Clear-cutting in a zone 3 protected area of Białowieża
Piles of trees logged from protected area of the Białowieża Forest in Poland awaiting transportation for commercial sale.
Europe’s last large old-growth forest and home to the largest population of European bison, Białowieża Forest is one of the most precious natural areas on the continent. Defying orders from the EU's highest court, the Polish government logged at least 675 hectares of protected area from 2016 through the summer of 2018, including 229 hectares of old growth stands. The government justified their actions with dubious arguments ranging from bark-beetle control to public safety, and claimed they only cut trees selectively. International media reports focused largely on EU court decisions, and did not paint a clear picture of what was actually happening on the ground. Logging sites were closed off from media and protesters were kept at bay aggressively by a small army of forestry contractors and police. It wasn’t until I spent several weeks on the ground that I realized the extent of the destruction. Aerials showed a very different picture from that painted by the government: the clear-cutting of large swaths of forest using commercial harvesting machines. An estimate recently published in Biological Conservation estimates the logging has impacted at least 4,073 hectares of forest, increasing fragmentation by 26 percent of the total area protected under Natura 2000. Most of the logging occurred in UNESCO zones 4 and 3, plus a few hectares in zone 2, leaving only the small and most strictly protected zone 1 untouched. Two-thirds of the core area of zone 4 was lost. This photo depicts logging in zone 3.