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Belarusian Review

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National Park ”Bielaviežskaja Pušča” and the Council Of Europe Diploma

The Council of Europe (CoE) diploma is a prestigious award, used to distinguish successful management of national parks and reserves in the realm of environmental protection. It is issued for 5-year terms , after expiration of which the awardees must confirm their validity. The National Park ”Bielaviežskaja Pušča” was awarded the Diploma in 1997; however, ten years later the Diploma has been temporarily suspended for the Belarusian as well as for the Polish parts of the national park.

Heorhi Kazulka, the former deputy director of the park’s scientific research and coordinator of the project ”Bielavieža Forest — the 21st Century,” said: ”In 1997 this diploma was conferred upon the Bielavieža Forest somewhat prematurely: there were a number of issues violating the rules of the Council of Europe. Thus the diploma has been granted with a provision concerning the correction of inadequacies. Five years later the inadequacies have remained: on the contrary, their number doubled ! Therefore the Council of Europe has decided to demand that the park’s administration creates a single management plan for the biosphere reserve that would combine all existing problems and, consequently, suggest ways of solving them — so that the park would satisfy European standards.”

The next checkup, in 2007, disclosed that no such plan existed, and resulted in a subsequent suspension of the diploma. The condition for its extension was the submission by the park’s administration of a management plan that would consider all CoE recommendations. However, the administration failed to do so.

An examination of the issue of extending the diploma’s validity was to take place in November of 2007. Then it was postponed several times: to spring of 2008, then to March 2009, and eventually — to March of 2010. At that time, 17 distinguished Belarusian environmentalists requested that the CoE delays its decision on extending the Diploma for the national park ”Bielaviežskaja Pušča” for one year.

According to their request ”the analysis performed by the environmentalists testifies to a huge number of environmental problems in the Bielaviežskaja Pušča NP, which may lead with increasing speed to the destruction of this unique corner of pristine narure.”

At the end of March, the CoE’s decision on this matter was again postponed due to the intention of CoE experts to personally visit the Bielavieža Forest in order to learn about the actual functioning of the park management plan. In addition, the park administration was supposed to supply the experts with an English translation of the plan. Until then only the directive provisions of the plan existed in an English version; it comprised about a third of the document and contained nature-protection measures. However, at this time, a complete English text of the plan has not been presented to the CoE.

The official position of the national park’s administration, as expressed by the current deputy director on research, Vasil Arnolbik, is based on the disagreement of the Belarusian side with CoE experts’ latest decision to postpone the extension of the diploma.

According to Kazulka ”the reasons for delaying the presentation of a management plan to CoE experts, as expressed by the park administration, are simply absurd ... Moreover, they represent only the formal side of the administration’s plan. Also, there occurred many malicious violations of the rules: illegal game-drive hunting in the core zone reserved for foreigners, creation of hunting open-air cages replacing the 3,000 hectares of primeval forest, ecologically and simply barbaric felling of trees, creation of a tourist zone within the park’s limits ( allowed only on its periphery), and many others...

The main cause of all that is taking place is the non-professionalism of the park administration. It basically consists of people with a low level of ecological education and lack of proper knowledge in the field of managing protected areas.” Kazulka emphasizes that today the Bielavieža Forest, although legally a national park, actually has been transformed into a sort of an ”agro-industrial-forest business and tourist” complex, with the additional burden of nature protection, bio-diversity preservation, conducting research and ecological education.

The specialist suggests that the park’s administration is now considering the possibility of a voluntary non-acceptance of the CoE diploma. In his opinion, the administration is well aware , that , under the current management style, it won’t be able to fulfill the CoE recommendations. This is why it keeps asserting that the CoE requirements are unfounded; it is also casting doubts on the necessity of possessing the CoE Diploma.

”A visit to the Bielavieža Forest and another checkup by CoE and UNESCO experts is planned for the year 2011. Most likely they will be joned by independent Belarusian experts. This terrifies the park’s administration most.” Kazulka notes that the international image of Belarus has already substantially suffered due to the scandalous situation in the Bielavieža Forest. The country has for many years advertized its unique park without being able to sustain correct and effective management of it.

This article appeared in
Belarusian Review, Vol. 22, No. 2
Copyright 2010 Belarusian Review
All rights reserved.
Source: Bielaviežskaja Pušča — XXI st./naviny.by

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