artist: Kathleen Vance

Now that humanity is more mature, we have nation-states and borders, and the forest that was once a free-roaming thing is considered the territory of one place or another, whether or not UNESCO, or the European Union, or environmental activists, consider it to belong to all of humanity and the world.

In this case, the fact that some of the Bialowieza Forest is on the Polish side of an international border is critical. After decades of protection and management, the Polish government approved a massive increase in logging in the forest. This logging would go far beyond forest management activities meant to control pests or promote growth – 180,000 cubic metres (6.4m cubic feet) of wood over ten years.

Bialowieza Forest.
Photo: Emily Sun

Ignoring arguments put forth by environmentalists, scientists, universities, NGOs and a petition signed by 160,000 Polish citizens, the Polish government won a victory this week in a court challenge that would have granted environmental NGOs the legal status to challenge decisions made by the Polish Environment Minister, and to demand further environmental impact reports.

The next step will be charges brought by the European Union and possible sanctions for the violation of Poland’s agreements under the Natura 2000 program.

But, as with all such procedures, these things take time. And any pristine area where logging commences is an area that will be irretrievably altered. Bit by bit, what was a rampant cathedral to pre-humanity wildness becomes a memory, a smaller place, diminished by our hunt for resources and the money they bring.

Will the Bialowieza Forest become just one more living place packed away and stored our collective human memory?

Traveling Landscapes.
Artist: Kathleen Vance

Memory and Reunion

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The blue pulse flow of the Colorado River approaches the brown tidal flow of the Gulf of California. Photo: Sonoran Institute

The blue pulse flow of the Colorado River approaches the brown tidal flow of the Gulf of California.
Photo: Sonoran Institute

A few days ago, the Colorado River flowed into the Gulf of California for the first time in twenty years. The pulse flow, a one-time release of water into a stretch of the Colorado River that has been dry for decades, began on World Water Day on March 23. It was estimated by project coordinators at the time that it would take two weeks for the pulse, which was intended to simulate the annual floodwaters that once irrigated the Colorado river basin and flowed into the Gulf, to reach the Colorado Delta. Sandbars, scrub and underbrush meant it took more like six weeks.

Researchers have been planting trees and seeds in the irrigated areas, aiming to re-establish some of the ecosystem along the non-agricultural branch of the river. Did the delta greet the river as an old friend, and did the river recognize the gulf where it once flowed?

The Colorado River meets the delta and flows into the Gulf of California (15 May 2014) Photo: Francisco Zamora/Sonoran Institute

The Colorado River meets the delta and flows into the Gulf of California (15 May 2014)
Photo: Francisco Zamora/Sonoran Institute

Another reintroduction of old companions took place in the wild Southern Carpathian mountain range in Romania. Seventeen European bison (Bison bonasus), hunted to extinction in the region two centuries ago, were brought in from Sweden, Germany, Switzerland and Italy to begin a rewilding effort. The bison has been making a comeback across Europe, but with around 5000 individuals across several countries, Europe’s largest herbivore is still listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List.

The hope of organizers Rewilding Europe and WWF-Romania is that the presence of the wild bison will help re-establish biodiversity through grazing and browsing. Over the next few years, several hundred more bison will be brought into the area.

It will be so interesting to see how the land and ecosystems respond to the presence of these long-absent inhabitants of meadow and forest.

Is it possible to reawaken land memories, and memories of land in animals?

European bision (Bison bonasus), also known as wisent Photo: Zimbrii/Rewilding Europe

European bision (Bison bonasus), also known as wisent
Photo: Zimbrii/Rewilding Europe